Analysis / The dominant theme of President Donald Trump’s first 100 days, which include stumbles, reversals and unkept promises: Governing is much harder than campaigning.
Three weeks before winning the White House, President Trump gave a speech in Pennsylvania promising a “game-changing” first 100 days in office, predicting the “contract with the American voter” he outlined that day would persuade people to back him on Election Day.
On his 92nd day in office, Trump had a change of heart. Judging a president on his first 100 days in office, he said, was a “ridiculous standard.”
Whether you call that a flip-flop or a presidential learning moment, it was one of several reversals that illustrate the dominant theme of Trump’s first 100 days: Governing is much harder than campaigning.
Most of Trump’s early failures have been unforced errors by a rookie politician who spent his career at a family-run business where he didn’t have to answer to an angry board of directors, let alone Congress, the courts and the media.
The candidate who sold himself to voters as the master deal maker depicted in his autobiographical book “The Art of the Deal” hasn’t been able to shepherd one significant piece of legislation into law, despite having the most leverage possible: both houses of Congress controlled by his party.
“Donald Trump has been average, maybe a little below average, compared to other presidents since World War II,” said John Frendreis, a professor of political science at Loyola University in Chicago who has studied the first 100-day records of presidents going back to Franklin Roosevelt. “He hasn’t passed anything of real significance.”
His supporters say he’s been true to the voters who put him in the White House. Trump, in a speech this month in Wisconsin, said “no administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days” than his, a boast that the nonpartisan fact checker PolitiFact scored as “false.” Vice President Mike Pence said, “President Trump has simply been in the promise-keeping business since Inauguration Day.”
Trump, however, has kept only six of the 103 promises he made during the campaign, according to PolitiFact. All were unilateral actions that didn’t require approval by Congress.
Trump has failed to deliver on much of what he promised that October day in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and a majority of Americans agree, as 51 percent disapprove of the job he’s doing as president, according to an average of major polls by RealClearPolitics.com. He has the lowest approval rating — 42 percent — in history at this point of a presidential term.
Health appointment: President Donald Trump is appointing Charmaine Yoest, former president of a leading anti-abortion organization, to a senior position at the Department of Health and Human Services. Yoest will serve as assistant secretary of public affairs at HHS. From 2008 until February 2016, she was president of Americans United for Life, which campaigned at the federal and state level for tough restrictions on abortion.
Clean-air lawsuits: A federal appeals court agreed Friday to postpone a ruling on lawsuits that challenge Obama-era limits on carbon emissions. The limits are part of the Clean Power Plan, a centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s efforts to reduce emissions from existing power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to put the legal fight on hold after Trump signed an executive order to roll back the plan. The court order postpones the case for 60 days and asks the parties for guidance on whether the rule should be sent back to the EPA to potentially be revised or repealed.
Offshore drilling:Trump signed an executive order Friday that could open large parts of the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans to new oil and gas drilling. Trump’s move, which is certain to face legal and political challenges, could undo a plan finalized late in Obama’s second term that sought to limit fossil-fuel development and fight climate change by not including new drilling leases off the coast of California or Alaska during the current five-year federal offshore plan, which extends through 2022. Trump promised the directive “will make America energy secure” and “create greater prosperity and security for all Americans.”
Diplomacy cuts: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is proposing to eliminate 2,300 jobs as part of a plan to cut more than a quarter of the State Department’s budget for the next fiscal year, officials said. The staff cuts would amount to about 3 percent of the department’s roughly 75,000-member workforce. In an interview with NPR that aired Friday, Tillerson said he intended to reorganize the department to make it more efficient and focused.
Seattle Times news services
What may be more damaging to his long-term success is that the part of Trump’s political brand that was so attractive to disaffected swing voters — the guy who means what he says — has been tarnished during his first 100 days.
He’s changed his mind on some of the signature positions he set out during the campaign, such as regarding the value of NATO — now he says it’s valuable — and China as a currency manipulator; now he says it’s not.
