You’ll have to forgive me for writing this so early, since the tradition is to give a new president 100 days before such an evaluation, but these are not normal times. It’s only been two months since Trump took office, but it certainly feels like a lot longer than that. Trump’s pace has been pretty frantic during this period, which is the main reason why I decided to take a quick look at how Trump’s presidency measures up to his campaign rhetoric.
On some issues, Trump has tried to act but been rebuffed by the simple fact that being president doesn’t mean being C.E.O. of a corporation. There are other branches of government which just don’t exist in corporate boardrooms, and they occasionally push back against the White House. On other issues, Trump has been figuring out that the real world is a lot more complicated than promising a crowd of adoring fans: “I know how to fix it, believe me!” And on some issues, Trump has already punted the ball far down the road.
Let’s take a look at the checklist of Trump main campaign themes, to see how well he’s doing in making good on his promises. I’ve tried to be objective as possible here, and make the attempt at seeing Trump’s presidency through the eyes of his own supporters. There’s a reason I’m taking this slant on things, which I’ll explain in the conclusion.
Build the wall, make Mexico pay for it!
President Trump hasn’t built any of his promised border wall yet, but then again it’s only been two months. One fact that was almost never remarked upon during the campaign is that there are already roughly 600 miles of border fence on the 2,000-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico. So at some point, Trump could claim “almost one-third of border is fenced!” and he’d technically be correct (although any attempt to claim credit for a barrier that was already there when he took office would be laughable).
But Trump will likely get at least some of his promised wall built. It’s the easiest thing the Republicans in Congress can toss Trump’s way to sweeten any budget they come up with, after all. They’ll figure: “Add in a few billion to get a few miles of Trump’s wall built quickly, and everybody’s happy.” So look for Trump to be at least partially successful in building his “big, beautiful wall.”
What he will not be successful at, however, is “making Mexico pay for it.” That part just isn’t going to fly with the Mexican government. The Trump administration already floated an alternative plan ― a border tax on all Mexican imports ― which would not actually tax “Mexico,” but rather American consumers. So we’d all be paying for the wall ourselves, in the form of higher prices for Mexican goods (like auto parts, for instance). The question is whether Trump supporters will see higher prices at the store as a win for Trump’s wall promise or not.
Rebuild America’s infrastructure
This was a huge part of Trump’s campaign. It’s a key part of Trump’s “make America great again,” in fact. But apparently rebuilding airports and roads and bridges and all the rest of it wasn’t all that important to Trump in the first place. The White House has already announced they’re essentially punting on this entire plan until next year. Trump’s promise can now be read as: “Make America great again… next year… or whenever I get around to it.”
In the budget plan Trump just released, there is one item that might even hit Trump supporters hard in this area. Trump is proposing to slash the subsidies that keep small airports in rural areas open. Routes from smaller cities just aren’t profitable enough to sustain minor airports, so this subsidy keeps open the option of being able to fly (without making a multi-hour car journey first) for millions of rural America. Now, it’s doubtful if this provision will survive the budgeting process in Congress (each one of those small cities is in a congressional district, after all), but it is telling that Trump’s promise to modernize America’s airports might instead change to “shutting a whole bunch of them down” ― in areas that heavily supported him. That might be a shock to Trump voters who live there, in other words.
Total ban on Muslims entering the country
This is one where Trump has swung and (so far) missed. Twice. Still, Trump supporters will give him full credit for the attempt. Trump’s first Muslim Ban was quickly rejected by the federal courts, and his second one hasn’t been fairing any better so far. The first one was so hastily written and so short on details that it briefly caused chaos in the airports (and sparked a huge public protest). After being legally rebuffed, the White House took a little more time (and consulted a few more actual lawyers) in rolling out Muslim Ban 2.0. It has been temporarily halted by federal judges in at least two states, but who knows how the appeals courts will rule?
The thing is, eventually the Muslim Ban will reach the Supreme Court. If the Senate has confirmed a new justice, Trump could eventually win this legal battle. Even if he doesn’t, however, this one still has to be seen as a solid win by his supporters. Trump tried his best, in their eyes, and those darn liberal judges interfered with Trump’s plans. That’s not Trump’s fault, they’ll tell themselves. At least he tried to follow through on his promise.
If Trump is smart, he’ll eventually announce that his “extreme vetting” is now in place, and the entire question of the “temporary ban” will cease to be important, both to him and his supporters. So even if he loses in the courts, he could ultimately wind up scoring a win with the people who voted for him on this one.
Repeal and replace Obamacare
Trump has already proven that he was just flat-out lying on the campaign trail when it came to replacing Obamacare. He made many sweeping and grandiose statements about what his plan would be. He was going to announce it on “Day One,” or soon thereafter. But he never did, and he likely never will. This is because he never had his own plan ― he just fooled all his supporters into believing he did.
Whether he’s going to pay a political price for any of this remains to be seen. Instead of his own plan, which would “cover everybody,” Trump has hitched his wagon to Paul Ryan’s bill. The fate of this bill is currently up in the air, but may become clear tomorrow, when Ryan has scheduled a vote in the House.
