How bad could a President Trump really be?

Scott Gilmore on—gulp!—what a Donald Trump presidency would look like

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to voters on February 17, 2016 in Bluffton, South Carolina. Trump addressed the Sun City Republicans with three days remaining before the South Carolina Republican primary.  (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to voters on February 17, 2016 in Bluffton, South Carolina. Trump addressed the Sun City Republicans with three days remaining before the South Carolina Republican primary. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

I’m always amazed at how life inches along unnoticed, changing slowly and incrementally, until one day we wake up and find ourselves in circumstances that for good or for ill would have once seemed impossible. The fact that Donald Trump is now favoured to win the Republican nomination race is a perfect example of this. Nine months ago it was an absurd joke. Now, only his supporters are laughing.

When he first entered the race I wrote that his platform would be pure populism, unfettered by reality. I anticipated the media would make his campaign “the most heavily publicized and well-funded reality-TV show in American history.” And I predicted, “Trump is actually going to do pretty well.”

Although I didn’t say so at the time, I knew he would implode eventually. I was sure that the Republican establishment would block him. I thought the media and the public would inevitably go from fascinated to bored. I expected Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio would emerge as the mainstream candidate and rally the anti-Trump vote. I anticipated scandal, incompetence and disaster.

Related: Is the GOP is preparing to stop Trump?

But Trump has taken two of the first primaries, and as this magazine went to print he was expected to win a third in Nevada. In national polls he leads the next closest Republican by 15 points. Even though Rubio has earned over 130 endorsements (Trump has zero), he is a distant third. Bush has dropped out.

There are reports Republican leaders are resigned to a Trump victory, believing Cruz and Rubio have split the vote and there’s no time left to change that. Oddsmakers are predicting Trump will take the nomination. Credible pundits are talking about how he could become president (mostly by winning the predominantly white and economically distressed Rust Belt). One pollster has him taking 25 per cent of decided Democrats.

Related: Inside Donald Trump’s (unprecedented, incredible) rise

What would a Trump presidency look like? In terms of tone, it is hard to imagine that the same bigotry and bombast would continue. But then again, who would have thought it was going to continue through every minute of his campaign?

His platform? The infamous wall would be easy enough to build. It’s far less likely that he would get the Mexicans to pay for it. But there is enough bilateral trade; he could conceivably carve off that pound of flesh elsewhere. Regardless, it won’t change much. Net migration from Mexico is now below zero. The rest of his immigration plan is achievable, if not entirely sensible. It includes dramatically increasing enforcement, and reducing refugees and certain categories of migrants such as those with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.

Related: What Trump doesn’t get about the Pope—or Mexico

For health care, Trump is mostly within the Republican consensus (repeal Obamacare, encourage more competition and expand health savings accounts) with one notable exception: a safety net for the poor and uninsured, a liberal proposal not held by any other Republican candidate.

His plan to reform Veterans Affairs is actually very progressive and doable, in theory. But several presidents have failed to fix the VA; it seems unlikely he could do better.

Trump promises to protect gun ownership; and that should be easy enough. Interestingly, he ties this to improving mental health care, another surprisingly progressive idea.

His proposals to reform and simplify the tax code are laudable and theoretically possible. But the tax cuts would reduce annual federal revenues by at least $1 trillion. His economic plan is based on ridiculously high GDP growth rates, not seen since the Second World War. Most analysts believe he would add trillions to the national debt.

In regards to foreign policy, Trump’s intentions are more nebulous. Other than getting tough with China, renegotiating trade treaties and shooting terrorists, it’s hard to find many specifics.

Thankfully, Canada has escaped Trump’s attention so far. We could expect a reduction in cross-border visas, and attempts to reopen various trade agreements. He has promised not to build a wall, for what that’s worth. But who knows? Faced with falling poll numbers, is it that hard to imagine Trump launching a distracting invasion of New Brunswick to “finally settle” our centuries-old Machias Seal Island dispute? (I kid. Mostly.)

