'New Yorker' Writer Imagines Donald Trump As President
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
What if Donald Trump wins in November? What might a Trump presidency actually be like? Which campaign promises would prove to be no more than campaign promises, and which of them would be the stuff of policy and legislation?
Well, Evan Osnos of The New Yorker addresses those questions in the current issue of the magazine, having interviewed several dozen people - campaign advisors, Trump associates, as well as veterans of five Republican administrations. Evan Osnos, welcome to the program.
EVAN OSNOS: Thanks very much, Robert.
SIEGEL: As you write, there is talk of a first-day project - identifying executive orders that Donald Trump could sign just by being sworn in and taking office in January. What might those consist of?
OSNOS: Well, historically presidents, when they come into office, tend to do things right away. Barack Obama, for instance, issued nine executive orders in his first 10 days. But the Donald Trump campaign has taken this to a new level. They say that they plan to do 25 things on the first day or within the very first few days, including, for instance, perhaps withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement - president would have the ability to do that.
They could suspend the Syrian refugee program. That's something else they're considering. They are also of course talking about a rapid and immediate expansion in the pace and scale of deportations, and that has been at the center of Donald Trump's campaign.
SIEGEL: His signature proposal of course is a wall on the southern border paid for by Mexico. You heard from lots of people that it may not be the wall that he's described exactly, but if he is elected, there will be something that he can at least call a wall.
OSNOS: That's right. Actually the idea of having Mexico pay for it is a nonstarter. That seems to be generally pretty much recognized on both sides of the border. What you find, though, is that logistically it's not impossible. Michael Chertoff, who I spoke to who built part of the border fence under the George W. Bush administration when he was the secretary of homeland security - he says, look; I oppose this in every way, but it is not impossible.
And what is conceivable is that they would probably end up with a kind of symbolic extension of the existing border fence which now covers about 600 miles of the border and could be extended to a thousand.
SIEGEL: Could he renounce either trade agreements or the Iran nuclear deal all by himself?
OSNOS: He could. He has the ability to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal as he says, but if he were to do so, this would be regarded in Tehran as an abrogation of the deal. This would allow the Iranian side of the deal to in effect withdraw because they could say that the United States has not held up its end of the bargain, and therefore we're going to restart our nuclear program.
SIEGEL: What did the people you interviewed say about how a President Trump might deal with or be seen by China and Russia?
OSNOS: Well, often Americans have heard Donald Trump be very hard on China, for instance. But that's not how it's heard over there. In China, his message is being interpreted as the sound of an exhausted America, an America that is seeking to withdraw from its commitments to NATO, to holding up, for instance, human rights around the world.
And so Chinese leaders are saying amongst themselves, according to the Chinese analysts who follow them most closely, that they believe Donald Trump is in the end making hollow threats, and they think that he would be easy to handle, is how one of them put it.
SIEGEL: And Russia?
OSNOS: Russia is thrilled. If you follow the Russian media these days, you discover that they really can't quite get their arms around what good fortune they've had. This is an American presidential nominee who was describing Russia in terms that they haven't heard almost ever. And so there is a belief that Donald Trump would be a collaborative, willing and I think perhaps quite able partner.
SIEGEL: Writing about what a Trump presidency would be like is essentially a speculative enterprise. What about the possibility that a President Trump, who has changed positions and parties many, many times, would head for the center and govern more like a conventional conservative if he got elected?
OSNOS: That is very much the dominant view in America, and it's across supporters and opponents of Donald Trump. Most people believe he would not do what he says.
Actually historians tell you that's not the case. If you go back and you look at the presidency over the course of history, presidents tend to do what they campaigned on. In the 20th century, presidents between Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter accomplished 73 percent of the things that they said they would do as candidates. Part of that is because once they get into office, their credibility, their ability to do anything depends on doing the things that they said they would.
So when we remember presidents who didn't fulfill their promises - for instance George H.W. Bush saying no new taxes or Barack Obama saying he would close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay - we remember those because they're the exceptions, not the rule.
SIEGEL: It's almost impossible to imagine Donald Trump being elected president and the Democrats winning control of the Senate, nor for that matter - obviously not winning control of the House. That would mean that a President Trump would have majorities of his own party...
OSNOS: That's right.
SIEGEL: ...To the extent that it's his party.
OSNOS: Newt Gingrich, who I've spoken to who is probably the highest-ranking political advisor to Donald Trump at this point, believes that if Trump is elected, he would have an extraordinary level of control over Washington and would be able to get a lot of the things done that he has said he would.
SIEGEL: Evan Osnos of The New Yorker, thanks for talking with us about your letter from Washington in the current issue about what the administration of a President Trump would be like.
OSNOS: Thanks for having me, Robert.
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