What will happen next in Trump presidency? Reply hazy

Anthony Zurcher
North America reporter
@awzurcheron Twitter

image captionWhat will happen for the rest of Trump's presidency? You might as well ask a Magic Eight ball

The first 100 days of Donald Trump's presidency are now behind him. Time for a deep breath, a quick review and then a look ahead.

As I explained last week, the results so far are decidedly mixed. While there has been a paucity of legislative achievements, Mr Trump has notched some successes through executive action, particularly in the realm of immigration enforcement and regulatory rollback.

He's also already made his mark on the Supreme Court, although that's more a reflection of the circumstances of inheriting an open seat (thanks to Republican intransigence last year) rather than any particular accomplishment on the part of the president.

While the 100-day mark has garnered a significant amount of attention from the media and the White House itself, it represents just a fraction of his first term.

Mr Trump still has more than 1,350 days ahead of him. The story of roughly 90% of his presidency has yet to be written. Whether Mr Trump is deemed a success or failure as president, and if he has hopes of winning a second term in office, will be determined over the coming months and years.

But what happens next? Given what we've seen over the past 100 days, anything could be possible. Sometimes it feels like a Magic 8-ball would be just as good at making predictions.

The Economy

When asked about the White House's tax cut plan, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said it "is all about jobs, jobs, jobs". When it comes right down to it, jobs - and the economy writ large - will be the defining issue of the Trump presidency.

With the 2008 Great Recession still casting a long shadow over the American conscience, Mr Trump's voters flocked to him in large part because he promised economic growth and financial security, particularly for many of the white working class voters who are still recovering from the last downturn.

As with many of his campaign promises, Mr Trump has set a very high bar for his administration to meet, repeatedly pledging an annual 4% economic growth rate that is well above current trend lines.

Mr Trump inherited an economy that was stable, with low unemployment and steady if unspectacular growth. Over the course of his first 100 days in office, the US stock market has flourished and consumer confidence increased, but the recently announced economic growth rate - 0.7% for the first quarter of 2017 - may signal an uncertain future.

In the end, Mr Trump's presidency, and all his trade, tax and regulatory policies, will be judged on what it does for the nation's bottom line - not just for Wall Street, but for average Americans as well.

Can he win? Presidents invariable get more credit, and blame, for the nation's financial health than they deserve, given that policy decisions can be greatly outweighed by macroeconomic factors beyond their control. Four years is a long time, but Mr Trump is starting from a solid position, tilting the odds in his favour.


Presidents have broad authority over immigration policy, and Mr Trump hasn't shied away from using it. Two of his most high-profile moves, however, have been stalled in the courts. His second effort to impose a temporary moratorium on refugee resettlement and a ban on entry into the US for citizens of six predominantly Muslim nations is set to be heard by the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals later this month.

In addition, his executive order instructing the federal government to withhold funds from municipalities that do not fully co-operate with immigration officials - so-called "sanctuary cities" - was derailed by a district court judge in California last week.

There's also the continuing battle over how to construct Mr Trump's promised wall along the US-Mexico border. It looked like the administration would make appropriating funds a condition of recently concluded budget negotiations, but the White House has since retreated from that position and appears willing to fight that particular battle in the autumn budget discussions, instead.

As a candidate Mr Trump also pledged to reform legal immigration, reducing the number of new arrivals, changing the types of individuals who are granted priority and restructuring the work visa programme, which could affect visas for high-skilled workers.

Can he win? The president has the power and the obvious desire to exercise it - and a conservative-dominated Supreme Court will be the final arbiter of the legality of his actions.

Executive appointments

One of the most remarkable characteristics of the Trump presidency has been how slowly the White House is filling out its administration.

While Mr Trump relentlessly bashed Senate Democrats for what he (mistakenly) perceived as unprecedented foot-dragging in confirming his cabinet picks, he has been even tardier in appointing lower-level positions. Under secretaries, deputies and ambassadors may not get much national attention, but they are largely responsible for the day-to-day grind of running agencies and departments and representing the US in embassies abroad.

Some of this may be by intent. An understaffed bureaucracy is less able to defend itself against proposed budget cuts, and the Trump administration appears set on diminishing the influence of career employees at the State Department. In other areas, such as economic, social and trade policy, however, the lack of staffing has limited the administration's ability to move toward its goals.

Can he win? Sure he can - it's just a matter of giving a list of names to Congress. Sometimes, however, it seems like he'd rather have chaos.

Foreign policy

Mr Trump campaigned on making a significant shift in US foreign policy - putting "America first". Now, however, his administration faces two potential international flashpoints that could challenge the president's stated desire to avoid global entanglements.

