Most presidential candidates pick a place close to the heart to announce their campaigns — a childhood hometown, the place they came of age politically or somewhere associated with a political hero.
Donald Trump picked the center of his business empire, Trump Tower in New York, and descended a gold elevator to greet the press in an event that analysts agreed owed more to reality TV than a political announcement.
Nineteen months later, the country’s first non-statesman president takes the oath of office promising to break with the politics of the past and usher in a new style of government. And few, if any, across the political spectrum say they have any idea what to expect over the next four years.
“We’ve entered this world where the previous restraints are gone,” said Andrew Busch, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in California. “The previous norms are gone, or at least seriously undermined, and who knows where we wind up? He could end up being a successful president. But he has no margin for error.”
Mr. Trump won the White House by being different.
He outlasted 16 other candidates in the Republican primary, including Jeb Bush, the son and brother of two former presidents whose family held the White House for a combined 12 years. He then went on to defeat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who had spent eight years in the White House as first lady.
And he did it all while running squarely against the past eight years under President Obama, delivering a fierce critique of the leaders in both parties — leaders who, Mr. Trump said, had failed the country for 30 years, striking political deals that benefited the wealthy while leaving middle America behind.
Middle America responded to Mr. Trump, delivering states that hadn’t gone to a Republican presidential candidate in a generation. He lost the popular vote by a sizable margin but won the Electoral College vote easily, tallying a 304-227 victory over Mrs. Clinton and redrawing the political map.
“What’s been growing for the last 30 years has been a real skepticism among voters that the postwar consensus, for lack of a better word, works for them. All that stuff is gone. Reagan started the fraying: He opened the door for Trump, Trump walked through it,” said Michael McKenna, a Republican pollster and strategist.
Speaking at a pre-inauguration concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Thursday, Mr. Trump said he was “just the messenger” for Americans who were fed up with a Washington that didn’t work anymore.
“We all got tired of seeing what was happening and we wanted change, but we wanted real change,” he said.
The business of America
Mr. Trump represents change on many fronts.
At 70, he’s the oldest person ever to enter the White House, reversing a 24-year trend of relatively younger presidents.
He is also the first reality TV star, the first billionaire and the first chief executive whose primary experience has been as a businessman. Although some presidents had been businessmen, all of them also had government experience — until now.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump pointed to his business record as proof that he can succeed in getting things accomplished.
There was the ice rink in New York that was flailing. He took over and said he brought it in under budget.
Then there was the Old Post Office Pavilion in the District of Columbia, on which he’d bid to build another Trump hotel. He won and, despite lawsuits and troublesome reports about his labor force, he finished the hotel in the middle of the campaign, again saying it was ahead of schedule and under budget.
“He’s an anti-politician, and the sense is the politicians here in Washington, they talk, they work together, they don’t do anything, they accomplish nothing,” said Patrick J. Buchanan, a conservative commentator and former presidential candidate. “There is a great measure of anticipation and hope that Trump can get things done that others couldn’t.”
Mr. Trump proudly proclaimed that he’d never been political and even switched positions on big issues such as abortion. He made no apologies for having poured millions of dollars into the coffers of both parties to buy favor.
He said it made him exactly the right guy to clean it all up.
“I like the fact that a businessman is coming into the White House,” said Jeff Mormon, a 44-year-old Trump supporter who works in sales and marketing for a chemical business in Des Moines, Iowa.
“I’ve always been a pro-business person,” Mr. Mormon said. “The key to that is a high-level executive, someone who managed a large budget, a lot of people, managed other executives. That’s key to running the executive branch because you are managing other executives.”
Mr. Trump also tapped a latent pool of voters who were sick of trade deals that they felt left average American workers behind, and who felt the government was abandoning its role in enforcing immigration laws. Some politicians had tapped into one or the other of those sentiments, but Mr. Trump put them together to forge a winning populist coalition.
Mr. Buchanan said Mr. Trump must not forget those folks when he is in the White House.
“This is the indispensable base,” Mr. Buchanan said. “He does understand one thing, and that is his dependency upon the people, his dependency upon the movement, his dependency upon those who brought him, who gave him a pass for his foibles of the past.”
Tough times ahead
Whether that base will be forgiving to Mr. Trump as he grapples with governing remains to be seen.
Facing the new president are resurgent foes abroad and a restless electorate at home, including a sizable portion who believe his November victory to be illegitimate. Even senior members of Congress have challenged his right to govern.
After eight years of struggling to recover from the Great Recession from December 2007 to June 2009, the economy is finally beginning to hum. But for decades, economic gains have gone to the wealthiest, while middle- and working-class Americans say they are struggling to stay even.
Add in immigration, global warming, exploding federal deficits, simmering racial tensions and soaring costs of Obamacare, and the new president’s agenda is already crowded.
