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Why, like him or loathe him, Trump will not button it anytime soon

If the US President has demonstrated one thing during his outlandish first year in office ,it's that he won't shirk a fight, argues Philip Delves Broughton

For Donald Trump, 2017 ended in the last way his many critics expected: in victory. Presidents tend to be remembered for very few things. And long after the noise has faded on Trump's bombast and vulgarity, Americans will remember the tax reforms he pushed for, which Congress passed just before Christmas.

His critics say the long-term legacy of these reforms will be a gaping deficit and a widening gap between the wealthy and the rest. But in the short term, the tax cuts are likely to support an already strong American economy.

Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, said the law will "deliver more jobs, fairer taxes and bigger paychecks for Americans from all walks of life".

That will be the message in the autumn's congressional elections, in which Republicans hope to retain control of both houses of Congress, giving Trump another two-year lock on Washington.

Love or loathe the tax bill, that it passed is some kind of miracle, given all we were led to think of Trump and his administration.

The idea that out of all the chaos could emerge the most sweeping tax legislation since Ronald Reagan's presidency has many resetting their view of Trump.

He never promised to be conventional, but he did promise to get things done. On tax he has been true to his word.

He scored the kind of legislative triumph all presidents covet, but not all achieve.

Trump surged into 2018 propelled by the economy.

The stock market is at a record high, unemployment is at its lowest in 17 years, the economy is growing at more than 4% a year and business confidence is booming.

Any other president would take that backdrop and simply revel in it. Not Trump. On Tuesday morning, having returned to the White House after his holiday in Florida, he resumed his usual riot.

On Twitter, he attacked the "dishonest and corrupt" media, calling for Hillary Clinton's former aide, Huma Abedin, to be sent to jail and taunting North Korea's Kim Jong-un: "North Korean leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the 'Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times'. Will someone from his depleted and food-starved regime please inform him that I, too, have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!"

Then came Wednesday's publication of extracts from Michael Wolff's new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

Wolff claims to have spoken at length to people in Trump's circle. He reports that Rupert Murdoch, supposedly a Trump confidante, called the President a "f****** idiot" after speaking to him on the phone.

Trump's staff, according to Wolff, came to believe that "for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-literate", given his reluctance to read documents. He was so impulsive and insecure that his former deputy chief of staff, Katie Walsh, said that dealing with him was "like trying to figure out what a child wants".

But what appears to have irked Trump most about the book was the involvement of Stephen Bannon, his former adviser. Bannon called a meeting between Trump's top advisers and Russians, promising dirt on Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign of 2016, "treasonous" and "unpatriotic".

He added that the investigation into allegations of Russian collusion was focused on possible money-laundering by Trump's family.

Bannon is often portrayed as Trump's Rasputin, the devilish genius who orchestrated his unlikely rise to power.

Trump has clearly grown sick of that storyline.

"Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency," he said in a statement. "When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating 17 candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican Party."

He continued: "Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn't as easy as I make it look. Steve doesn't represent my base - he's only in it for himself."

For traditional Republicans, the passage of the tax bill and the repudiation of Bannon are rekindling hopes that Trump may after all return to become a more mainstream politician.

That his natural home isn't with the core of voters who turn up at his rallies and cheer his most outrageous statements, but somewhere in with the business people who like his tax cuts and his efforts to lighten the regulatory load on corporations.

When he arrived in office, Trump promised to cut two existing regulations for every new one and claims so far to have been as good as his word. He has also picked solidly conservative judges, notably Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court.

Republicans more focused on foreign policy have been delighted by Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and his support for the recent anti-government protests in Iran.

They say he is showing the kind of spine in the Middle East that President Obama never did, recognising and rewarding America's friends and attacking its enemies.

But they despair that his craziness, not to mention his perceived xenophobia, racism and sexual boorishness, is obscuring his good work.

His poll numbers are abysmal for a president with an economy this good. His approval rating is just shy of 40% - not the worst they have been, but still low compared to his predecessors.

But there is still time. Republicans hope that having passed tax reform, Trump will have a taste for more legislative victories.

He has said he still wants to dismantle President Obama's Affordable Care Act and reform the healthcare system, despite failing to do so last year.

He has promised a new infrastructure plan to upgrade everything from bridges, roads and airports to hospitals, energy and broadband-delivery networks.

Congressional Republicans are also keen to take on welfare reform. They are hoping for more bipartisan support having failed to win a single Democratic vote for tax reform.

It is also conceivable that something positive emerges from Trump's unorthodox approach to foreign policy.

For years, American diplomats scratched their heads over North Korea.

Now North Korea is scratching its head over Trump.

The general assumption is that by trashing the delicate diplomatic furniture, and a policy of "strategic patience", Trump is risking war.

An alternative view is that he is creating room for a new order to emerge.

The old one, through generations of cautious diplomacy, had grown stale.

The next few weeks before the Winter Olympics open in Pyeongchang, South Korea, will keep a spotlight on North Korea.

Meanwhile, Trump will have to deal with the rising protests in Iran. His allies in Saudi Arabia are willing an end to the current Iranian regime, which they blame for stoking conflicts in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Managing relations with China and Russia will also remain essential to Trump's entire foreign policy.

As if that all wasn't enough, Trump is still awaiting the outcome of the Special Counsel's investigation into alleged collusion between his campaign and the Russian government.

If it's bad, Democrats will try to impeach him.

But if Trump has proved anything in his outlandish first year, it's that he won't shirk a fight.

Belfast Telegraph

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