Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States on Friday, ushering in a new era that most of official Washington is bracing for.
Trump stunned the political establishment by winning his party’s presidential nomination and shocked the world in defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton in November.
He did so by presenting himself as the ultimate outsider, capable of shaking up a political system that many Americans say is failing them.
Now, the rubber meets the road and few — if any — know exactly what Trump’s next move will be.
He used that air of unpredictably to his advantage in his run for the presidency and the former “Apprentice” star is sure to keep the nation on the edge of its seat throughout 2017.
Still, Trump has indicated what his first priorities will be, suggesting that Washington needs to get with the program. He told The Washington Post the weekend before his inauguration that “the Congress can’t get cold feet because the people will not let that happen.”
The real estate mogul also underlined just how much the specifics of his plans could disrupt politics as usual in both parties.
Trump said that he wanted to replace ObamaCare with his own plan, which he promised would include “insurance for everybody.”
Such a stance is out of step with Republican orthodoxy, and Trump supplied almost no details. His positions on everything from Russia to free trade are similarly painted in broad strokes and at variance with many of his party colleagues.
For the moment, most Republicans on Capitol Hill are supportive of Trump and enthusiastic about the prospects of passing conservative legislation after eight years of being stymied by President Obama. But the tensions that arose over the course of the campaign have only been thinly papered over and could easily erupt again.
Trump is entering office with the lowest approval ratings of any president in nearly half a century, a factor that could sap his political capital and attenuate any honeymoon period that he hopes to enjoy. Yet, he will work with GOP majorities in the House and Senate. It is the first time in a decade that the GOP will control both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Washington is readying itself for a stark cultural shift. Obama and his family will depart from the nation’s capital for a vacation in Palm Springs, Calif., after the inauguration ceremonies, leaving behind a city that they have dominated for eight years.
The Obamas’ physical absence will be only temporary, however, as the family plans to move to an upscale D.C. neighborhood until their youngest daughter, Sasha, finishes high school.
But in their place will be a president who is Obama’s opposite temperamentally as much as ideologically, a former fashion model first lady, and a retinue of aides — some of whom have been clear about their antagonism toward the Washington status quo.
Stephen Bannon, who will be a senior counselor for Trump, once announced that, like Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, he wanted “to destroy the state,” adding, “I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
Barry Bennett, a former senior Trump adviser who now runs a consultancy firm with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, told The Hill regarding Trump: “I just don’t think he is going to be held to any of our norms and precedents.”
The president-elect, Bennett added, “is here to change things. And he is going to fight very hard for that change. I think the grass roots are with him, but I don’t think Washington is with him.”
The idea of Trump as an agent of change is a big part of his appeal to his supporters. They have long believed that Trump’s wealth alleviates the need for him to bow before the monied interests that they see as rigging the system.
Trump loyalists also see his combative and unapologetic demeanor as being a necessary corrective to Washington’s go-along-to-get-along default.
But it is precisely the sense of the incoming president as outside of the normal parameters that causes his critics to view his inauguration with fear and loathing.
At least 60 Democratic lawmakers have stated publicly that they will refuse to attend Trump’s swearing-in. Liberal voices beyond the Congress have depicted the incoming president as an existential threat to democracy itself.
The inauguration festivities seem certain to lack star power, especially in contrast to the Obama years, because of the reluctance among many celebrities to associate themselves with Trump.
An anti-Trump protest march planned for Saturday could draw a crowd equal to, or bigger than, the audience watching the Inauguration.
Members of the media, too, are trying to grapple with how to cover a president who, as a candidate, attacked them repeatedly and who seemed impervious to controversies that would have sunk other contenders.
Trump aides have suggested that the standard press briefings in the White House may change. The president-elect himself has defended his much-discussed use of Twitter on the grounds that direct communication with the American people is important to counteract a “very dishonest media.”
Then, there is the fundamentally surreal nature of Trump being inaugurated as president. A former reality TV star whose bid for the White House was dismissed as a joke by pundits when it began in June 2015 will now be the leader of the free world. A man who once participated in pro-wrestling matches with Vince McMahon and relished raunchy interviews with Howard Stern will be commander in chief of the most powerful armed forces in human history, a huge nuclear arsenal at his fingertips.
There is no real sign that 70-year-old Trump, who will be oldest first-term commander in chief sworn into office, will change his demeanor. But there is some evidence that his administration might not be as radical as his most fervent backers hope and his most adamant critics fear.
Some of Trump’s Cabinet picks, such as Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson and would-be Defense Secretary James Mattis defy easy political categorization. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Betsy DeVos — Trump’s picks to lead the Departments of Justice, Health and Education, respectively — are strongly conservative but stay within the basic boundaries of conventional political thought in a way their boss often does not.
The clock will begin ticking on Trump’s first 100 days at noon on Friday.
That stretch will likely be marked by a push to repeal and replace ObamaCare, efforts to move forward on construction on the promised border wall with Mexico and probably issues such as tax reform and infrastructure spending.
Democrats, who are still licking their wounds from the elections, say they hope to work with Trump on some issues, such as transportation. However, the opposing party is expected to fight the new president on many fronts.
If Trump and congressional Republicans can get along — and pick off some conservative Democrats — they can make a lot of new laws in the 115th Congress. But that is a big if.
Much of what lies ahead is unclear, but controversy, contention — and lots of tweets — seem certain to fly thick and fast.
A presidency like no other is about to begin.