There is a sarcastic phrase from, I believe, a movie from the ’80s, that rhetorically asks “What could possibly go wrong?” in response to what should be an obviously bad idea.
Ben Shapiro has an answer:
In 2008, then-senator Barack Obama announced in his second autobiography, The Audacity of Hope, “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” Obama campaigned on supposed practicality and ad hoc politicking. This left his most cynical detractors shadowboxing at the leftist positions they knew that he actually held, even as the media and his supporters tut-tutted such catastrophic thinking.
Then, it turned out, Obama’s detractors were right.
Donald Trump may despise President Obama enough to question his origin of birth (he pulls all the girls’ pigtails, from Marco Rubio to Ted Cruz). But he mimics Obama’s tabula rasa campaign to perfection. He’s an ink blot. When Trump’s detractors point out that Trump has swiveled on every major campaign promise, every major issue, Trump supporters accuse them of going full Rohrshach in Watchmen: Every ink blot, they say, can’t be an image of an atrocity. Some, they say, must be butterflies and clouds.
What, they ask, could go so wrong in a Trump presidency? Here, then, is an attempt to realistically assess what a Trump presidency would look like. My biases are clear up front: I don’t trust Trump. I don’t trust his promises, because he has shown no willingness to hold to them. I don’t trust his ideology, because he proclaims that his guiding star is his own self-assurance. I trust Trump to be Trump: a man of convenience, a thinker of no great depth, a reactionary with no constitutional understanding and a willingness to maximize executive power.
Here we go.
A President Trump would indeed sign an executive order to build a wall with Mexico. After being informed by his advisers that such a wall would actually look more like sections of barrier punctuated by high-tech touch fences, Trump would also quietly concede — he would build the sections that resemble a wall, mostly for symbolic purposes. Trump would probably staff up Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but we’d see no mass deportations. He would revoke President Obama’s DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals) program, but he would not replace it with a harsh enforcement operation — the costs and political blowback would be too steep, which is why Trump is already talking about both touchback amnesty and negotiation with Democrats. Despite promises to do so, Trump would not dramatically curtail the number of high-tech visas handed out; he’s made clear that he believes American wages are already too high, and he disowned this part of the Jeff Sessions plan in one of the GOP-primary debates. Trump would, however, implement new restrictions on immigration from Muslim countries.
A President Trump would also move quickly on global trade. He would utilize executive orders to effectively scrap trade deals, nullifying decades of trade negotiations. In retaliation, major trade partners including China, Mexico, and Canada would raise their own trade barriers. China would begin selling American debt on the open market, understanding that American economic growth decreases the possibility of bond repayment. In response, Trump would buy up bonds on the global market, inflating the dollar. Recession would be the inevitable result. In response, Trump would probably fall back on taxing the rich, given his stated preference for lashing out at hedge-fund managers and high-income earners. As a consequence, investment would stall.
Faced with the dilemma of filling Justice Antonin Scalia’s empty seat on the Supreme Court, Trump would look to his advisers for a list of possible nominees — as he has done recently in releasing his first iteration of such a list. But if Democrats in the Senate, either from a position of majority or a position of minority, threatened to shut down his nomination or filibuster it (as they surely would), Trump would instead submit the name of a well-liked federal judge of “high intellect” but no serious conservative record. Republicans in the Senate, preferring compromise to infighting with their own president, would sign on to Trump’s pick; his pick, a stealth leftist such as David Souter, would be confirmed by a wide majority. A religious-freedom case would rise to the Supreme Court level, and the Court would find that religious organizations have no right to “discriminate” against same-sex couples; Trump would vow to enforce the law, just as he has said that Obergefell is settled law.
A bill from the Republican House to repeal Obamacare would undoubtedly stall in the Senate. Trump would refuse to use the power of the podium to push it forward. He would probably also refuse to slash funding for Medicaid expansion at the state level, explaining that he believes it is the government’s role to ensure that Americans do not die in the street.
In response to the continued foreign-policy threat of ISIS, Trump would arrange a meeting with Vladimir Putin, brokered by Putin-friendly adviser Paul Manafort. Putin would pledge to work with Bashar Assad to fight ISIS; he has already pledged the same to President Obama. Instead, however, Assad will continue to devastate all his domestic opponents, leaving ISIS untouched.
Trump might also pledge to meet with the Iranians, who would probably flatter him and tell him that they would help the fight against ISIS so long as he pressured Israel not to move against Hezbollah or Hamas. Trump, citing his ability to make great deals and falling back on advice from advisers such as Pat Buchanan and James Baker, would try to force Israel to sit down with the Palestinian Authority. No deal would be reached, of course, but Trump would tell Israel that American aid to Israel is not worth the return. Israel’s enemies would take note and plan more aggressive action.
