WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It seems politics didn’t take much of a holiday break.
From the ongoing turf war between outgoing President Obama and soon-to-be President Trump to a new pledge this weekend to dissolve the Trump Foundation over possible conflicts of interest, there’s plenty to talk about this Politics Monday.
Joining me are Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Stu Rothenberg of The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report.
Welcome to you both.
We have seen, over this weekend, and in the past week or so, President-elect Trump inserting himself very overtly into American policy on Israel, on Taiwan and China. He’s negotiating government contracts.
I’m curious, Amy, is this as unprecedented as it seems?
AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: It is unprecedented.
But we, of course, have never had a president-elect coming in the age of Twitter either. So there’s that piece of it. And I feel like a broken record, but every time we’re together, I say the same thing, which is we have to expect that this is going to be an unprecedented presidency.
He ran an unprecedented kind of campaign. He’s been showing no signs of being a different president-elect than he was as a candidate. But I think he’s also showing us the kind of president that he’s going to be, especially on an issue like Israel, where he’s going to move much closer to where the hard-liners, especially Benjamin Netanyahu, want the U.S. to be than where Obama was.
This is a relationship between Israel and the U.S. during the Obama years that hasn’t exactly been the nicest and friendliest.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Stu, is that your take as well, that this is just the way it’s going to be?
STUART ROTHENBERG, The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report: Yes, it’s a man with huge personality and a huge ego with lots of opinions.
And unlike traditional politicians, all of our previous presidents, he has a different kind of filter or no filter. And he thinks that, when he has an opinion, he should offer it and people would be interested. And they are interested.
And I agree with Amy entirely. I would expect this throughout the presidency, at least over the next couple of years, where he likes to interject himself, solve problems, make points, and he will continue to do that.
AMY WALTER: And, look, there is not really a distinctive line between foreign policy and other policies, right, that when you’re negotiating trade, you can also negotiate foreign policy and defense contracts and where our warships are positioned. That’s all part of a big package.
STUART ROTHENBERG: And in terms of the language — just want to point, just in terms of the language, while politicians use diplomatic language and they are very concerned about the words they use and the phrases, Donald Trump is never concerned about a particular word or phrase. He wants to get a point across and he says it bluntly if he wants to, and he usually wants to.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Do you think in the end, though, any of this really affects policy? I understand the appearance of having an armchair president in waiting. Does it change policy in any substantive way?
AMY WALTER: It will when he’s no longer the president-elect.
And so that’s really the question that we’re all waiting to see. Right now, he sends out his opinions, his tweets. We see sometimes there is a reaction, but nothing that has been particularly substantive, in part because we have one president right now.
When he becomes the president and he sends a tweet out, and let’s say warships move based on that tweet, then we will have a very different conversation. Unless and until that happens, though, we have to just sort of expect that this is the way he’s going to conduct himself.
And we’re going to learn a lot more once the people he has hired, secretary of defense, secretary of state, how they perform and whether they have a greater influence on policy, but also on his behavior.
STUART ROTHENBERG: I would say, for the near term, those of us who read the tweets and hear his opinions take a deep breath, whether we’re journalists or political analysts or you run Boeing or whatever, or international leader, but there is a sense of let’s wait until after January 20 to see where the policies are.
AMY WALTER: Right.
STUART ROTHENBERG: We know where the opinions are. Maybe the policies will or will not follow that.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Let’s talk a little bit now about the whole conflict of interest issue. We saw over the weekend the Trump administration-to-be is announcing that they’re going to close the Trump family foundation.
Do you think that is going to start to put to rest some of the questions about his potential conflicts?
STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, it’s a start, but I don’t think it will be the finish or is the finish, and I don’t think he will be able to deal with all the potential conflicts of interests that he now has and I think will continue to have.
He’s not going to sell all his properties. His properties are in many countries. That raises questions about foreign policy, and relationships, and economic issues. I just don’t see it. So, is this a first step, a significant first step? I guess so.
He didn’t indicate during the campaign that he was willing to do this, but I don’t think that solves the fundamental problem, which is he’s got a lot of interests around the world.
AMY WALTER: Yes, I absolutely agree with that.
And it also takes another political headache off the table. Remember throughout the campaign, The Washington Post had been reporting on a lot of issues with that foundation, where it was getting its money, what it was and wasn’t doing with it. There is an actual open investigation by the New York state attorney general.
So it takes, at least in the short-term, this political headache, right, well, only just giving me bad problems. It’s not a particularly large foundation. So, it takes that off the table. Also gives him the opportunity to say, hey, look, unlike the Clintons, when it looks like something could be pay for play or there is a problem with my foundation, I will just close it down, rather than making it — or raising these questions about conflicts.
But to Stu’s point, there are still too many other conflicts that are out there. And the question is, ultimately, we know that reporters are going to be interested in this and tracking this down consistently. How focused will voters be on this and how long will they see each and every one of his decisions impacting his business?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That always does seem to be the ongoing question. The AP, Lisa Lerer, had a really interesting piece looking at several of the things that Trump criticized Hillary Clinton for during the campaign that he is now himself doing, things like having a lot of members of Goldman Sachs in his inner circle, not having press conferences, things like that.
Do you think that those matter to voters, to his constituency at all?
STUART ROTHENBERG: I don’t think they matter to Trump voters, Trump supporters. No, because I think they can explain that away, it’s the media, it’s misstatements by opponents, it’s liberal Democrats.
So I don’t think that’s a problem. With the media, members of the media will continue to be interested in that, and will continue to ask, when are you going to have a press conference? But to Trump supporters, no, I don’t think it’s a big deal.
AMY WALTER: Yes.
And I was sitting in a focus group with voters last week in Ohio who had all supported Donald Trump. Now, they weren’t all hard, solid Republicans. Many of them had voted for Obama or Bill Clinton in the past.
But when you asked the question about conflict of interest, their answer, the way that they helped to process this is they said, look, he comes in already very rich, so he can’t be bought off.
And you heard that a lot on the campaign trail, too. What they were frustrated about with Hillary Clinton and other traditional politicians was that they came to Washington and then got rich, as opposed to they are already rich when they came to Washington, so of course you can’t be corrupted.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: He’s inoculated from it.
AMY WALTER: Right. You can’t be corrupted if you already have all this money and you are not looking for the money.
We will see. We will see how long it lasts. Again, it’s great in theory, but to Stu’s point, once it’s January 20, and you’re president of the United States and you’re making decisions, the lines are going to get much darker and much clearer.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Amy Walter, Stu Rothenberg, thank you both very much.
STUART ROTHENBERG: Thank you.
AMY WALTER: You’re very welcome.
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