As a result of the US missile strike on a Syrian government airfield, the US has committed itself to punishing violations of international law - particularly the use of chemical weapons - in that nation's civil war. If Syrian President Basahr al-Assad decides to act against his civilian population again, Mr Trump will face pressure for a military response that goes beyond a ship-based missile strike.

Meanwhile, the situation over North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes continues to grow tense. "The era of 'strategic patience' is over," Vice-President Mike Pence recently said, referencing the stated policy of the Obama administration. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, however, seems undeterred - and could respond to a US strike with a massive attack on South Korea, whose capital, Seoul, lies 55km from the demilitarised zone.

In both Syria and North Korea, the president could be faced with the choice of either escalation to back up his sharpening rhetoric or the perception that his threats are hollow.

Then there are the foreign policy crises we don't see coming. Ukraine, Yemen, Afghanistan and the South China Sea ... there's no telling where Mr Trump could face his most daunting challenge.

Can he win? Mr Trump has been all over the map so far as president, sabre-rattling at some nations and shrugging at others.


Mr Trump talked a tough game on trade issues as a candidate, and he'll have opportunities in the coming days to back that up.

Recent disputes with Canada over soft lumber and dairy products appear to be a prelude to contentious Nafta renegotiations. On Thursday Mr Trump told reporters had been days away from ordering a withdrawal from the "horrible" trade deal, but changed his mind after conversations with leaders of Mexico and Canada.

media captionDairy wars: Why is Trump threatening Canada over milk?

In an ironic twist, some of Mr Trump's trade concerns - such as dairy exports to Canada - would have been addressed by the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement he abandoned early in his presidency.

China was another punching bag for Mr Trump during campaign, but the president has considerably softened his tone. There's certainly no indication of an impending economic showdown with the US's largest trading partner at this point.

Can he win? With China apparently off the table, he'll have to find a way to get his "better deal" through Nafta renegotiations - which will be long and complex.


There's at least a glimmer of hope that a deal on repealing and replacing Obamacare could be reached in the House of Representatives soon. Whatever they come up with, however, will face an even bigger hurdle in the Senate, where numerous Republicans are opposed to portions of the House proposal.

Tax reform - Mr Trump's next big legislative priority - is in its early stages, and given the vagueness of the administration's proposal so far, it appears congressional Republicans will once again have to do the heavy lifting on policy. That didn't work out too well with healthcare.

Then there are the Trump campaign promises on infrastructure spending and new childcare benefits. Both areas could prove fertile ground for bipartisan co-operation - at least, if Democrats can be coaxed to the negotiating table after the president has spent his first 100 days relentlessly bashing them.

In some alternate universe, Mr Trump led with an infrastructure plan instead of healthcare repeal, fracturing the Democratic resistance instead of his own party. That ship, however, has sailed. He still has a Republican majority, however, and the closer it gets to the congressional elections next year, the more pressure the party will be under to come together and post some accomplishments on the board.

Can he win? Republicans hold the White House and both chambers of Congress. Surely they will stumble into a legislative accomplishment at some point.


Ah, yes, the midterm elections. Looming on the horizon for Mr Trump and the Republican Party is voting that will take place in November 2018, with a third of the Senate seats, all of the House of Representatives and 36 governorships (Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California, to name a few) on the ballot.

Traditionally the party controlling the presidency is at a disadvantage during these elections, as the out-of-power partisans tend to be more motivated to vote and the political pendulum that brought a president to office swings the other direction. Barack Obama and the Democrats suffered significant defeats in 2010 and 2014, for instance, as did Republican George W Bush in 2006.

Mr Trump is at least somewhat fortunate, however, in that the Senate seats in play in 2018 largely come from states he carried handily - places like Indiana, West Virginia, Montana and Missouri. Although Republicans have a narrow, two-seat Senate majority right now, Democrats will be forced to defend many more at-risk incumbents than the Republicans.

media captionCan Democrats 'make Trump furious'?

The House of Representatives could be another matter, however. While demographics and the way in which congressional districts have been drawn favour Republicans, if Mr Trump is unpopular come 2018 and Democrats turn out in high numbers, they could pick up the 24 seats necessary to win back the lower chamber of Congress for the first time since 2010.

All this is important not only because Democratic control of even half of Congress would significantly impede Mr Trump's ability to notch any legislative accomplishments, but also because it would give Democrats a platform for more vigorous oversight of the president's actions.

Recall the litany of hearings and investigations conducted by Republicans in Congress during the Obama administration. Now imagine how Democrats would gleefully sink their teeth into issues like Mr Trump's tax returns, alleged ties to Russia and possible conflicts of interest within his business empire.

For a preview of how things may turn out next year, keep an eye on gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey this November, as well as upcoming House special elections in Montana and Georgia later this spring.

Can he win? History is not on the president's side. The question is likely how big a bloodbath it will be.