Learning That Winning Is Easier Than Governing

Learning That Winning Is Easier Than Governing

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

For most commentators and analysts, this campaign was truly one for the ages. For many reasons, there are very few people who want to go through this again; plus finally getting fooled at the end with a Trump victory which totally repudiated the prognosticators. (In fact one of the most curious by-products of this entire election season might well be the demise or drastic decline in the role and value of polls in predicting voting behavior.)

Having now passed through the fun part–the election campaign–it remains to be seen how Trump will adapt to the challenge of governing. As regards decision-making most observers have no framework within which to consider how Trump might behave as President. While there is a model of the businessman/real estate magnate which one could use to consider Trump’s potential decision making style in the White House, this form does not present an likely effective model for presidential decision-making. Both Reagan and Eisenhower, for example, used very different styles as Chief Executive, but they both had experience operating within a bureaucratic—one state government and one military—system; Trump lacks that experience totally.  

Similarly, Trump has no experience dealing with defense or foreign relations issues. While many Presidents have emerged from state houses and also lacked national security experience or expertise, most of them did have military experience and many also had worked on these issues for some time while serving Congress. Here again, Trump will be learning on the job at the highest and most sensitive level.

The biggest challenge that Trump will face will be when he realizes that he does not have total and final authority on most issues. While he can issue executive orders, he will need to develop some form of consensual model to employ in engaging even a Republican controlled Congress; just as he will need to adapt as well to a conflict resolution and compromise model in dealing with foreign leaders. Neither type of situation will be effectively addressed if Trump expects always to be able to dictate terms in negotiations. Such a style in fact is the antithesis of political negotiations at the presidential level.

Finally, the challenge for Trump in governing—which could present the most politically explosive situation for him—will be whether he can deliver all the pledges that his supporters are expecting. So many of his backer followed his message because he promised them new opportunities and a return to the days of yore. Beyond the rhetoric of the campaign, how will his backers respond when, for example, he struggles to provide jobs and economic opportunities to the displaced and angry workers or bring back businesses which have left? Trump will only be able to get away with blaming everyone else for just so long, unless President Trump produces results.  If he does deliver, his tenure could even convert some of his detractors. 

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