Save for later Print Download Share LinkedIn Twitter With nearly half of the Republican primaries over, US real estate magnate Donald Trump remains the forerunner as his party's candidate for president, a fact that both surprises and worries many in the party's so-called establishment. On the face of it, Trump's vision for America is simple -- it should be the best country in the world, tolerating no economic or security threat. But the combination of Trump's changeable rhetoric and the inflammatory language typical of an election year make it difficult to predict what type of leader a President Trump would be. For months last year, Trump's candidacy was treated as part of the political silly season in which lower-profile party members -- many with books to sell or contracts as commentators with TV networks to secure -- renew their relevancy with a presidential bid (EC Feb.12'16). While Trump's candidacy is not inevitable, analysts at FiveThirtyEight point out that Trump has so far been more successful at winning delegates than he needs to be in order to become the party nominee. Texas Senator Ted Cruz may have picked up support, but he is far behind where he would like to be to secure a win, with Florida's Marco Rubio even worse off. The core of Trump's rhetoric on foreign policy is not new: He has been talking about making other countries pay for US debts and aggressively negotiating more advantageous trading positions over the decades that he has feinted at presidential runs, the New Yorker's Jill Lepore wrote this week. Trump simultaneously promises to avoid expensive, protracted entanglement, and assert American dominance. But it is the specifics that worry many. Trump has called people in the Middle East "animals," said he would ban Muslims from entering the country temporarily, force Mexico to pay for construction of a wall to keep overland immigrants out, and expand the use of torture. Earlier this month, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney took up the mantle of Republican Party concern. "If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished," he said. Trump's strategies to bring manufacturing jobs home "are flimsy at best," while "[i]nsulting all Muslims will keep many of them from fully engaging with us in the urgent fight against Isis," Romney added. Romney's sentiments were echoed by the rank-and-file Republican security establishment in a letter signed by more than 100 former officials and academics last week. Trump's notion that other countries should pay for US security assurances "is the sentiment of a racketeer, not the leader of alliances that have served us so well," they wrote. However, even President Barack Obama this week expressed his extreme frustration with a number of traditional US allies, from the Mideast Gulf to Europe, in an interview with The Atlantic -- calling them "free riders" for "pushing us to act but then showing an unwillingness to put any skin in the game" (EC Jan.29'16). Others have sought comfort from the candidacy and subsequent presidency of Ronald Reagan, who ran against Jimmy Carter in 1980. Reagan's rhetoric was tough, but once in office he was willing to negotiate -- Trump's favorite selling point about himself. Reagan shook hands with Mikhail Gorbachev and largely avoided interventions, apart from the easily won war in Grenada. Perplexingly, Trump also promises he'll have better relations with other leaders, such as Russia's Vladimir Putin. "It's very confusing, because it's a blend of 'We're the USA and we're not going to let other countries push us around,' but there's the strain of saying that he's going to be the one to get along with everyone," says the Brookings Institution's Philip Wallach. Drill, Baby? Trump's energy policy may be easier to decipher. Perhaps his strongest signal yet has been his embrace of 2008 vice presidential candidate and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin -- who last year made a public pitch to be his energy secretary. Palin's energy policy is best known for a no-holds-barred philosophy on drilling, punctuated by her rallying cry to "Drill, baby, drill." But drilling is not really the industry's problem today -- prices are. "Even if you take a kind of Sarah Palin-maximalist drilling approach, it's not clear what that looks like given the global markets," University of Michigan professor Barry Rabe said. A President Trump could put large swaths of federal land roped off by Obama back in play, but it is proven shale areas -- not discoveries in new territories -- that are likely to be the site of a production recovery (related). The next US president may have a more tangible effect on climate policy, where executive regulations are the main driver. But here Trump's views are also difficult to pin down. In the past he has suggested that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese government to damage the US economy -- something he more recently called a joke. Regardless, a President Trump is unlikely to halt the march to greater deployment of renewables such as wind and solar. The renewable tax credits passed last year in exchange for a repeal of the decades-old prohibition on most oil exports will underpin about 100 gigawatts of additional renewable power by 2020, White House climate policy official Rick Duke said last week (EC Dec.18'15). "It seems overwhelmingly likely he would be against the status quo," Wallach said, as set by Obama's forward-leaning climate policy. "At the same time, would he be the ideological opponent to a carbon tax in the way Ted Cruz would be?" Emily Meredith, Washington Compass Points • SIGNIFICANCE: Predicting the nature of a Trump presidency may be a fool's errand, but decades of statements indicate he will prioritize trade issues and avoid expensive overseas military adventures. • CONNECTION: Trump's foreign policy outlook differs distinctly from that of Rubio -- a hawk more in the tradition of George W. Bush and the neoconservatives. • NEXT: If Trump triumphs, he'll very likely be pitted against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a much more known quantity on foreign policy.