In just two weeks, Donald Trump is going to come face to face with the reality of serving in the office he managed to win in the November election. And while he may face some rude awakenings with regard to the demands -- and limits -- of the job, he won’t be the only one coming to grips with unpleasant facts.
Sooner or later, Trump’s voters are going to learn that a lot of the president-elect’s campaign promises are not going to be kept, either because Congress won’t allow it or because they were never really feasible in the first place.
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The list of unlikely things Trump said he would do is a long one, but here are a few of the most high-profile campaign trail promises he made that he has either already backtracked on or will almost certainly be forced to abandon.
1. Build a wall and make Mexico pay for it
This was Trump’s go-to promise from the very beginning of the Republican primaries. Not only would he build a giant wall across the entire border between the United States and Mexico, he would also use his superior business skills to get the Mexican government to foot the bill.
Trump’s wall promise began to crumble before the campaign was even over, as he reluctantly admitted that the wall would actually be more of a fence in many places and that in others it would make sense to simply allow natural barriers to do the work.
On Friday, though, news broke that the Trump team plans to ask Congress to appropriate funds for the wall’s construction, meaning that U.S. taxpayer dollars -- not pesos from Mexico City -- will be paying for it. Trump erupted on Twitter, writing “The dishonest media does not report that any money spent on building the Great Wall (for sake of speed), will be paid back by Mexico later!”
People who have been following Trump in the campaign have a pretty good idea by now what to expect when the president-elect promises something will happen “later.” (See: Tax returns, release of.)
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2. Mass deportations
The anti-immigrant animus of Trump’s base of support was evident early and consistently throughout his campaign. Trump regularly fanned its flames with the promise of mass deportations of undocumented immigrants.
He suggested the formation of a “deportation force” and repeatedly made vows such as this, from September 2015: “I will get them out so fast that your head would spin, long before I even can start the wall," Trump said. "They will be out of here. You know we have tremendous problems of crime."
At the time, he said he believed all of the undocumented immigrants could be out of the country within 18 months to two years.
This is never going to happen. Multiple experts have pointed out that it would require tens of thousands of deportations a day, every day, for two years. Even respecting only the most basic due process rights of prospective deportees would make this utterly impossible. And logistics aside, it’s not likely the American people would countenance the wholesale rounding up and incarceration of families on suspicion of being undocumented.
3. Congressional term limits
This one was never going to happen either. First of all, the Supreme Court has ruled Congressional term limits unconstitutional, meaning that creating them would require a constitutional amendment. And unless Trump calls a constitutional convention, which hasn’t happened since 1787, that amendment would have to go through Congress. Trump is simply not going to get members of Congress to pass a law that puts them out of a job.
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“I would say we have term limits now,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters after Trump was chosen as the next president. “They’re called elections. And it will not be on the agenda in the Senate.”
4. Lock her up!
Throughout the campaign, Trump regularly called Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton a criminal and suggested that she would face investigation by law enforcement if he were elected president. This led to the fantasy among many his supporters of seeing Clinton in a prison jumpsuit, and loud chants of “Lock her up! Lock her up!” at Trump rallies.
It didn’t take long for Trump to let his supporters down on this one. Within days of winning the election, he made it plain that he had no interest in pursuing Clinton for the vast array of crimes he accused her of during the campaign.
5. Drain the swamp
Trump promised to root out crony capitalism and to diminish the influence of Wall Street on Washington once he entered the White House. At his rallies, he promised to “drain the swamp,” a phrase that entered his supporters’ repertoire of rally chants, along with “Build the wall!” and “Lock her up!”
But from the look of Trump’s cabinet nominations and his set of close advisers, all those people in “Make America Great Again” hats may as well have spent their time chanting “Goldman Sachs! Goldman Sachs!”
Trump has hired billionaires, campaign donors and current and former Wall Street bankers to staff his administration, leading to many jokes about how his version of draining the swamp looks more like gentrifying it with a better class of alligators.
That Trump can’t and won’t keep his campaign promises really ought not to surprise anybody, given the vast amount of evidence that was presented during the campaign about his willingness to back out of deals, abandon partners and stiff creditors. But it probably will nonetheless.