On Monday night, President-elect Donald Trump laid out a plan of action for his first days in office during a two-and-a-half minute video delivered directly to the public via YouTube. The message detailed calls for executive action across six areas including infrastructure, energy, immigration, regulation, national security and ethics.
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While Republicans have waited to regain majority control on the Hill for more than 15 years, it is unlikely the GOP establishment imagined Trump at the helm, leading the conservative cause.
Trump’s candidacy was contentious for the Republican Party, climaxing with the release of the infamous 2005 “Access Hollywood” audio tape. The contents led many officials across the party, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), to withdraw support for their nominee in order to distance themselves from Trump’s lewd conduct and comments.
While President-elect Trump’s party may have majority control, not everyone believes unified Republican rule will follow.
In fact, some predict any pretense of GOP unity will disappear quite early in 2017.
“I’m guessing that Trump is actually going to follow through on his infrastructure bill. Seeing that that’s actually one of the first substantive pieces of legislation to go to Congress…that’s likely to be a unifier. Even between the two parties. And that’s intentional. And that will be about it [for Republican cooperation],” John Aldrich, professor of political science at Duke University, told FOXBusiness.com.
Aldrich pinpointed one of Trump’s biggest campaign promises, to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, as the beginning of the end for clear collaboration within the Republican-controlled government.
“They can get a pretty high agreement on repeal. It’s the replace that’s going to be the hard part. And that could be the breaking point of this coalition, which could be fairly early given how long that’s been at the center of Republican hope,” he said.
Still, GOP hardliners insist the party will not waste this opportunity to pass integral parts of the conservative agenda.
“We’ve been waiting for a long time to reach for certain legislative, regulatory objectives that we believe compose the future of the country. And because of that, I think people are going to be willing to subsume any differences for that common purpose,” Senator Bill Brock (R-TN), former RNC chair from 1977 to 1981, told FOXBusiness.com.
Republican leadership in Congress may be champing at the bit to pass tax cuts, spending bills, and other traditional conservative legislation, but what about the borderline populist promises the President-elect made, such as leaving entitlements untouched and providing new mothers with six weeks of paid maternity leave?
“I think Trump is going to learn fairly quickly… if he puts in the less active government stuff…he’ll get a lot of support in the House and Senate…The things that were sort of the populist appeal that Democratic members of the electorate found attractive are much less likely to appear,” Aldrich remarked.
These new voters pose an interesting challenge to the Republican Party. Failing to embrace the “much more populist composition” of the party would be a mistake, Brock, who served as Labor Secretary under President Ronald Reagan, warned.
“It’s a very fundamental necessity that we not just get one voice in one election. That doesn’t solve the problem,” he said. “We’ve got to pull them into the party… If we don’t, I’ll tell you there are a whole lot of people in this country who stopped voting, consciously, knowing nobody was listening to them. And that’s really dangerous for all of us.”
While Trump may hope to provide a voice to this disenchanted population, the delicate Republican majorities, which are likely to stand at 52 seats in the Senate and 241 seats in the House, may not hold together should President-elect Trump stray from the agenda sought-after by his party’s leaders.
“[Trump] ends up looking like, because of what he can get passed, a standard Republican conservative…. [These voters] are going to be really disappointed. And to them it’s going to look like a sell out on his part, but I don’t know how he keeps that from happening,” Aldrich said.
Critics view Trump’s first few promises as predictable moves to further a traditional conservative program, but according to Brock, there are steps the President-elect can take now in order to shore up broad-based support within the party.
“Do what Obama did not do; talk to them. Obama decided to govern by edict, by executive order. He lost a lot of support in his own party. [Trump] has got to spend time with people on the Hill, with governors, because he not only needs their support, but he needs to create the very clear impression that this is a unified effort.”
So far, Trump has been busy conducting a series of meetings in Trump Tower as he assembles a Cabinet, ironically containing many leaders of the Republican establishment. It remains to be seen whether his first calls for executive action will set a precedent for his tenure in the Oval Office.
The real test begins on January 20th, when the President-elect’s actions will outweigh his rhetoric.
“We know we’ve got to produce and that means we know we’ve got to create a broadly based party where we work with each other,” Brock said.