Ryancare, however, is nowhere near as good as any of Trump’s grand promises. It’s not even close. Somehow, by passing Ryancare, America would wind up with fewer people insured than if Obamacare were to just be repealed with no replacement. Got that? If Obamacare had never even existed in the first place, then at least one million more people would still have insurance than under Ryancare. That right there shows how incredibly weak the Ryancare plan truly is.
The jury is still out on Trump’s promises to repeal and replace Obamacare. If Ryancare fails in either the House or the Senate, Trump is going to immediately distance himself from the effort and blame Republicans in Congress for not following through. If it passes, however, Trump may face a different kind of backlash, since the very people Ryancare hurts the most are the groups that went for Trump in a big way (seniors and people in rural areas, just to name two). So when the reality of Ryancare becomes apparent, these Trump supporters are going to feel cheated, one would assume.
Lock her up!
Trump has mercifully decided not to follow through on this campaign chant. He’s largely left Hillary Clinton alone after becoming president (other than his obsession with the outcome of the election), and has instead turned his wrath on Barack Obama instead. This hasn’t been particularly effective either, but then Trump will never lack targets to scapegoat and taunt. I mean, there’s always Rosie O’Donnell if Trump gets in a pinch, right? Trump supporters probably never really expected to see Hillary behind bars, though, so on this one Trump likely will get a pass.
Jobs, jobs, jobs
Trump painted a pretty bleak picture of the American economy while being sworn in. He spoke darkly of the state of the country in his inaugural address, but now that he’s the one who gets to take credit for the monthly jobs numbers, he has proclaimed them accurate.
Trump’s viewpoint isn’t based in any sort of reality, though. Historically, President Obama turned over the American economy to Trump in better shape than most new presidents have ever seen. The stock market has been booming for years, we’re in the middle of the longest uninterrupted job growth period in American history, and the difference between what Obama inherited (800,000 jobs lost per month) and what Trump inherited (200,000-plus jobs created per month) is a net positive difference of over a million jobs per month.
Trump is taking credit for the jobs numbers, even though he doesn’t really deserve it. But then again, no president really “creates” or “loses” jobs ― there simply is no magic wand in the Oval Office that creates jobs. But all presidents are measured by the same yardstick, and so far it’s been a good one for Trump.
Trump, however, hasn’t done anything to create jobs in the future yet, except for his photo-op stunts with a few manufacturing companies (which, even believing Trump’s estimates, have resulted in a tiny, tiny fraction of the monthly job growth over either of the past two months). There is also no “Trump jobs bill” moving through Congress. So the jury’s really out on how he’ll be seen on this front. If the economy continues to do well, he’ll get the credit. If there’s a downturn, he’ll get the blame. It’s too early to tell, though.
Cut better trade deals
This is another one that, to be fair, Trump just hasn’t had enough time to address. Trade deals take a long time to negotiate. The Trump administration could very well be in such negotiations now, and the public might not even be aware of such negotiations. Whether such efforts are underway or not, nobody could reasonably expect any such deals to be agreed upon in such a short period of time. So the jury’s out on this one for now.
On this issue, Trump is actually following through even if it hasn’t gotten much media attention. There’s a reason for this ― most regulations are written by departments within the executive branch. So Trump’s got more direct control over this than he does for many other of his agenda items. Trump has been trying his hardest to dismantle all things Obama which are under his direct control, and we should all expect this to continue unabated.
There may be court challenges to the more far-reaching rules changes, but even if Trump loses in court, as with the Muslim Ban, he’ll likely get credit from his supporters for trying.
This effort hasn’t begun yet ― it is scheduled for later this year. Trump promised to have his own tax-cutting plan, but that may have been just as much smoke and mirrors as his promises to come up with his own healthcare plan. Trump will likely just let Paul Ryan draw up a tax reform bill and then jump on the Ryan bandwagon as it goes by. How successful this effort will be, and what will be contained in the details (beyond massive tax cuts for millionaires, which seems an almost-certainty) remains to be seen. How Trump supporters see such an effort also remains to be seen, especially if most of them get short-changed on the deal.
Cut the deficit/debt
This is perhaps the biggest broken promise yet, even if few have (so far) noticed. Trump loved to rant at campaign rallies about how America was $20 trillion in debt, and he promised he’d not only balance the budget but also solve the problem of the national debt.
To be blunt, he lied. His first budget attempt didn’t even try to address the deficit in any way, shape, or form. Nada. Under his budget, the deficit would continue to grow at the same rate as it currently is. Trump provided zero solution to this problem. He didn’t even try.
Now, Republicans are famous for hyperventilating about the deficit and the national debt when Democrats are in the White House, while conveniently forgetting the issue even exists when a Republican is in charge. So it remains to be seen whether Trump supporters will even care all that much about Trump’s complete refusal to even pay lip service to his promise to balance the budget. Look to the Tea Partiers in Congress when budget time rolls around, though, because they may be the ones making a big stink over the issue ― which would tend to expose the fact that Trump isn’t dealing with it at all.
