Will Trump deliver?

People in Tijuana, Mexico, speaking to relatives across the border in the US on Sunday. Mr Trump will have to ask Congress for the budget to build a wall - a tall order, say political analysts.
People in Tijuana, Mexico, speaking to relatives across the border in the US on Sunday. Mr Trump will have to ask Congress for the budget to build a wall - a tall order, say political analysts.PHOTO: REUTERS

Populist promises to curb free trade pacts, climate-related obligations and immigration have been credited - or blamed - for getting Mr Donald Trump to the White House.

But since his election triumph on Wednesday, the blustery US President-elect has softened his tone on his most strident proposals or wiped them off his record, adding to uncertainty over his likely policies.

Lee Seok Hwai looks at how likely it is that the billionaire magnate will make good on his campaign promises.



  • Renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) with Canada and Mexico.
  • Withdraw the US from the "job-killing" Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade pact signed by 12 countries, including Singapore.


  • Nafta: Maybe. Mexico and Canada have indicated that they would be "happy" to discuss the 22-year-old trade deal with Mr Trump, who blames the pact for taking manufacturing jobs from the US to Mexico. Mexican Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu said Mexico will discuss ways to "modernise" the pact with Mr Trump's transition team in the coming months.
  • TPP: The deal was already on its last legs to begin with. Only 28 of 188 House Democrats and 13 of 44 Senate Democrats supported granting outgoing President Barack Obama the authority to negotiate and finalise a deal last year. Ahead of the Nov 8 presidential and congressional elections, both Democrats and Republicans campaigned against "unfair" trade policies. Mr Trump's election victory likely would drive a nail in the coffin of the TPP.



  • Build a wall on the border with Mexico and pay for it by taxing remittances sent home by Mexicans in the US.
  • Immediately begin the process of deporting illegal immigrants with criminal records, and jail people who re-enter the US illegally.
  • Introduce "extreme vetting" of immigrants to weed out those who do not "share our values and respect our people".
  • Temporarily ban Muslims from entering the US "until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on".


  • Wall: Unclear.

Mr Trump seemed intent on it, to the extent of repeating his promise to make Mexico pay for a US$10 billion (S$14.1 billion) wall hours after visiting Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in August. The plan also figures in the immigration section of his new presidential transition website. But Mexico has insisted it will not foot the bill, and Mr Trump will have to ask the US Congress for the budget to build the wall - a tall order, say political analysts.

The massive bill aside, there are other major obstacles, such as environmental and engineering problems.

  • Mass deportation:

Mr Trump, who indicated on Thursday that immigration is one of his top three priorities, has said he would deport up to two million illegal immigrants with criminal records in his first year as president. Once in office, he can end, without Congress approval, President Obama's initiatives that currently protect more than five million illegal immigrants from deportation.

He has indicated that the authorities will ramp up raids in communities and workplaces, expand detention centres along the border for asylum seekers and punish so-called sanctuary cities by withholding federal funding.

The main obstacle to Mr Trump's plan is money: His measures are estimated to cost as much as US$166 billion, including the cost of erecting a wall to keep out migrants.

  • Extreme vetting: It is unclear how Mr Trump will carry out ideological screening of would-be immigrants. The Department of Homeland Security would have to design a test that certifies whether a refugee or asylum seeker from a majority-Muslim country is a threat. The agency would also have to identify which citizens from which countries would be subject to such an exam, before submitting the measures for Congress approval.
  • Ban on Muslims: Unlikely. Mr Trump had appeared to drop the radical idea, which drew widespread condemnation after he raised it in December, in favour of ideological screening.

Climate change


  • Mr Trump calls climate change "fictional" and has threatened to "cancel" the Paris Agreement that came into force on Nov 4 and which commits countries to limiting global warming this century to below 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels.


The US is bound to the Paris Agreement until 2020. Mr Trump could take the drastic step of withdrawing from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a treaty that established the entire process. If he goes down this route, he could pull the US out of the Paris pact by 2018 but risk damaging the country's diplomatic relations and standing since curbing global warming is now among the top priorities of world leaders.

Even if Mr Trump does not withdraw the US from the Paris accord, the country will suffer no legal consequences or economic sanctions if he fails to follow through with the Obama administration's commitment to cut US emissions by up to 28 per cent from 2005 levels by 2025.



  • Repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with another system that would give more power to states over how to handle funds. Popularly known as Obamacare, the current plan engineered by President Obama has insured millions of people who would have struggled to afford medical cover but has also pushed up premiums for Americans not on government assistance.


Mr Trump's Republican Party controls 51 of the 100 seats in the Senate and does not have the 60 votes needed to win passage for a repeal effort.

While they can still use a parliamentary procedure called budget "reconciliation" to get around a Democratic filibuster and bring down the Act, they will still have to contend with opposition from 20 million people who are covered under Obamacare, healthcare providers, and states which have poured funds into the programme.

  • With information from Bloomberg, NYTimes, Washington Post and Reuters
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2016, with the headline 'Will Trump deliver?'. Subscribe