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Just Saying

A president for his backers rather than the country?

Trump making good on campaign promises pleases supporters, and may be just what will keep him in office

Far be it from me to encourage gambling, but, if one were looking for an esoteric gamble this Chinese New Year, several European betting houses have rolled out quite an interesting list of things for people to punt on.

Particularly intriguing to me - though I'm not the gambling type - is the Donald Trump section currently being offered by Ireland-based Paddy Power.

These people have odds for nearly every conceivable aspect about the presidency that gamblers might want to have a flutter on.

If you believed, for instance, that President Trump might paint the White House gold, you can place a bet at 500 to 1 odds.

If you would rather bet on President Trump leaving his third wife this year, your odds would be 16 to 1.


A Trump figure in a Hong Kong toy shop. The US President may be counting on his popularity among voters to stay in the White House without the threat of impeachment. Should his support start to slip, there is a danger that the Republican Party, which seems to favour Vice-President Mike Pence, might be tempted to oust him. PHOTO: REUTERS

Then, there are the odds of impeachment - the process in which the United States Congress votes to remove a sitting president on a charge of treason, bribery, high crimes or misdemeanours.

Just two weeks into his presidency, bookmakers at more than one firm have the probability of President Trump getting impeached at just under 2 to 1. If you were to wager $10 that Mr Trump would get impeached, your profit would be $20 or less.

To put it another way, as far as betting markets are concerned, the probability of Mr Trump getting impeached is far greater than the probability of Tottenham Hotspur - currently sitting second in the English Premier League - winning the title.

But, is President Trump really in such a tenuous position? After all, no American president has ever been impeached.

Only two others - presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton - have even come close to getting removed by Congress. Both were voted out by a simple majority in the House of Representatives, but were saved when less than two-thirds of the Senate backed impeachment.

To answer the Trump question, it is perhaps worthwhile reviewing what the real estate mogul has done since taking office two weeks ago.

In that short time, he has managed to completely stun the watching world by deploying an erratic, unpredictable strategy of doing more or less what he said he was going to do.

Through a series of executive orders, he created a de facto Muslim ban, called for the construction of a border wall, yanked the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal and undermined the universal healthcare law known as Obamacare.

Apart from the Muslim ban, the rest are largely symbolic gestures - either an affirmation that he intends to do something without the messy implementation bit or, as in the case of the TPP, killing something that was already dead and then posing for photos over its carcass.

While it is important to acknowledge that some people, including the President himself, have stressed that the ban does not discriminate against people of one religion, I think it is safe to conclude that it does.

He repeatedly promised such a ban on Muslims during his election campaign, and when he got into the White House he signed an order barring entry to people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

If it isn't a Muslim ban, it is certainly disguising itself very well.

To think that, not all that long ago, many people, including some of the President's strongest defenders and closest allies, were saying that he was simply shooting his mouth off and not actually intending to do a lot of the things he said he was going to!

A President Pence would be the Republican Party's dream, and the only thing standing between them and that fantasy is President Trump. Yet, they can't impeach President Trump because of the revolt it would cause in the base of Republican voters, and so they have to stick with the mogul as long as their own voters are sticking by him.

PayPal co-founder and Trump supporter Peter Thiel had this famous bit of advice in October: "I think a lot of voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously but not literally. So when they hear things like the Muslim comment or the wall comment, their question is not, 'Are you going to build a wall like the Great Wall of China?' or, you know, 'How exactly are you going to enforce these tests?'

"What they hear is, we're going to have a saner, more sensible immigration policy."

October now feels like a distant era, a more innocent time when one might imagine campaign rhetoric ending with the campaign, and when American presidents did not slam the phone on allies.

As it turns out, Mr Thiel and many others who had propounded the "seriously, not literally" theory had it wrong. Mr Trump has been quick to prove that he is taking a lot of his own promises quite literally.

Perhaps, Mr Trump is just one of those people everyone - myself included - is constantly misjudging.

Or perhaps, Mr Thiel's remarks were made more in hope than expectation. After all, the man had at the time already secured a citizenship in New Zealand - coincidentally one of the farthest places one can be from the US while being able to get decent Wi-Fi.

Another possibility, and this is the argument I'm putting forward today, is that few had foreseen how closely Mr Trump needed to stick to his promises to ward off the threat of impeachment.

You see, more so than any other president, Mr Trump relies on his band of supporters to keep his presidency afloat. They are the duct tape securing his grip on power.

It is, perhaps, no secret that Mr Trump is not exactly popular within his own party. He doesn't adhere to party orthodoxy and has insulted a fair number of them. Throughout the election campaign, he kept feuding with different members and launching Twitter attacks at the party establishment.

The Republican lawmakers, however, love Mr Trump's Vice-President, Mr Mike Pence. He is a team player who believes in all the right things and has - as far as anyone knows - no insecurities about the size of his hands.

A President Pence would be the Republican Party's dream, and the only thing standing between them and that fantasy is President Trump. Yet, they can't impeach President Trump because of the revolt it would cause in the base of Republican voters, and so they have to stick with the mogul as long as their own voters are sticking by him.

I suspect Mr Trump knows this and is doing all he can to please his supporters. I hear you asking: "But do his supporters really like what he is doing now?"

Probably.

Though more polling still needs to be done, current numbers show that there is a fair amount of support for the Muslim ban.

Even amid the massive protests in American airports about his recent immigration executive order, a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll found that those who agree with Mr Trump's ban exceeded those who disagree by 7 percentage points.

If you thought for a moment that the actions of Mr Trump since the November election precipitated an "Oh $%#@" moment, leaving many to wish they could get a do-over, that doesn't seem to be the case.

Many people actually like what he is doing.

You have got to give it to him. The man knows his people.

What that also means is that we can expect Mr Trump to be a president for his support base rather than for the nation. This may be the best plan he has for staying in the White House.

Should his support start to slip, Republicans are going to be very tempted to oust him.

So, is Mr Trump going to make it to 2020?

I don't know, but I literally wouldn't bet on it. I'm not the gambling sort.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 05, 2017, with the headline 'A president for his backers rather than the country?'. Print Edition | Subscribe