US election: Who or what can stop Trump running rampant during the transition?


In the two weeks since election day, Donald Trump has already sacked a bunch of officials, writes Ben Riley-Smith for the Daily Telegraph.

Who or what constrains Donald Trump? That question has been asked endlessly throughout his first presidential term, but in the wake of election defeat, with his hands still on the levers of power, it is once again being pondered.

In the two weeks since election day, which saw US voters switch Trump for Joe Biden, the US president has sacked his defence secretary, replaced senior Pentagon officials with loyalists and dismissed his top election security official.

He has announced US troop withdrawals in Afghanistan and Iraq, reportedly pondered some form of retaliatory strike on Iran for its growing nuclear programme and is said to be considering further tough action on China.

All the while, Trump has avoided the press – he has not taken a single question from a reporter since election day.

That was in a fortnight. There are two months to go until Inauguration Day, when Trump is due to hand over power to Biden.

The first restraint, of course, is the law. Congress is in charge of spending and passing legislation, limiting the US president’s ability to implement radical changes on the domestic front.

The Democrats hold the majority in the US House of Representatives, one half of Congress, and therefore can veto any legislation the president attempts to force through.

That restraint is not total. Trump can use presidential executive orders, which carry legal weight, to enact change, as he has done often throughout his presidency.

These executive orders are open to legal challenge, however. Federal judges could temporarily halt changes they deem legally questionable.

On foreign policy, Trump is much freer. The US president is also the commander-in-chief and as such is given wide freedoms to decide military moves.

Here is where a second group of constraints come into play – the personal.

Trump could order a military strike. But would his generals follow through?

It is telling, Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a briefing to senior US broadcasters just before the election that made clear the military would play no part in any result dispute.

And then there is a third constraint – the political.

Trump is no longer facing an imminent election, freeing him from sticking to what voters might want.

However, Trump is reportedly considering another run for the presidency in 2024.

That may give him pause before acting in any way that drastically harms his standing.

But Trump may seek “wins” in his final two months to show his base he always stood up for them.

It is that which has Washington’s establishment braced.

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