The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How President Donald Trump could make life much harder for Republicans in Congress

Trump speaks at a Capitol Hill rally in September. (EPA/JIM LO SCALZO

If Donald Trump is president, it's safe to assume Republicans will also control Congress.

It's less safe to assume that will be a good thing for Republicans. The normally dream scenario for either party — controlling the White House and Congress — could turn into a nightmare for Republicans if they're forced to deal with some of Trump's more controversial policy ideas, like banning Muslims or deporting millions of immigrants.

But a Trump presidency could also bring some surprise bonuses to Capitol Hill Republicans, like having a president who leaves the governing almost entirely up them.

We talked with half a dozen people (mostly Republicans) around Capitol Hill to get a sense of how working with a guy many of them support through clenched teeth would pan out. Here are the pros and cons of a Trump presidency, from the eyes of Republicans in Congress:

Pro: At least he's not Barack Obama

We're talking about personality more than policy. President Obama is not known on Capitol Hill as the guy who goes out of his way to make friends. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) calls him Professor Obama in his recent book, a slight at the president's apparent penchant for explaining/lecturing.

Trump, by contrast, has charmed those on Capitol Hill who have met him. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), a reluctant Trump convert, has even described Trump as "warm" and "genuine."

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) is one of Trump's earliest congressional supporters. In small gatherings, Collins has said, Trump is actually more of a listener than a talker.

"He makes sure everyone knows they matter to him," Collins said. "He's a gentleman."

If that's how a President Trump would comport himself, Republicans say, it will go a long way in building relationships with members of Congress who have felt their ideas snubbed by the White House for the past seven years.

Con: It's tough to know where Trump stands — on anything

There was one big reason Ryan endorsed Trump (however tepidly): The speaker became convinced Trump would fight for his conservative agenda.

But Trump has yet to indicate anything of the sort. In fact, Trump has said his positions on any number of topics are up for negotiation. (Remember that time he switched his position on abortion five times in three days?)

Here's a look back at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's changing views on abortion. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

With Trump, you're never exactly sure what you're going to get. And that could be a big problem for his allies on the Hill.

What happens when/if Trump suddenly decides the political winds are right for proposing a ban on Muslims? In an interview this week with NPR, McConnell said he'd probably have to block that idea. Or for deporting millions of immigrants in the country illegally? Or when Trump decides to block the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, one many Republicans in Congress support? All these scenarios could set up an awkward showdown with President Trump and his party.

Pro: Trump's positions are malleable

Trump's most ardent supporters say they're not lying awake at night worrying about whether Trump will propose a ban on Muslims. (FWIW, some of his supporters are okay with building a wall, a proposition that has been voted on in Congress before. They're also okay with trying to make Mexico pay for it.)

They're not worried about Trump's most controversial ideas because candidate Trump hasn't shown much of an interest in developing actual policy. It's possible a President Trump leaves governing up to his colleagues on the Hill. That would be a dream scenario for Ryan, who is rolling out an ambitious conservative agenda in the next few weeks. He'd be left alone by an uninterested White House to make his agenda happen. Just sign on the dotted line, President Trump, please.

Plus, Trump's ambivalence on taking positions means he's open to new ideas, say his supporters. "He's generally not a my-way-or-the-highway guy," Collins said, "He's just the opposite."

Con: Trump keeps saying controversial things

Trump: Romney walks like a penguin (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

As vulnerable Senate Republicans know all too well, Trump has said a lot of things that could make voters cringe. And Senate Democrats are determined to make Republicans accountable for every little thing Trump says this campaign.

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) released an ad attacking Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for supporting Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. (Video: Kirkpatrick for Senate/YouTube)

It might not work — there are feasible ways that Trump could win the presidency and Republicans could keep control of both chambers of Congress. But that doesn't mean the GOP's Trump nightmare will be over when the dust settles in November. If President Trump says something controversial about Muslims, women and/or Hispanics, you can bet Democrats are going to make their Republican colleagues have to answer for it.

Pro and con: At least he's not Barack Obama (again)

This time, we're talking about both men's approach to governing. Republicans' biggest gripe with Obama is that he has reshaped the presidency by stretching its powers further than our founders meant for it to go. Both sides are constantly in court about whether Obama's latest executive order (immigration is a big one) was constitutional.

Trump has criticized Obama for using executive orders so loosely. And that gives his supporters hope that he'll stop the practice, which they say shortens Congress's leash.

But Trump also hasn't ruled out using executive orders, points out the Brookings Institution's Molly Reynolds. Sometimes even in the same breath as criticizing Obama's use of executive orders, Trump has said he'd consider using them, too.

"I won't refuse it," he said in a January interview on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I'm going to do a lot of things. I mean, he's led the way, to be honest with you," he said, referring to Obama.

And that right there sums up the dichotomy a Trump presidency presents for congressional Republicans. Trump appears open to ideas — like theirs — but he's also open to doing things in a way that could make life very difficult for his colleagues on the Hill.