In other parts of the world, a President Trump would pull back American involvement dramatically. He could begin withdrawing troops from South Korea and Germany and Japan, insisting that they pay more of their own defense budget. He would merely shrug at Chinese aggression in the South China Sea — it’s far away and has no direct impact on American lives. He would almost certainly continue to cede ground to Vladimir Putin not only in Ukraine but also in Moldova and Georgia. Trump would pressure NATO allies to pick up more of the defense burden (he has already vowed to do this). NATO allies would decline to do so. Putin would then begin threatening Estonia and Latvia in an attempt to break NATO once and for all; Trump would do almost nothing in response.
Bedeviled by negative press coverage, Trump would certainly ice out his media opponents and grant special access to his favorite outlets. He would also target his political opponents via his Chris Christie–led Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service, as he has promised to do.
And then there’s Trump’s rhetoric. It’s unlikely he’d fulfill his promise to become presidential. Instead, he’d no doubt indulge in conspiracy theories and insult battles with leaders both foreign and domestic. He would openly threaten to ruin anyone who opposed him. He would empower elements of his base to threaten his opposition — a sort of counter–Black Lives Matter movement from the alt-right.
The ink-blot presidency would roll forth, policy after policy. Trump’s defenders would find enough here to like that they’d proclaim him a successful president; his opponents would point to his foreign-policy and economic failures as evidence that he lied to his own supporters throughout his campaign.
One thing is certain: There’s nothing here that even hints at constitutional conservatism. Trump’s face, like Obama’s before him, would become the face of his party. In the wake of Trump’s continuous policy and media onslaught, the principles of limited government would disappear. Conservatives would fall in line behind Trump, seeking to uphold his agenda because he was “their man.” Those who failed to fall in line would be labeled enemies of the country in Republican circles. A New American Consensus would be formed, merging the ad hoc populist Right and the Democratic Left. The era of conservatism would end.
That is an optimistic view compared with Brad Thor, who appeared with Glenn Beck to say …
Brad Thor, author of the new book Foreign Agent, joined The Glenn Beck Program to sound the alarm and rally Americans behind stopping Donald Trump — and he came out with both guns blazing.
“I think Trump is an extinction-level event potentially for our republic, for democracy. This is one of the greatest crises our nation has seen since the Great Depression, since World War II — is a potential Donald Trump presidency. It is a disaster for liberty,” Thor said. …
“Listen, Andrew Sullivan, who I’m not a big fan…I don’t agree with a lot of stuff Andrew Sullivan writes … he wrote a brilliant piece recently in New York Magazine, and he said, “Democracies end when they are too democratic.” And he looked at Plato’s republic and some of the thoughts Plato had on democracy, and how, when there are no values, when anything is possible, when everything goes, that’s when a tyrant steps in and takes control of what Plato calls an “obedient mob.” It’s exactly what Trump has done. It is a brilliant, brilliant piece of writing. And I encourage everybody to read it,” Thor said. …
Glenn reminded Thor of when he rang the bell about Barack Obama, but never said anything like an “extinction-level event.”
“Listen, I believe it was somebody at National Review that used that exact term, and it resonated with me. …Trump is a boorish orange raccoon. He is an absolute jackass. He is. I’ve said that on your show before. I despise Trump just because he’s such a boorish jackass. But the problem is, is that — damn it, damn it fellow Republicans — damn you, fellow conservatives, who cannot see the potential for tyranny in this man. Shame on you, shame on you all. And damn you all to hell who refuse to acknowledge the potential for tyranny.
“I don’t care that things might be good under Trump. That’s not good enough to gamble America’s freedom away on. It is there for everyone with eyes to see, that this man is a potential tyrant. He is a caudillo; he is a South American strongman waiting to come into power here in the United States. He will demonize anybody that stands in his way. Congress will not stop this man. We had some of our best and brightest in my lifetime on the GOP side, lined up in this primary, and he steamrolled all of them. And he didn’t do it with great ideas. He did it by being an ass, by insulting them, by making things up.
“How the hell do you debate with somebody who pulls facts out of his butt? This guy talked about stuff that wasn’t even true. These poor Republicans brought knives to a tactical nuke fight. They couldn’t win against him. And you’re telling me Congress will stand up to tyranny from Donald Trump? It will never happen. He will demagogue members of the press, members of Congress, judges. He will steamroll them, the same way dictators in South America do. It’s going to happen here. We cannot cede the battlefield to this man. There is still a fight to be had and still a fight to be won. Let’s get back in this fight.”