What solutions he will offer remains strikingly unclear despite the long campaign. Mr. Busch, the Claremont McKenna political scientist, said most presidents’ actions can be predicted based on their behavior in other offices. Mr. Trump, though, has only campaign experience.
“I would not say that he has a firm grounding in any particular set of ideas,” Mr. Busch said. “He’s likely to take things on a case-by-case basis, and he’s going to look at them like a businessman.”
Federal agencies are wondering whether they will see the kinds of massive spending cuts that Mr. Trump promised on the campaign trail. Businesses are eager to learn how he will approach corporate taxes. And the health care market wants to know what Mr. Trump meant when he said he wants “insurance for everybody.”
Nobody is more anxious, though, than illegal immigrants, who say they fear their ability to hold on to the lives they have built in the United States is at stake. While Mr. Trump sent mixed signals about what he would do, activists say they have to be ready in case Mr. Trump does try to repeal the 2012 deportation amnesty for Dreamers, to triple the deportation force and to punish sanctuary cities — all promises he made at some point during the campaign.
“It’s important for us to prepare for the worst,” said Tom Jawetz, vice president for immigration at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.
Mr. Trump also enters office with the lowest approval rating of any president in modern times and has received mixed reviews for the way he has handled his transition.
In particular, voters say they want the new president to put away the Twitter account and severe direct ties with his 20 million followers.
Mr. Trump has rejected those calls, saying that as long as he faces a hostile press corps, he will take to Twitter to get out his message.
“This is going to be a very unconventional president,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said when asked about Mr. Trump’s affinity for Twitter during a CNN town hall last week.
Mr. Ryan was one of those who sparred with Mr. Trump during the campaign, saying the billionaire businessman was a different kind of conservative.
Now, Mr. Ryan is effusive in his praise, saying Mr. Trump has shown the Republican Party how to campaign in the 21st century and tapped into voters whom no other politician has been able to reach.
Still, Mr. Ryan said he is not sure how the world will react to a U.S. president who makes policy through Twitter.
“I don’t know; we’re going to find out,” he said. “We’re in uncharted territory.”
Allan Lichtman a presidential scholar at American University, has predicted that Mr. Trump will be impeached at some point because he will run afoul of congressional Republicans.
Mr. Buchanan doubted that.
“I don’t think so. That would be suicidal for the Republican Party to go down the road and do that to someone who’s gone through the primaries and won all those votes,” he said.
Art of the deal
Just how different Mr. Trump will be has become clear during the unconventional transition from the Obama administration to the incoming team, with the president-elect ensconced in Trump Tower, planning his Cabinet, pushing for more manufacturing and deploying his Twitter account to begin getting the government’s books in order.
Nowhere was that more evident than in his dealings with defense contractors.
Mr. Trump’s first meeting with Lockheed Martin Corp. CEO Marillyn Hewson in December didn’t seem to go so well. She refused to talk to reporters afterward, but the president-elect emerged to say that they had engaged in a little bit of a “dance” over his demands that she cut costs on the over-budget, behind-schedule F-35 fighter jet.
So Mr. Trump took to Twitter, blasting Lockheed and saying he had invited fierce rival Boeing Co. to submit plans for a lower-cost F-18 to replace the F-35 in the government’s future plans.
By the time Ms. Hewson returned to Trump Tower last week, she was singing from Mr. Trump’s song sheet, promising an impending deal that would cut the plane’s costs and “bring a lot of jobs to the United States.”
Perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising for a man whose most famous book is titled “The Art of the Deal” and who, during the campaign, repeatedly blasted U.S. leaders for their inability to negotiate.
Robert J. Bies, a professor of management at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, said Mr. Trump’s haggling was a blueprint for how the businessman in chief will govern.
“You’re seeing what a businessperson can do, and it’s clear he is having an impact,” said Mr. Bies, an authority on business leadership who founded the university’s Executive Master’s in Leadership program. “Even though his approval rating may be low, he still has incredible political influence with the people that support him. And I think that is part of the reason that a lot of these companies say, ‘Hello, I don’t want to get in worse trouble.’
“It is different than in the past, that is for sure. But that’s part of his persuasion and influence — he’s different,” said the professor. “I think there are ample opportunities. If you look at Lockheed Martin — all the sudden the jets are going to be less expensive — that’s interesting.”
He predicted a similar approach for Mr. Trump’s health care agenda, including directly negotiating with Big Pharma over prescription drug prices.
However, Mr. Bies foresaw pitfalls for a businessman going directly from the boardroom to the Oval Office.
“It’s a political game. Most corporate executives — some are good, maybe — but for most it’s a game they haven’t had to play because they were the head honcho,” he said. “He’s going to have to play with multiple players in a bigger sandbox and with lots of interrelated pieces — that’s not just a deal with Lockheed Martin or a deal with Big Pharma. It’s a much more complicated political process.”