Can Donald Trump Be a Good President?
Is it possible we were wrong about Trump’s governing prospects? For the sake of our nation and the world, we hope so.
Donald Trump shocked the pundit class, the media, Washington, D.C., the United States, the world, and yours truly tonight. We were wrong about Trump’s electoral prospects, thinking he had little to no chance to win. Is it possible we were wrong about Trump’s governing prospects? For the sake of our nation and the world, we hope so.
We do not regret our #NeverTrump stance. We did not oppose Trump merely because we thought he would lose. We opposed Trump because we did not consider him fit to be commander in chief — due to his temperament, poor command of national security policy, and stances that we believe were inimical to America’s national interests.
But we did also think he would lose, and had steeled ourselves for the hard work of rebuilding the Republican brand on national security while remaining in our cheap seats in the bleachers among the loyal opposition.
And like just about everyone else, we were wrong. Trump, who has defied the expert prognosticators for almost 18 months, did it one more time, and on the day that counted the most.
Could it be that we were also wrong about our assessment of how good a President Trump would be?
Sure, Trump became a better candidate in the last week or so, staying on message and avoiding the late-night tweets. But he did not become better on the policies. He did not assemble a stronger national security team. And he did not adjust his policy stances on a Muslim ban, on trade, on immigration, or on shirking our allies.
He only won the election. While that is no small achievement, it is also just marks the beginning of the hard journey to responsible leadership and governing.
He is now our president. He does not have our unwavering support, but because he is now our president-elect, he has our initial support. We want him to succeed as president because if he succeeds, America succeeds.
We continue to believe that he will have to change in some fundamental ways to be effective as president of all Americans. He will need to put the nation’s interest ahead of his own. He will have to study policies more, and polls less. He will have to assemble a capable cabinet and senior national security team. He will have to listen to people who disagree with him to figure out what he can learn from them rather than merely figure out how to attack them.
And he will have to understand that America cannot be as great as it needs to be if we stay as divided as we are right now. That means he will need to work with the leadership of both parties — most of whom did not want him to be president — to find areas of common purpose. He will need to begin by reaching out to those Republicans and conservative leaders who opposed him and take meaningful steps to unify the party, then take meaningful steps to unify the country. He has not demonstrated such statesmanship in the past; we hope he can now rise to the occasion, and rise to the calling and dignity of the office.
We close with two final thoughts on foreign policy and national security.
First, President Trump must immediately start campaigning to win the trust and respect of a constituency he completely ignored until now: foreign leaders and foreign publics. They do not have a vote in our election, but our election results matter to their lives. Most were greatly concerned about what a Trump presidency would mean and they will have a great incentive to hedge against the United States, protecting themselves from their worst-case fears of what Trump might do. He would be wise to reach out to our allies to reassure them and speak calmly but forcefully to our adversaries to deter them. It’s time to throw out the campaign slogans disparaging our allies.
Trump can best advance American interests by mobilizing other countries to partner with us. Specifically, we urge President-elect Trump to prioritize outreach to NATO allies, Japan, South Korea, and Israel. Presidents and nations need friends — and the Trump presidency will start on a stronger foot if it does not start off in isolation. Doing so will give President Trump a stronger and more responsible hand should he seek to take audacious steps such as confronting China over trade imbalances or revisiting the nuclear deal with Iran.
Second, Trump must beef up his foreign policy and national security team. Some of the best people on the Republican side of the aisle are #NeverTrumpers, like us, and so are ruled out of consideration. But fortunately for the country, some very fine professionals kept their powder dry and so are available to serve. We hope the Trump inner circle will reward competence and experience, and not just enthusiastic loyalty. And we hope our friends will heed the call.
The voters have spoken and have chosen Trump as our president. Civil servants, foreign service officers, the intelligence community, and the uniformed military are all expected to obey the lawful orders of President Donald J. Trump, and to work hard to implement his policies. All of us, whether inside or outside government, should do what we can to help him craft policies that are in America’s interests and can help protect and promote our national security.
We have never believed that America stopped being great, and so did not embrace the “again” part of Trump’s campaign catchphrase. But we hope that as our new commander in chief and diplomat-in-chief, President-elect Trump will appreciate that he inherits the historic leadership mantle of a great nation, and will rise to the occasion to preserve that greatness.
Photo credit: ALEX WONG/Getty Images
Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy and Bass Fellow at Duke University, and director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies and the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy. He is co-editor of Elephants in the Room.