Because he will be holding the highest office in the country in a matter of months, it is important to reflect on President Elect Trump’s potential view of executive power. But does it REALLY matter all that much? The past two presidential administrations have held vastly different views on the reach of executive power. The Bush administration was squarely in the “we can do pretty much whatever we want if we say national security” camp, while the Obama administration held the view of “we generally need to ask Congress if we want to do the big stuff”. While in theory, these views are highly divergent, in practice they have, essentially, been one and the same. While the Bush administration may not have believed it HAD to get Congressional permission to invade Afghanistan, it asked anyway. The same can be said of Iraq. When President Obama took office, it was easy for the administration to say they needed permission, because they already had it (the 2001 and 2003 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMFs) are still being applied to much of our international interventionism today). The change in stance was highly rhetorical, being used as a pseudo “get out of jail free” card when they wanted to punt a hard decision to the perpetually dysfunctional Congress (i.e. Syria).
Now that we have established that how Trump FEELS about executive power may not actually have much bearing on how he ACTS as the executive, let’s go ahead and explore that anyway. From early on in the campaign, it was pretty clear that Trump’s view of the presidency looked more autocratic than the system many of us are familiar with. He made statements about rewriting laws single-handedly, deporting 12 million illegal immigrants, banning all Muslims from entering the country, and even threatened political rivals. Vast over reaches threaten to further empower what lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have claimed has become a dangerously powerful presidency. Such a view of uninhibited executive authority working against the legislature contributed greatly to Trump’s strife, particularly with his own party leadership. I would say, without a doubt, that Trump’s view of executive power has consistently fallen more in line with that of the Bush administration.
So what does it mean? As far as domestic policy is concerned, there could be broad reaching implications for much of the American public. Or there could not be. How much was said that was simply campaign rhetoric? How much of what Trump said will he go through with? Domestically, he SEEMS to have softened up a bit, so who knows? In terms of foreign policy, Trump has appeared to espouse a very non-interventionist view. It takes decidedly less authority to do nothing than to do something, so I think the ramifications of a very broad interpretation of executive powers is less important. Less intervention, not more, could become the norm. Deference to Russia in crises throughout the Middle East and into Central Asia? Who knows? I’m not sure where we go from here, but if anything, Trump’s view of executive power and its resultant foreign policy will not be unlike the man himself, poorly informed and unpredictable.