By Lee H. Hamilton
As Mario Cuomo said, politicians campaign in poetry but have to govern in prose. Now we have a president-elect who campaigned in tweets…but still will have to govern in prose.
So, like a few thousand other Americans, I’d like to give him some advice. Not on the substance of policy itself — that he’ll handle himself — but on how to be effective at achieving what he’d like to achieve.
First, he has to set priorities. During the course of the campaign, according to The Washington Post, Donald Trump made 282 promises. He is not going to be able to deliver on them all. So he’ll need to set out his priorities with clarity and force. He cannot afford to sow confusion.
Though this president-elect prides himself on unpredictability, conducting policy in an unpredictable way is the mark of a rogue state.
Second, the president-elect must fix his conflict-of-interest challenge. Because of the extraordinary extent of his business interests, he has an unprecedented number of potential conflicts for a U.S. president. He will be negotiating policy with many people, agencies and countries where he or his business partners have a bottom-line stake in what happens.
If he does not fix this before he takes office, conflict-of-interest charges will dog him throughout his presidency and weaken, if not cripple, his effectiveness.
Third, President Trump will need to keep his majorities united. Given Republican dominance of Capitol Hill, he’s in a strong position to get things done. But he’ll have to keep his fellow Republicans on his side. Showing respect for, and reaching out to, GOP lawmakers will matter. So will considering a variety of different views and treating them with respect — which is how a pluralist democracy works.
It’s not enough simply to say “I want this.” He has to take seriously the role of facts in the deliberative process. Members of Congress and others need to be able to defend their support for politically difficult proposals — and they cannot do this without factually based arguments.
For a president to succeed, he needs to interact in a measured, sensible, reassuring way, and supply his allies with solid analysis and information, not guesses, instincts, opinions, and debunk-able theories.
A president who sets clear priorities, removes all doubt about potential conflicts of interest, and works responsibly with his allies on fact-driven policies can make good progress and achieve his goals.
Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.