Trump faces hurdles post-inauguration
As Donald Trump prepares to be inaugurated as the 45th US president, the FT's news editor Peter Spiegel and Washington bureau chief Demetri Sevastopulo outline the key difficulties Mr Trump will face during his first days in office.
Filmed by Rod Fitzgerald and Nicola Stansfield. Produced by Vanessa Kortekaas. Additional footage and images by Getty and Reuters.
PETER SPIEGEL: Donald Trump is set to take office with the lowest approval rating of any modern US president-elect.
I'm joined on the line by Demetri Sevastopulo, our Washington Bureau Chief, to discuss the inauguration and the challenges ahead for Mr. Trump's first days in office.
Demetri, let me just start with the mood in this town. This is a democratic city used to eight years of President Obama. What's the mood in Dupont Circle and Cleveland Park right now?
DEMETRI SEVASTOPULO: Well, I think the mood is that after a year and a half of kind of going from a shock that Donald Trump is running to more shocked that he looked like he was going to win to incredible shock that he actually won. The reality is now setting in that, come Friday afternoon, it's going to be President Trump. And I think people are finally getting their heads around that and what it will mean.
And so everyone is scrambling to work out what it means for them, whether they work in the US government here, whether they're foreign diplomats or world leaders. How is the world going to change? And is the Donald Trump that we've seen for the last year and a half going to be the Donald Trump that we have from next week? And we've got three more days, and then we're going to start finding out.
PETER SPIEGEL: Let me ask you about the polls, because, as with everything Trumpian, the polls have been controversial. Obviously they got it wrong during the election campaign. We do have him now in the low 40s approval ratings, which is the lowest-- as I said-- of any modern president coming into office. He has dismissed the polls as fake polls.
What do the polls tell us? What should we extrapolate from them? And what do they say about his ability to push through legislation in his first few months in office?
DEMETRI SEVASTOPULO: Well, I guess the first thing to say is that up until the election, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump together had the most unfavourable ratings of any presidential candidate in modern history. So they both started off more or less in the same place.
You know, Donald Trump won. Since the election on November 8, several things have happened. I think his poll numbers have declined further since the election, which is actually very unusual. Normally, the president-elect sees a bump in their poll numbers.
And one of the main reasons for that is that Donald Trump, until very recently, refused to accept the conclusion of the US intelligence community that Russia was behind a series of cyber attacks on the Democratic National Committee and Washington and other parts of the American government. And his refusal to do that has kind of opened a lot of serious questions about what kind of a relationship Donald Trump wants to have with Russia and what kind of a president he's going to be.
And so I think people are a little bit nervous now. I mean, this is no longer a game or a reality TV show. This is reality come Friday. And everyone is a little bit nervous.
PETER SPIEGEL: Let me follow up on that point, because we've had a series of confirmation hearings now that have started already, where you've had nominees for the cabinet who have explicitly rejected the Trump line on, in particular, that issue of Russian involvement in the campaign and the hacking, but, frankly, on a whole number of policy issues. I'm just wondering, as you watch these nomination hearings play out, what does that tell us about the cabinet he's built around him and the coherence of what their policy positions are going to be once he takes office?
DEMETRI SEVASTOPULO: Well, I guess at the end of the day the president makes the decision. So it'll be the president's policy that prevails. What's interesting here is that usually, whether it's Secretary of State or Secretary of Defence, the nominees, when they appear on Capitol Hill for their hearings, they basically tout the party line.
In this case, Rex Tillerson, who's the nominee to be Secretary of State-- he's quite controversial because he was the head of Exxon and he had very close relations with Vladimir Putin-- but he basically said that he hadn't had a conversation with Donald Trump about Russia. So whatever he says about Russia policy during his confirmation hearing, we have no idea whether that's what Donald Trump is going to do.
I mean, that may be Tillerson's advice to Trump. Maybe these nominees are telling us what they're going to advise the president, but it doesn't really tell us what the president's going to do. It also shows that there is a lack of coordination going on here.
And what's interesting is the Trump administration have put in place very quickly its nominees for the big jobs for Defence, Homeland Security, Secretary of State, Attorney General, but beyond that, the deputy, secretary level and the senior positions just below that, very few names have been publicised. And no one really knows who's going to form the backbone of the administration once they take over on Friday. And that is raising a lot of concerns, too.
PETER SPIEGEL: One last question, Demetri.
I was just listing here a whole series of controversies that have come up in recent weeks. We talked about the Russia issue. We've had the confirmation issues. Protesters are coming over the weekend. We had a fight between Trump and one of the leading US Civil Rights leaders. Still the conflict of interest issue.
He's coming into office, again, with controversy we haven't seen, frankly, since the Clinton administration. Obama was pretty scandal-free. Is that going to hamper his ability to get things done?
DEMETRI SEVASTOPULO: Well, I think as long as he keeps things with the Republican Party together, for the time being he will be fine. Now, remember, the Republicans now control the White House, the Senate, the House, and they have a huge majority across the country and state legislatures and governorships. So Trump is actually in a very powerful position.
If he starts to do things that go against conservative policy, that don't match what the Republican Party leadership wants to do-- Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell in the Senate-- then he's going to start running into trouble. So it's really going to depend on what he does in the first 100 days, how he tries to work with Republican leaders. And if he can keep them on board-- and at the moment it looks like he will-- then he should be fine. Once he loses them, he's going to have an awful lot of trouble.