Justin Trudeau on Donald Trump’s rhetoric:

But this is just frothy speculation. If he wins the nomination, pollsters and election markets predict Trump would lose the presidential race badly. Even if he did manage to find a winning path through the Electoral College, the checks and balances of the Constitution were designed to prevent a rogue president from running amok. His promise to require American Muslims to carry special ID, for example, would go nowhere. His tax plan would leave little money and less room to manoeuvre. And bipartisan opposition to Trump would create so much gridlock in Congress he wouldn’t be able to change the drapes in the White House. Right? I mean, it has to, right? My God, I can’t believe we’re even discussing this. I need a drink.

Scott Gilmore writes on international affairs and public policy. He is a member of the Conservative Party of Canada and is married to Catherine McKenna, the minister of the environment.


How bad could a President Trump really be?

  1. I believe Trump is catching up the frustration of liberal government policies (Obama). Late or early Canada will have their own Trump. Evicting poor Canadian people from hotels to give it to refugees can cause frustration. Paying and forgiving $ to refugees instead to Canadians can cause frustration. . Giving billion of dollars t foreign nations while sucking the 40% of their income (in taxes) from Canadians cause anger and frustration. Pushing sex-ed education to the Ontario schools without consulting the parents, cause RAGE. Liberal policies are making this frustration grow. Canada should take note.

    • Susana, you are correct and if Donald Trump does become President of the US, Liberal Canada beware.

      • When Canadians like myself have been paying our entire lives through taxes to our government and see this money spent in this fashion, yes Susana, you hit the nail on the head. .

      • What are we to beware of? Am I missing something in our constitution that allows US presidents to run Canada if they feel like it?

        • Just another Reformer clogging the boards with the same tired message we as Canadians just got away from. They travel in “packs” as usual – one answers the other to make it seem like a legit convo. Same tricks, same harper garbage.

    • I highly doubt it. We recently had a Prime Minister who was socially conservative, and we ousted him in a decisive fashion.

      We’d be more likely to elect a Bernie Sanders than a Trump.

      • Not really Over my many year of watching Canadian politics we usually get tired of one PM after a term or two and chuck him out decisively. We think we are going from the outhouse to the Penthouse with Federal elections only to return to the outhouse after a few years, then start all over again.
        Problem with Canadians is that we think short term and cannot handle thinking for the next generation or two.
        We are equal opportunity though and let all the parties have a turn at the trough.

    • I believe Donald Duck could run for president and quack his way to the same place any other human has taken us so far….so why not Donald Trump ? I mean really is he going to end poverty, war, injustice,or maybe our biggest enemy death ? Of course not, but he’d be pretty entertaining on the path to destruction….I say why not Donald ?

  2. America still has some freedom of speech.
    In Canada? Just like a dictatorship.

  3. As all the comments attest Trump is touching on a core of anger at progressives.

    Apparently “I was wrong” isn’t in Gilmore’s ability to write. Saying as much without really saying it gets some credit I guess.

    There are a lot of credible paths to winning the general for Trump. He as walked back some outrageous things already and it hasn’t hurt him. The flip flopper thing just isn’t sticking. What if the issue with Hillary’s private email server blows up during the general? The transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs?

    His core message is to make America great again. People like that. That is why he has a solid core of 30 to 35 percent of the Republican electorate.

    He has explicitly said that he will change his message in the general election. As much as people think videos or transcripts of past statements will hurt him and be the death knell of his candidacy they just don’t get it. He unashamedly changes his mind all the time and has proven to be an incredibly skilled political operative.

    Trump is a deal maker. There will be less gridlock in Congress arguably since the 80s.

    The analogy about Trump’s inability to change the drapes in the Whitehouse is emblematic of how the punditry just doesn’t get it. Trump is proving his skills as a negotiator. State the extreme position as your starting point. Work towards compromise from there.

    Trump will be good for Canada. Why would he want to build a fence on the Canada-US border? No Canadian illegal immigrants are streaming across the border. Canada-US trade is a good thing for both countries.

    • “and has proven to be an incredibly skilled political operative.” and yet he insists he is not political.

