The seven biggest threats to Donald Trump’s presidency
The mass of protesters converging for Trump’s inauguration are not his only headache.
New York, United States – US President Barack Obama’s inauguration shows featured the likes of Beyonce and Bruce Springsteen. Country singer Toby Keith, who is perhaps the top name at Donald Trump’s welcome bash, does not come with quite the same stardust.
But, sadly for Trump, his kudos among pop stars is not his biggest problem. The president-elect will take the oath of office on January 20 amid widespread scepticism from the public and with ready-made enemies in US spy agencies, the business community and even his own Republican Party.
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On the surface, Trump’s feisty use of Twitter and his bullish handling of reporters at a recent press conference make him look the alpha male. But his bravado masks vulnerabilities seldom seen by those about to enter the Oval Office.
Before the billionaire property magnate is sworn in on the steps of the US Capitol on Friday, Al Jazeera spoke to Washington insiders about the headaches Trump is likely to suffer during his first 100 days of rolling out plans to make America great again.
| 1. Public opinion
Trump lost the popular vote on November 8 by 2.9 million votes, only winning the election via a superior tally in the Electoral College. The latest CBS News poll showed only 32 percent of respondents had a favourable view of him, lower than George W Bush (44 percent) and Obama (60 percent) when they were first sworn in.
According to Pew Research Center, most Americans want Trump to publish his tax returns, worry about him using the Oval Office to line his pockets and think he has explained his policy goals poorly. Others fret about his impulsive behaviour, which was on show again with recent Twitter tirades against the actress Meryl Streep, and John Lewis, a civil rights icon.
Trump’s efforts to reopen factories on US soil are popular in mostly white rust-belt zones, but his appeal in these areas may ebb as he cuts healthcare plans for the poor. “Those who voted for him will soon see that his policies will impact them negatively as well,” Susan Smith, from the Muslim Peace Fellowship, a think-tank, told Al Jazeera.
| 2. Protesters
Not everyone heading to Washington on Friday will cheer the 45th president’s oath-taking. Officials have struggled to find enough space for protesters to stage some 25 rallies over the weekend. The biggest is the Women’s March on Washington, which will draw some 200,000 people decrying threats to abortion laws, affordable healthcare and equal pay.
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Other groups will spotlight everything from ending war to legalising marijuana. Environmentalists are irked by Trump’s claim that climate change is a Chinese hoax. Big rallies will also take place in Los Angeles, Chicago and other major cities in the US and globally.
Veteran protester Paul Kawika Martin, from the anti-war group Peace Action, was sceptical about the impact of rallies, which are not likely to match the scale of those against the Iraq War of 2003. “Big street protests are slowly going the way of dinosaurs,” Martin told Al Jazeera.
Others activists, such as Khury Petersen-Smith, praise recent gains made by the Black Lives Matter race justice movement and the Standing Rock oil pipeline protests.
“We cannot only put our faith in elected officials,” Petersen-Smith told Al Jazeera. “We need to harness grassroots power, keep immigration police out, turn college campuses into sanctuaries and work locally to create pockets of resistance.”
Of course, hundreds of thousands of others will head to the capital to root for the next commander-in-chief, including the motorcycle cavalcade Bikers for Trump and the attendees of the Deploraball shindig.
| 3. Republicans
Trump’s fans were always the grassroots folk who turned out in droves to his campaign rallies, not well-heeled apparatchiks in Washington. The latter would have preferred Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or another established Republican candidate to lead the party.
That said, members are broadly falling into line behind Trump in pursuit of nixing Obamacare and other bullet points on the right’s agenda. But troubles persist. Rubio and John McCain, an Arizona senator, kicked up a fuss during hearings for Trump’s appointees.
They worry about Kremlin-backed hackers swinging the election and Trump’s admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Others fear Trump’s antipathy to trade deals and his sniping at European and Asian allies. Pundits question whether members will tire of his excesses and pro-Moscow outlook, and point to soon-to-be Vice President Mike Pence as a potential successor.
“Trump gives the far-right most of the policies that it wants, but he’s also deeply problematic,” Jonathan Cristol, a fellow at the World Policy Institute think-tank, told Al Jazeera. “Pence will also deliver what they want, while also being a typical, bland, mid-western, far-right-leaning Republican.”
| 4. Democrats
The election effectively handed Republicans dominance of the White House, Congress and Supreme Court. Many Democrats are now second-guessing the choice of Hillary Clinton to run against Trump over the affable leftist Bernie Sanders, and wondering whether the party should swing left.
Dozens of Democrat politicians will boycott the inauguration as the Trump backlash begins.
“The Democrats went into post-election shock, but that will wear off as they retreat, strategise, get re-energised and return,” said Martin. “They won the popular vote in November and will look to make significant gains in the House of Representatives in the 2018 mid-term elections.”
| 5. Liberal mayors
Democrats lost big in the election, but still hold sway in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other US metropolises. These hubs have track records for blocking federal government immigration crackdowns and have earned monikers as “sanctuary cities”.
Trump, meanwhile, has talked of deporting “bad hombres” among the US’ 11 million undocumented migrants, creating Muslim registries and re-introducing the “stop-and-frisk” policing tactic that can single out blacks and Latinos.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio rejected such policies and said he would refuse to let Trump “tear families apart”. Other Democrat mayors agreed, and can limit cooperation with the US Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other deportation agencies.
“If mayors stand up, like so many have, we can block deportation forces from entering our cities, looking for undocumented people, kicking down doors and breaking up families,” Cathy Schneider, an urban politics scholar at American University, told Al Jazeera.
“Our cities must become bastions of protection for our citizens and immigrants.”
Washington can retaliate by freezing funds to defiant mayors, but the outcome would be unpredictable and messy. “It’s hard to say who would win, but the administration must pick its battles carefully,” added Martin.
| 6. Spymasters
Intelligence chiefs are doubtless bad people to irk.
Trump did just this when he said he was a “smart person” who did not need the daily intelligence digests that his predecessors received. This month, US spooks said Russia tried to sway the election outcome in Trump’s favour by hacking and other means.
Trump rejected their conclusion and slammed them for the bogus reports of mass-casualty weapons that led to the Iraq war. His links to Moscow faced renewed scrutiny after an unsubstantiated report that Russia had compromising evidence against Trump.
“We will see more leaks to the press about the ineptitude of the Trump administration and about Trump’s ties to Russia as time goes by,” said Cristol.
Washington bureaucrats are not likely to confront Trump directly, but have other weapons, said Martin. “They know the system and how to resist what they don’t like. We see this happening in the intelligence community already; and there’s more pushback to come.”
| 7. Corporations
So far, businesses are dancing to Trump’s beat. General Motors, Wal-Mart and others have announced plans for job-creation or re-locating factories to US soil. This is in line with Trump’s plans to create US jobs and build home-grown manufacturing by taxing imports.
They also fear his wrath: Trump’s criticism that drug firms were over-charging for medicines saw their stock tumble. It works for now, but executives may turn on Trump should his mooted trade war with China go awry, disrupt the global supply chains that enable much US business and ultimately hurt US workers.
“If Trump messes up the world economy, there’ll be lots of rich, powerful corporations with legions of lobbyists to resist him,” said Martin.
Follow James Reinl on Twitter: @jamesreinl