WASHINGTON (AP) — Deal-maker Donald Trump has lived his life as one long negotiation, going with his gut and winging it when necessary.
Should Trump become president, the White House could well be transformed into the world’s highest-profile improv club.
It’s part of what delights his followers and horrifies his critics. All of it would run smack up against the stuffy traditions of a government structured to rein in the power of the individual.
Among the leadership traits Trump would bring with him to the presidency are impulsivity. Bravado, unpredictability, hype and flexibility.
Candidate and businessman Trump blurts things out. He changes his mind. He tosses out threats. He belittles adversaries.
He knows how to deal.
He has a long memory when someone crosses him, a short one when he wants to paper over inconsistencies.
When his campaign exploits have gotten out of hand, Trump has been quick to assure people he’ll be perfectly capable of striking “the serious president look” when the time warrants.
“I was a great student. I went to the best schools, all that stuff. I mean, I have what it takes,” he assured one TV interviewer.
But wait, there’s more: “At the right time,” he went on, “I will be so presidential that you’ll call me and you’ll say, ‘Donald, you have to stop that.’ ”
Still, political observers believe the same Donald Trump would pull up a seat in the Oval Office as the provocateur of the presidential campaign and the business-whiz darling of reality TV.
“The idea that he can turn into something very different as president than he has been as a candidate is simply not the case,” says Darrell West, head of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
What, then, to expect from a President Trump?
There are plenty of unknowns, but the GOP front-runner has seeded his campaign comments and business memoirs with clues.
Trump’s notable tendency to speak first and refine his views later was illustrated anew by the flare-up this past week over abortion.
He said in an interview that if abortion were banned, women who undergo the procedure should face “some sort of punishment.” Faced with a backlash, Trump quickly issued a written statement saying that only those who perform abortions would be held legally responsible. For good measure, he added, “My position has not changed.”
Earlier in the campaign, Trump tossed out the idea of making it easier for public figures to sue news organizations for libel. But he’s detailed little more than a vague desire to “loosen up” such laws.
“I want to make it more fair from the side where I am,” he told The Washington Post last week.
Trump’s recent comments condoning the idea of allowing Japan and South Korea to develop nuclear weapons showed a willingness to disregard decades of U.S. foreign policy without so much as a position paper.
He has, at times, though, shown an ability to take a more measured approach. He spoke about relations with Israel from a teleprompter —something he’s mocked others for using.
Despite his penchant for startling offhand comments, openness probably would not be a hallmark of a Trump administration.
“We talk too much,” Trump likes to complain. “We’re totally predictable.”
Trump the deal-maker says leaders should hold their cards close to strengthen their position in negotiation.
Asked how he would deter China’s aggression in the South China Sea, for example, Trump said he would never let on whether he would be willing to go to war over the issue.
Trump the showman could be counted on to continue his affinity for what he referred to as “truthful hyperbole” in one of his books.
For all the brash talk of imposing a 45 percent tariff on goods from China for unfair trade practices, for example, Trump said in a recent radio interview: “That would never happen.”
“You have to have the threat out there,” he explained. “You’ve got to have something to negotiate with.”
That’s part of Trump’s broader theme, that there needs to be more “tug and pull” to reach agreements on immigration and other tough issues.
That wall he’s going to build between the U.S. and Mexico? Maybe it will be 2 feet shorter, he says.
Infused through much of Trump’s policy talk is an overarching focus on the power and importance of money.
“You can’t make America great again unless you make it rich again,” he said in one recent interview.
It’s why he’s so rankled by what he sees as bad trade deals.
“If I were running the country, I wouldn’t have people taking advantage of the United States in trade and in every other way,” he asserts.
As for how he will do better, Trump makes it sound easy. He talks of bringing in “the greatest minds” and top negotiators from business, mentioning activist investor Carl Icahn.
“I know the ones that are no good that people think are good,” he says. “I know people that you’ve never heard of that are better than all of them.”
He says his own flexibility will be the key to success in negotiating trade deals, working with Congress and solving other government problems.
“I’m going to make wonderful trade deals but you have to do it the old-fashioned way, like Ronald Reagan did with Tip O’Neill,” the former Democratic House speaker, Trump says.
But Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University, says Trump’s optimistic pronouncements about making government function more like business are unrealistic.
“It’s not like doing a deal to put your name on the side of a casino,” Light says. “If he thinks that this is ‘The Apprentice,’ he’s completely off base.”
Like any president, Trump, 69, would bring his own personal habits and quirks to the White House.
He doesn’t drink or smoke. He’s up early to read the newspapers, but skips coffee in favor of Diet Coke.
His diet makes his own children cringe: He loves red meat, McDonald’s and Wendy’s.
His idea of exercise is a long speech. He has joked that his friends who work out are “disasters,” in need of knee and hip replacements. He is a self-described “germ freak” who cringes at shaking hands.
And who would have the ear of the president?
Trump seems most impressed with the credentials of one person.
“My primary consultant is myself,” he told one interviewer. “I have a good instinct on this stuff.”
That thinking alarms West. “The greatest risk of a Trump presidency is hubris,” he says, “thinking you do know everything when you don’t.”
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