President Trump is shaping up to be a very dogmatic Republican
A lot of things come out of Trump's mouth, but when it's time to actually enact policy, he hews to the party line
"Thank you to the LGBT community!" Donald Trump tweeted in June of last year. "I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs." As ludicrous as it was when he said it, it's nevertheless true that, temperamentally, Trump may be the least anti-LGBT president Republicans have ever elected.
And yet, his administration just reversed Education Department guidelines set out by the Obama administration advising public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity. There's a lesson to be learned here: A lot of things come out of President Trump's mouth, but when the rubber meets the road and policy is being set, he'll be there for the right, no matter what he might say one day or another.
Trump is certainly a profoundly different president — ill-informed, erratic, petty, vindictive, gripped by a bottomless need for adulation and respect. None of that has changed or will change. But Republicans should be realizing that whatever his momentary impulses or ideas, their ideological worries about him turned out to be unnecessary.
The transgender issue is a perfect example. When it became a national issue last year after the state of North Carolina passed a "bathroom bill" forcing transgender people to use the bathrooms of the sex listed on their birth certificates, Trump's first reaction was rather admirable. "North Carolina did something — it was very strong — and they're paying a big price," he said in April in reference to the boycotts that followed the passage of the state's law. "There have been very few complaints the way it is," he added, so there was no need for a discriminatory new law. He even allowed that if Caitlyn Jenner came to Trump Tower, she could use whatever restroom she wanted.
But by that night, someone had obviously sat him down for a talk. "I think that local communities and states should make the decision," he said on Sean Hannity's show, taking a position that would support North Carolina's decision without sounding too much like a flip-flop. "And I feel very strongly about that. The federal government should not be involved."
Not exactly a profile in courage. Still, it was the kind of thing that made conservatives wary, especially since he had already undergone shifts on issues like abortion and gun control. The other way they could have looked at it is that when he steps out of line, he quickly skitters back once it's made clear to him that conservatives are displeased. And now he's put it into action.
What does that portend for the rest of his time in office?
Well so far, conservatives have nothing to complain about. Among other things, he has appointed a collection of right-wing true-believers (particularly believers in supply-side economics), cracked down on immigrants, undermined reproductive rights overseas, rolled back environmental regulations, promoted the phony voter fraud theories that justify GOP vote suppression efforts, and named a hard-right judge to the Supreme Court. What's for conservatives not to love?
They might say that there are still some reasons to be worried. Trump has said he wants an infrastructure plan, which sounds like something a Democrat might do. But now Republicans are thinking of pushing that off until next year. And if and when they pursue it, it's likely to be based on tax giveaways to corporations anyway.
It's true that Trump has said that he doesn't want to cut Social Security or Medicare, programs that congressional Republicans would love to scale back. But really, if Paul Ryan can say to the public with a straight face that his Medicare privatization plan is meant only to "strengthen" the program, how much trouble would he have convincing the president that's what it does? It isn't like Trump is going to spend endless hours poring over the provisions in the bill if and when it arrives on his desk for a signature.
And yes, Trump sometimes speaks out of school, like when he said that the Republican ObamaCare replacement plan will provide "insurance for everybody," which it most certainly will not. But while statements like that require some uncomfortable backtracking, they don't lead to any change in the administration's policies.
Is that because the people around Trump can successfully maneuver him where they want him to go, regardless of what he's inclined to do? Or because he cares so little about the details of policy that he's happy to let them take care of it while he's watching hours of cable news? It's probably some of both. But in the end, it doesn't much matter.
Trump may bring about all kinds of disasters as president, but in between, he'll be doing just what Republicans want.