      “Trump is proving his skills as a negotiator.” He hasn’t had to try and negotiate with Congress or Senate yet. Or other International Leaders

      “His core message is to make America great again.” which goes against his equally iterated claim that America is the greatest already, his wearing of a “Make America great” cap – made in China, and a complete lack of evidence , so far, as to how he plans to do this re-creation of greatness.

    • Anger at Progressives? lol Stop the comedy. It’s the same rabid crowd as usual. The same tired group of far right fanatics, who don’t want any sort of social system in place anywhere in the world. A sick lot, who think if they make enough noise people will bow. Truth is Far Right governments have had their turn and failed miserably.

  4. The Left have no one but themselves to blame for the rise of Donald Trump. For decades they have crammed their politically correct nonsense down everyone’s throats and they have only ratcheted up the rhetoric in recent years. People are tired of hearing how everything they do is racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. The result is an overwhelming embrace of a man that unapologetically says what he thinks regardless of the feathers that it ruffles. I don’t think that Trump will make a good president, but all of the nominees in this race, Republican and Democrat, are categorically awful so I find myself thinking “why not Trump?”

    • That’s a very good point ARK2 and the PC media do share a lot of the blame for Trump’s popularity but they won’t owe up to that. I think, possibly, as well, that the support he receives could be in part due to his outsider approach. Maybe Republicans are waking up to the fact that the Koch brothers want to pick the president and Trump has been nobody’s child, he is his own beast of his own making and voters want that more than anything. On the other hand, when Shillary can’t explain why Goldman Sachs pays her hundreds of thousands of dollars that should be a massive big red flag to Democratic voters. Obama at least kept his allegiance to the banking oligarchy quiet until he took office, then he left the same crooks still in charge that got America into their financial disaster instead of sending them all to jail for fraudulent practices. With Shillary, everyone already knows she’s there to ensure that Goldman Sachs continues to dictate America’s economic policy. Point is, if Trump is the nominee for the Republicans and Clinton for the Democrats you actually might just see a few Democratic voters go across the fence, as ludicrous as that may seem currently.

    • I agree with what’s above ARK2. That said, how could the populace be so stupid as to give Wynne a second kick at the can and with a majority. And then follow that by adding Mr. Selfie in Ottawa!! The big problem is that Wynne has and Trudeau will leave such a disaster behind that the Conservatives will become the big bad guys while they sort it all out.

      • Who are you kidding? Liberals are already having to clean up harper’s mess. Almost every day something new comes out about his deplorable governing. Today it was holding back seniors payments for over 7 years. 7 years of waiting for your rightful allowance. Poilievre the Fair Elections Act front man was in charge of that file….hmmmmm. These guys ever do anything noble?

  5. Trump will make the states great again. Trudeau will have the opposite effect on Canada.

    • Why would Trudeau want to make the States great again.

      • Trudeau has a very high approval rating 53%+ post election. It’s higher now than when he was elected. Peddle your stories on a reformer board somewhere – people are easily duped there.

  6. He’s not even President yet and he’s getting tons of negative press. When he does become President
    (and he will win), the lefty liberal media is going to rub his nose into the dirt every day. Obama has basically messed up the world, his healthcare plan is a national disaster, yet not ONE word of bad press! Amazing….. bigot? All he wants to do is keep America safe and he’s not afraid to go where most are too politically correctly scared to do so. The Russians & Chinese are pushing their weight all over the globe because they know Obama won’t take action. We need President Trump to reign in the bad guys!

  7. Anything is better than Obama, Just hope Obama with boobs (Clinton) doesn’t get the helm. You think it’s bad now.

    • Not sure you’re right-for Canada our inexperienced egomaniac in Ottawa could be worse for Canada
      than Obama has been for The States. With our government structure, there’s nothing to stop Mr. Selfie with his majority from doing all the damaging stuff he elects to do. And he\s off to a good start on that!!

      • Three con dupes in a row. Low unemployment in the U.S., Corps. coming back home under Obama’s policies. Cuba now open for travel. Healthcare almost has the bugs worked out. Much, much better than any Bush could have done. Bush was all about more of the same – war for the big money that war pays! Republicans are disgusting!

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