He promised he would repeal the Affordable Care Act “on day one” of his term, but he and the Republican Congress fumbled their chance to replace it, and they wound up pulling it before it came to a vote.
“That was his domestic Bay of Pigs,” said Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, referring to the disastrous Cuba invasion that President John F. Kennedy ordered early in his term. “He didn’t know what he was doing, and I don’t think he reckoned on the divisions in his own party.”
Perhaps most ominously for the crowds that chanted “Build the wall!” at his campaign rallies, Trump has backed off on his demand for funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, the signature issue of his political career, saying he’ll get back to it.
This growing list of course corrections is taking a toll. A majority of voters (80 percent) think Trump “lies or exaggerates the truth,” according to a new Firehouse Strategies survey of likely 2018 midterm-election voters in four key swing states that went for Trump: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida.
That lack of trust may fade by the time Trump faces re-election, but it could damage his fellow Republicans next year.
For Trump, “the danger is that while he is technically not on the ballot in 2018, his White House is on the ballot,” said Sarah Binder, author of “Stalemate: Causes and Consequences of Legislative Gridlock” and a professor of political science at George Washington University.
On his Fox News show this week, die-hard Trump supporter Sean Hannity said, “If he does not build that wall, which was the foundation of his electoral success, it will be ‘Read my lips: No new taxes,’ ” referring to President George H.W. Bush’s broken 1988 campaign promise that damaged his chances for re-election four years later.
Yet for now, Trump appears solid among his core supporters.
During the campaign last year, Trump famously said his support was so strong that, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” And that may remain true today. Only 2 percent of Trump voters say they regret backing him, according to a Washington Post/ABCNews poll out this week; 96 percent said they would vote for him again.
Analysts say Trump bought a lot of goodwill by fulfilling one of his key campaign promises: to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court with a conservative like the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Newly seated Justice Neil Gorsuch fits that description.
“Neil Gorsuch was a big deal. A really big deal,” said Lanhee Chen, a chief policy adviser on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and a health-care official in George W. Bush’s administration.
And while critics may deride it as a flip-flop, Chen noted that Trump’s bombing of Syria — he’d previously cautioned President Barack Obama against such action in a tweet — in retaliation for using chemical weapons, drew praise from Republicans and Democrats.
The win on the Supreme Court and the attack on Syria aren’t the only successes his supporters cite to show his effectiveness.
The White House says Trump has signed 13 Congressional Review Act resolutions, which allow a simple majority in each house of Congress to repeal rules passed in the last several months of the previous administration.
Republicans say the resolutions, which have rarely been used in the two decades they’ve been in existence, are useful in being able to excise regulations burdensome to business. One resolution enabled internet-service providers to track and sell their customers’ data without obtaining their permission.
“People might say this is small-ball stuff,” Chen said. “But we overlook how much is done this way.”
Binder dismissed many of the resolutions as “small-bore stuff.” While it may mean a lot to some constituencies, she said, “it’s not the type of move that reshapes government in a substantial way, which is what he campaigned on.”
The courts have stalled other Trump initiatives, exposing the administration’s inexperience and its desire to be viewed as decisive, analysts said. Its ban on travel from majority-Muslim countries was poorly rolled out, and its successor resolution wasn’t much more effective: Courts have halted both temporarily. Courts have also halted his attempt to pull federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities like San Francisco.
Part of the appeal of Trump’s candidacy was that he marketed himself as a disrupter, someone who would challenge the norms in Washington, D.C., on behalf of, as he said, people who were “voiceless.”
“There is that fine line between him wanting to create chaos to keep people unbalanced and uneasy so they don’t know where he’s going, and the desire of the system that the founders created that was based on the three branches of government balancing each other out,” Perry said. ‘‘He’s an unprecedented president in many ways. So it’s hard to predict how a lot of things are going to turn out.”