The battle for Donald Trump's presidency is underway, and there's nothing orderly about it. Washington is rife with rumour, speculation and trepidation.

The rest of the country is in the dark and divided. Trump always said he liked to be unpredictable, and so it is left to others right now to imagine how all the conflicts, contradictions and questions will be resolved.

Two signs of the absence of clarity came at the weekend when Trump reshuffled the leadership of his transition team, jettisoning New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and some of his loyalists and installing Vice-President-elect Mike Pence to run the show.

At the same time came suggestions that Trump might back away from several key campaign pledges, raising the question of what his real convictions are. These might just be hiccups. If not, look out.


One big question ahead is which Donald Trump will emerge after Inauguration Day. Will it be the bombastic Trump of the campaign, the one who insulted his rivals and offended one group of people after another? Or will it be the more temperate, subdued and inclusive-sounding Trump who has been on display since the Electoral College vote turned stunningly and decisively in his favour. Republicans spent months encouraging Trump to "pivot" to a more presidential style. He resisted, believing that what got him the nomination and would get him the presidency was to knock his rivals as hard as possible and to be as provocative as he could at his campaign rallies. That was the role he adopted to win. No one has a clue as to how he envisions the role of president - how he will address the American people, how he will interact with members of Congress, how he will deal with allies and adversaries.

Trump ran as the outsider who would shake up the capital. By doing that, he became the tribune of the aggrieved, the left-out, the people who have little regard for the views of Washington's elites. But he is a lifelong dealmaker, and Washington is the ultimate dealmaking town. Dealmaking connotes backrooms of insiders making compromises. Do Trump's core followers want Washington to work better, or do they expect him to be more disruptive, a president who puts the establishment in its place?

A third issue is playing out daily as the president-elect begins to populate the government he will take over in January. He promised to "drain the swamp" in Washington. Inevitably, well-connected political insiders - lobbyists, lawyers, think-tank experts and members of the foreign policy establishment - will populate his transition. Who really will control a Trump government, the president or those who could surround and smother him?

Still another question is Trump's relationship to the Republican Party. Republicans now have what they've dreamed about for years: control of the presidency, Congress and, assuming Trump gets his way, eventually the Supreme Court. They also control most of the governorships and state legislatures. Republicans have lost the popular vote in six of the past seven presidential elections, but their grip on power is pervasive. But is the congressional agenda the Trump agenda? House Speaker Paul Ryan has an agenda ready to go, but how much will Trump go along? The men differ on trade and entitlements, among other things. Trump wants to spend big on roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and airports, and put millions of people to work doing so. If that isn't a big-government, Democratic initiative, what is?

Trump presumably will want to put his stamp on things. If he regarded those congressional leaders as a corner of the swamp he wants to drain how does he avoid capitulating to the pressure now to act like a generic conservative Republican? Congressional leaders might see Trump as someone happy to delegate to others. Trump knows the importance of developing and keeping his brand.

When Bill Clinton was newly elected in 1992, he held a summit with congressional leaders and, in essence, ceded power to them to set the legislative agenda. Campaign proposals to clean up Washington - symbolic or otherwise - were pushed to the back burner in deference to entrenched powers. His signature proposal to reform the welfare system, the centerpiece of his effort to redraw his own party, took a back seat to other initiatives in part because there was no appetite to confront the party's liberal base. Clinton came to regret his decision.

The more Trump turns over the direction and priorities of his administration to congressional leaders, the more his anti-establishment message will fade. Perhaps he doesn't care, but the people who supported him so passionately should.

Few people really know what Trump is thinking. At this point eight years ago, then-President-elect Barack Obama had held his first news conference and had named his chief of staff. The identities of other top White House officials were well known. One early indicator of Trump's thinking will be the selection of a chief of staff. The competitors include Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, a true insider and the favourite of GOP congressional leaders, and Steve Bannon, the architect of Breitbart News, a keeper of the alt-right flame and one of the key strategists for Trump in the final few months of the campaign. Everyone knows that Trump prizes loyalty and has a long memory for slights and disparagements. What his governing principles and policy touchstones amount to will be revealed in the choices he begins to make.

Trump won the election by riding a populist revolt driven by people angry at the failure of elected officials, at the absence of secure borders, at the arrogance of the affluent and well educated, at the media, at their place in the new economy and about being mocked and vilified as racists and 'deplorables.' They are likely to cut Trump considerable slack as president, but they did not vote for him to succumb and become part of the swamp.

These first days have put people in leadership positions on their best behaviour, despite the shocks to the political system and in particular to Clinton and her devastated team and Obama and his team, who now see the potential of his legacy unravelling. Clinton was gracious in her concession speech. The President said his priority is to ensure a smooth transition. Trump was respectful. But the protests remind everyone of the toll the campaign has taken and of the divisions that remain. It will take more than a smooth transition to overcome all that.

Trump's intray

Donald Trump has backed down on a key campaign pledge and offered his political foes an olive branch as he sets the stage for his first weeks as president. In his first post-election interviews he has signalled that he will be flexible on what recently appeared to be settled policies. He has also offered the first indications of what his priorities in office will be - including border controls and bank regulation - while reversing long-standing US policies on Russia and Syria.:

Hillary Clinton

If he were president, Trump told Clinton last month, "you'd be in jail". The threat loomed sufficiently large that the White House would not rule out issuing a pardon to Clinton to cover any alleged crimes relating to her emails. It no longer appears that such action will be necessary. Clinton is, in Trump's estimation, now "very strong", "very smart" and gracious in defeat. Trump has "not given much thought" to prosecuting her since the election, he told the Wall Sreet Journal. The President-elect also told CBS News that he plans to seek the counsel of Bill Clinton, who he once called "the worst abuser of women in the history of politics".

President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House. Photo / AP
President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House. Photo / AP


Trump pledged repeatedly to repeal Barack Obama's healthcare reforms. Days after his election, though, Trump said he would consider amending the law, which has provided health cover to 22 million Americans, rather than replacing it. Aspects such as a prohibition on providers declining cover due to pre-existing medical conditions, would remain intact. Trump said Obama had convinced him to reconsider his position.

Financial regulation

One of Trump's first acts will be to cut regulations on banks, allowing them to "start lending again". He said: "I can borrow money. The people who are really good, but need money to open a business or expand a business, can't borrow money from the banks." He will attempt to overhaul Obama's financial reforms, including the landmark Dodd-Frank act.

Russia and Syria

Trump has long had only the vaguest of policies towards Syria. He said, though, that aiding the Syrian opposition had failed. US policy toward Syria had also caused conflict with Russia, he said, something he intends to avoid. He said he had received a "beautiful" letter from President Vladimir Putin and would speak to him soon.

Drain the swamp

Trump pledged that he would rid the US capital of those that buy access to the government. When he named the 16-member executive committee overseeing his transition effort, four were major donors.

- Additional reporting: Telegraph Group Ltd