AMERICA is about to take a hard right turn. All that is in doubt is whether the final destination is one that Ronald Reagan might have saluted—a country of low taxes, light regulation and free markets, in which individuals and businesses are free to seek prosperity with a minimum of government involvement—or a more nationalist, populist and even statist place, with questions of law, order, identity and cultural tradition playing a role that demagogic European politicians might both recognise and applaud.
In their hearts many Republican leaders in Congress prefer something closer to the first vision. But on the morning after election day the party’s keeper of the Reaganite flame, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, stepped to a podium in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, and pledged fealty to Donald Trump. Mr Ryan, a free-trader and fiscal conservative who had rebuked Mr Trump several times during the campaign, credited the president-elect with securing a mandate for his version of government. He thanked Mr Trump for providing electoral coat-tails long enough to create the first unified Republican government in Washington since 2007.
But if Mr Ryan and his fellow congressional leaders are to survive this new order, they will have to embrace some unfamiliar positions. Mr Trump won office by challenging Republican orthodoxy on trade barriers (he likes them, though they alarm big business), spending (the president-elect sees no pressing need to reform Social Security payments to the old), relations with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin (Mr Trump is a fan) and immigration. Trump supporters are sure they have been promised that government agents will round up and expel millions of foreigners without the right papers, possibly including hundreds of thousands of youngsters brought to the country as children and shielded from deportation by executive orders signed by Barack Obama. They also expect a wall on the border with Mexico, and something tangible will probably have to be built to stem a voter-revolt—though Congress may balk at spending the vast sums needed for the fortifications Mr Trump has described.
Optimistic Republicans predict that Mr Trump will be a sort of CEO-president, setting grand strategy while delegating day-to-day governance to Congress and to his vice-president, Mike Pence, a sternly conventional Christian and fiscal conservative who served in the House of Representatives before becoming governor of Indiana. They describe Mr Trump as a boss who disdains policy memos in favour of face-to-face briefings, and is more fussed by what works and what resonates with his base of working-class voters than with the niceties of ideology. Republicans certainly have a chance to shape America as they will. Mr Trump will get to appoint at least one justice to the Supreme Court, and in the country at large will enjoy support from 34 Republican governors. Overall the party of Mr Obama is weaker than it has been in generations, and faces still more losses in 2018, when the Senate map strongly favours Republicans.
Expect conservative action in every field of domestic policy. Obamacare will be an early target for dismantling, says Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, a surgeon by background and a member of the Senate leadership. Several colleagues credit the unpopularity of the health law with securing their re-election this week, Mr Barrasso says. Republicans do not need to present a 2,000-page replacement bill on the Senate floor, he explains—Mr Trump can do a lot to dismember the law by appointing a new Health and Human Services Secretary who relaxes the many rules and mandates in the act, as Congress prepares alternatives that use tax credits, savings accounts and greater competition to provide cheaper, if less comprehensive health cover. With tens of millions of Americans covered by Obamacare, Republicans will look to states to step in and take the lead role currently played by the federal government, though Democrats predict millions will still fall through the gaps.
Congressional bosses and Trump advisers predict swift moves to expand production of American gas, oil and coal, whether by building new pipelines (including the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada), easing exports of natural gas or opening public lands to new drilling and mining. Environmental agencies and the Department of the Interior will be staffed with pro-business executives, says a senior Trump adviser, following the dictum that “personnel is policy.”