President-elect Trump reverts to pre-election bad habits

Republican’s transition marked by same unpredictability and petulance as campaign

Old habits die hard and, for Donald Trump, most are suffering a painfully slow death.

The Republican has struggled in his transition from presidential nominee to president-elect, showing himself unwilling to set aside the vindictiveness of his brutal campaign or to fulfil his post-election promise to “bind the wounds of division” with 59 days until he takes the oath of office at the US Capitol.

The switch has been far from presidential. There has been a return to the tactics of the petulant candidate Trump, with him once again sending confusing messages, but now as the unpredictable president-elect Trump.

Many of his most provocative campaign promises have fallen by the wayside. There was no mention of his plan to build a "big, beautiful, powerful" wall along the border with Mexico when he spoke to a camera for two minutes for a video released on Monday night about his first 100-day policy plans.


Instead, he will ask the department of labour to investigate “all abuses of visa programmes that undercut the American worker”. Ten days ago, he spoke instead about a part-fence, part-wall.

Chants of "lock her up" from his energised Hillary Clinton-hating base and a pledge to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Democrat worked for the campaign, but yesterday his former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told MSNBC that Trump had no plans to pursue charges against his former opponent.

"Look, I think he's thinking of many different things as he prepares to become the president of the United States and things that sound like the campaign are not among them," she said.

Tempestuous relationship

One of the few areas where president-elect Trump has maintained some consistency is in his tempestuous relationship with the press. Much maligned by candidate Trump as “dishonest” during his campaign, the American media have been shut out and shouted at by president-elect Trump. He refused to abide by the long-standing tradition of being tracked by a reporting “pool”, preferring to ditch his media chaperones last week to eat at a fancy Manhattan restaurant.

Trump has reverted to the free-swinging, Twitter-venting Trump of old, picking fights with the cast of Broadway musical Hamilton, NBC comedy show Saturday Night Live and the "failing" New York Times.

The tweetstorms conveniently distract from his $25 million settlement of the fraud causes against Trump University (“I don’t settle cases,” he said in March) and reports about his refusal to separate his corporate interests from his work in government, as shown by his meeting with Indian business partners.

The stream of visitors to Trump Tower, his New York sky-scraping lair, and his private golf resort in New Jersey, is gold for the 24-hour TV news cycle. It feeds speculation about his government with an unlikely cast, from anti-Trumper Mitt Romney to one-time Bernie Sanders supporter Tulsi Gabbard, the Democratic congresswoman. It is all playing out against a backdrop of the Trump brand.

The Republican's confirmed appointments to his administration represent one of the few consistencies of his uneven transition to power. Former Breitbart News conservative propagandist Steve Bannon was named White House chief strategist; Alabama senator Jeff Sessions is to be attorney general and retired army lieutenant general Mike Flynn will be national security adviser. All have been rewarded for their loyalty.

Installing Republican national committee chairman Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff, and Kansas congressman Mike Pompeo as director of the CIA, tethers Trump to the unsure yet giddy party establishment.

Media master

Outside of those appointments, Trump the media master is savouring the vacuum of speculation and, where useful, continues to sell diversion to the American media in the same volume as in the latter stages of his winning campaign.

When the New York Times reported that Trump had encouraged former Ukip leader Nigel Farage to oppose the offshore wind farms that might spoil the view at one of his Scottish golf clubs, Trump tweeted that Farage "would do a great job" as UK ambassador to the US. Only one story was on repeat play on the news cycle after that.

Trump's visit to the New York Times followed another Twitter broadside in which he initially cancelled their meeting, claiming that the agreed terms and conditions of their engagement had changed. (They had not.) The visit went ahead a day after an off-the-record discussion with prominent American TV news anchors and executives turned into a savage dressing-down by the US president-elect.

A question-and-answer session at the New York Times, during which he vacillated again on his campaign statements and promises, was just the second major interview by the next president since his election. He has yet to hold a press conference. Barack Obama held one three days after his election, Bill Clinton nine days after his. For Trump, it is 14 days and counting.

But like candidate Trump there is nothing conventional about president-elect Trump.