14 Versions Of Trump’s Presidency, From #MAGA To Impeachment
By Nate SIlver
Feb 3 2017
When faced with highly uncertain conditions, military units and major corporationssometimes use an exercise called scenario planning. The idea is to consider a broad range of possibilities for how the future might unfold to help guide long-term planning and preparation. The goal is not necessarily to assess the relative likelihood of each scenario so much as to keep an open mind so you’re not so surprised when events don’t develop quite as you’d expected.
This technique might be useful in the case of President Trump. He’s made so much news in his first two weeks that it feels as though he’s been president for two months — or two years. I worry that we, the community of Trump-watchers, may be making too many extrapolations from this small sample of data and have become too narrow-minded in our efforts to imagine what might come next. Play with a few variables — such as Trump’s relationship with Republicans in Congress, his approval ratings, and whether he’s a real authoritarian or just sort of a troll — and you’ll soon find yourself wandering down some interesting paths in which Trump’s presidency is variously a stunning success or a threat to the future of the American Republic — or both at once.
Take David Frum’s recent article at The Atlantic (“How to Build an Autocracy”) about one possible future Trump could build, for instance. Frum doesn’t rely on a straight-line extrapolation of what we’ve seen from Trump so far. Instead, he imagines a scenario in which Trump crosses Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and shifts toward a more populist economic program, with lots of spending on infrastructure and social welfare. Using that fairly popular agenda, Trump wins re-election. But Trump wouldn’t be some sort of Bloombergian center-left technocrat, Frum says. There would still be plenty of nationalism and social populism mixed in with his economic populism. He’d also continue to defy and disrespect democratic norms and institutions, using the presidency as a platform to bully the opposition and enrich himself. It’s a kinder, gentler, more insidious, more media-savvy form of authoritarianism: “a mix that’s worked well for authoritarians in places like Poland,” as Frum notes.
No, things probably won’t unfold in exactly this way. The point is that it’s a plausibleoutcome. If the past year and a half has taught us nothing else, it’s that things in American politics often aren’t as certain as people assume, especially when it comes to Trump.
Here, then, is a list of 14 plausible futures for Trump, grouped into a few broad categories. Some of them are mutually exclusive while others can be mixed and matched. And there are undoubtedly many possible futures that I haven’t considered.1 But I hope that these make for a reasonably representative range of possibilities. If you find yourself feeling a strong urge to rule some of them out, ask yourself whether there’s really enough evidence to do that given that we’re just 1 percent of the way through Trump’s first term.
Group I: Extrapolations from the status quo.
This first group of scenarios involve Trump not changing his behavior very much. But the public reaction to him varies, following a steady course in Scenario 1, a downward trajectory in Scenario 2, and an upward trajectory in Scenario 3.