Big-stick foreign policy
So far, Trump hasn’t started any wars. That’s a relief, but who knows what tomorrow may bring? Trump promised a big, bold foreign policy, with a U.S. military that was so fearsome that other countries wouldn’t even attempt to challenge Trump’s decrees on how the rest of the world should act at any given time. While it hasn’t gotten an enormous amount of attention, some countries have already tested Trump’s military resolve. Russia did a flyby of American warships in international waters, and Trump didn’t react. North Korea is being as belligerent as they know how (and that goes a long way, with them), and so far the only reaction has been some tough talk (but no actual military action). But then again, it’s only been two months. So how Trump will handle foreign policy adversaries still remains to be seen. Trump’s doing a pretty good job of annoying longstanding American allies, but that might all be quickly forgotten in a crisis.
Boost military spending
Well, Trump will certainly get high marks on this one from his supporters. His military budget included $54 billion in additional Pentagon funding, so nobody can say Trump isn’t trying to make good on his promise to build up the military. Whether he gets anything close to that out of the Republican Congress remains to be seen during budget season, but Trump certainly can’t be faulted for failing to live up to this campaign promise.
However, the tradeoffs in Trump’s budget are particularly brutal for rural America, since to pay for such a big military boost in spending, Trump has taken a meat axe to a lot of federal spending that actually winds up helping rural areas (such as Appalachia). Trump will likely be spared any political blowback from his supporters on this front, however, since the most drastic of these cuts will never make it through Congress (no matter how Republican it is). Still, for those paying attention, Trump’s cuts to programs they benefit from may cause some degree of weakening of support in these areas.
Appoint conservatives to the Supreme Court
Another one where Trump has scored a big win ― and not just with his core group of supporters. Conservatives that have always been wary (or worse) towards Trump all breathed a sigh of relief when Trump’s pick for the highest court lived up to their expectations from a Republican president. So Trump will quite likely score a clean victory on this one.
Trump has always promised that he knew how to be “presidential” and we’d all marvel at how wonderful his temperament could be as leader of the country. After two months, this is nothing short of a sad joke. Until and unless his aides ever pry his ability to send tweets from his tiny hands, Trump is going to continue to prove (on a weekly and sometimes even daily basis) that he will go down in history as the least presidential president we’ve ever had.
To be fair, his supporters seem to love his tweets, though, no matter how ridiculous they are to the rest of us.
To sum up, Donald Trump is so far seen by his supporters as being just as energetic as he promised. He’s been doing a lot in the short time he’s been in office, and that fact alone seems to gladden his base, at least for the time being.
Most of what he’s been doing, however, has been largely symbolic. His budget isn’t going to make it through Congress (although, to be fair, no president’s budget emerges unscathed from this process, so this isn’t just because of Trump). He’s followed through on a number of his promises, or at least made an honest effort to do so. He has completely ignored others, or even embraced exactly the opposite of what he promised ― as he’s now doing with Ryancare. And it’s only been two months, so he’s also got a lot of “incomplete” marks on his report card.
The big unanswered question is how Trump will deal with setbacks and outright failures. So far, the signs don’t look particularly good, as shown by his reaction to federal judges smacking down his Muslim Ban. But that’s going to pale in comparison to how Trump handles a big loss in Congress, for example. Or a foreign policy crisis where Trump just has no idea what to do.
Such failures are inevitable for any president, and especially so for Trump. His campaign was so breathtaking in the sheer amount of sweeping campaign promises made that he’s sure to disappoint on a number of key issues. What those issues are is beginning to get clearer, but until Trump faces a real failure nobody really knows how he’ll react. This may start to become apparent tomorrow, if Ryancare fails to pass the Republican House (even if the vote is just indefinitely postponed).
If, in such a situation, Trump begins to flail around and do nothing more than rant and rave and point the finger of blame outward at anyone other than himself, how will his supporters (and the public at large) see his reaction? Perhaps the first few times this happens Trump won’t lose many core supporters, but by the third or fourth time even Trump voters may get tired of it. But that’s just speculation ― this question will remain open for the time being.
One thing Trump hasn’t done in his first two months is attempt any sort of outreach to Democrats. This has resulted in Democratic voters overwhelmingly disapproving of Trump. He’s not doing much better with independent voters either. But the real measure of Trump’s presidency is going to come from his own supporters. So far, his polling remains fairly high among this group, but even this has begun to slip in the past few weeks. Trump won’t lose his political mojo in Washington until he begins losing the support of those who voted for him.
With disapproval of the job Trump’s doing so high among people who didn’t vote for him, and with Trump uninterested in doing anything to improve his marks with this majority of America, Trump started his term with the lowest overall job approval ratings since public polling began. Trump is solely focused on keeping his support strong among his own base, but several of his opening moves on his agenda are almost the exact opposite of what he promised them. And the battles in Congress ― even though controlled by Republicans ― haven’t even really begun yet. Trump is not likely to win each and every one of these battles. The real trend to watch is whether his support begins to fade among his core supporters when they start to see Trump breaking (or failing to make good on) his promises. So far, this hasn’t yet happened.
But it’s only been two months, after all.
Chris Weigant blogs at:
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
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