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Since election day, I’ve spent some time and space here and on the air speculating about the future of what I called Trump-ism without Donald Trump in conservative and Republican Party political ranks. Just this weekend, my attention turned to another subject and possibility: Trump-ism without Mr. Trump more broadly speaking, as a shaper – and indeed a decisive shaper – of national public policy during a Joe Biden presidency. Maybe surprisingly, the chances look pretty good.

That is, it’s entirely possible that a Biden administration won’t be able to undo many of President Trump’s signature domestic and foreign policies, at least for years, and it even looks likely if the Senate remains Republican. Think about it issue-by-issue.

With the Senate in Republican hands, there’s simply no prospect at least during the first two Biden years for Democratic progressives’ proposals to pack the Supreme Court, to eliminate the Senate filibuster, or to recast the economy along the lines of the Green New Deal, or grant statehood Democratic strongholds Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. A big tax increase on corporations and on the Biden definition of the super-rich looks off the table as well.

If the Senate does flip, the filibuster might be history. But big Democratic losses in the House, and the claims by many veterans of and newcomers to their caucus that those other progressive ambitions, along with Defunding the Police, were to blame, could also gut or greatly water down much of the rest of the far Left’s agenda, too.

CCP Virus policy could be substantially unchanged, too. For all the Biden talk of a national mask mandate, ordering one is almost surely beyond a President’s constitutional powers. Moreover, his pandemic advisors are making clear that, at least for the time being, a sweeping national economic lockdown isn’t what they have in mind. I suspect that some virus economic relief measures willl be signed into law sometime this spring or even earlier, but they won’t carry the total $2 trillion price tag on which Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems to have insisted for months. In fact, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of relief being provided a la carte, as Congressional Republicans have suggested – e.g., including popular provisions like some form of unemployment payment bonus extension and stimulus checks, and excluding less popular measures like stimulus aid for illegal aliens.

My strong sense is that Biden is itching to declare an end to President Trump’s trade wars, and as noted previously, here he could well find common cause with the many Senate Republicans from the party’s establishment wing who have never been comfortable bucking the wishes of an Offshoring Lobby whose campaign contributions it’s long raked in.

Yet the former Vice President has promised his labor union supporters that until the trade problems caused by China’s massive steel overproduction were (somehow) solved, he wouldn’t lift the Trump metals tariffs on allies (which help prevent transshipment and block these third countries from exporting their own China steel trade problems to the United States) – even though they’re the levies that have drawn the most fire from foreign policy globalists and other trade and globalization zealots.

As for the China tariffs themselves, the latest from the Biden team is that they’ll be reviewed. So even though he’s slammed them as wildly counterproductive, they’re obviously not going anywhere soon. (See here for the specifics.) 

Later? Biden’s going to be hard-pressed to lift the levies unless one or both of the following developments take place: first, the allied support he’s touted as the key to combating Beijing’s trade and other economic abuses actually materializes in very convincing ways; second, the Biden administration receives major Chinese concessions in return. Since even if such concessions (e.g., China’s agreement to eliminate or scale back various mercantile practices) were enforceable (they won’t be unless Biden follows the Trump Phase One deal’s approach), they’ll surely require lengthy negotiations. Ditto for Trump administration sanctions on China tech entities like the telecommunications giant Huawei. So expect the Trump-ian China status quo to long outlast Mr. Trump.

Two scenarios that could see at least some of the tariffs or tech sanctions lifted? First, the Chinese make some promises to improve their climate change policies that will be completely phony, but will appeal greatly to the Green New Deal-pushing progressives who will wield much more power if the Senate changes hands, and who have demonstrated virtually no interest in China economic issues. Second, Beijing pledges to ease up on its human rights crackdowns on Hong Kong and the Muslims of Xinjiang province. These promises would be easier to monitor and enforce, but the Chinese regime views such issues as utterly non-negotiable because they’re matters of sovereignty. So China’s repressive practices won’t even be on the official agenda of any talks. Unofficial understandings might be reached under which Beijing would take modest positive steps or suspend further contemplated repression. But I wouldn’t count on such an outcome.

Two areas where Biden supposedly could make big decisions unilaterally whatever happens in the Senate, are immigration and climate change. Executive orders would be the tools, and apparently that’s indeed the game plan. But as Mr. Trump discovered, what Executive Orders and even more routine adminstrative actions can do, a single federal judge responding to a special interest group’s request can delay for months. And these judicial decisions can interfere with presidential authority even on subjects that for decades has been recognized as wide-ranging – notably making immigration enforcement decisions when border crossings impact national security, as with the so-called Trump “Muslim ban.”

I know much less about climate change, but a recently retired attorney friend with long experience litigating on these issues told me that even before Trump appointee Amy Coney Barrett joined the Supreme Court, the Justices collectively looked askance on efforts to create new policy initiatives without legislating. Another “originalist” on the Court should leave even less scope for ignoring Congress.

The bottom line is especially curious given the almost universal expectations that this presidential election would be the most important in recent U.S. history: A deeply divided electorate could well have produced a mandate for more of the same – at least until the 2022 midterms.