Trump first loved the 100 day benchmark, then rejected it, but is desperate to look like he’s getting something done within it. The truth is, Presidents are not remembered for their first 100 days, but they are defined by them, barring the outbreak of war. “Defined by” is a strong term, but certainly they define what they want their presidencies to be.
Bill Clinton passed a budget, of all things to prioritize, but this reflected his pragmatic approach to governing. He failed on healthcare and he pushed some socially liberal policies but was otherwise a mainstream president embracing the status quo of domestic and foreign policy.
George W Bush pushed for tax cuts. When he was running for office, he said we had a surplus and needed to give people their money back. When he won and the economy tanked, he said we needed the same tax cuts for stimulus. Basically, he really wanted tax cuts and less spending. And he focused on social conservatism, but otherwise was a fairly mainstream president, embracing the status quo of domestic and foreign policy (until 9/11).
Obama had his first 100 days hijacked by the worst economic freefall since the Great Depression. But you could still see he intended to do big things. In contrast to the popular Clinton who just wanted to run a smooth ship (irony!) he had a big agenda with healthcare and immigration and other issues, but with the financial crisis sucking up all the political capital, pretty much only got to the first one on that list. He pushed socially liberal policies and focused on a significantly more withdrawn foreign policy, but still one that embraced much of the status quo.
Each of these presidents didn’t actually do much of anything in the first 100 days. Clinton was remembered for presiding over a good economy and getting hummers in the oval office. Bush is remembered for terrorism and Iraq. And Obama will likely be remembered for Obamacare and potentially some other things around foreign policy and the rise of the GOP.
So while Trump will not be remembered for much during this time frame (Travel Ban anyone?) it is VERY indicative of how he intends to govern. Given that we spent much of the campaign and even the first 100 days trying to parse out what he actually means vs. what is a “joke” this is pretty consequential. So now that all the executive orders are out of the way, what can we actually expect?
1. The dude is not messing around on immigration
The first controversy barely took a weekend, but the Travel Ban set out his intentions to close down our borders. He’s heated up on Mexican immigrants since then as well. This is the full-on anti-immigrant rhetoric turned reality, with very public raids and a steady pushing of legal limits on removal from the country. Throw the gleefully racist Sessions into the pot with some Homeland Security agents who clearly felt like they were held back under the previous administration and the pendulum has swung about as far as it goes. Given how much power the administration has in this area, we should just assume this is going to be a tough four years for immigrants.
2. He REALLY wants to be liked and seen as an important President
The man’s insecurities are a bit scarier in the Oval Office than I had feared. In some cases, it works in our favor. He’s desperate to be seen as smart and credible, and I think that’s why the Generals have been able to bring him around on some foreign policy issues, and it seems less likely he’ll try to overthrow the world order ala Steve Bannon. But whether it’s his Supreme Court nomination, his tax cut proposal or his social policies, it reads like a Rush Limbaugh radio listener’s wet dream. The thing is, I don’t think Trump actually believes in this stuff. He just loves proposing things that get him adoration. Since playing to the farthest extreme right wing worked on the campaign trail, he just keeps on going. It just turns out that all those quacky incoherent policy proposals that nobody took seriously before are actually getting traction now.
3. He’s got a serious authoritarian streak
This no surprise. The most defining characteristic of Trump’s early supporters was authoritarianism. Right now he’s being held back by our constitution and institutions. But EVERY dictator’s rise is enabled by a willing legislature/courts. It is downright scary the things I hear from republicans’ mouths. Whether it’s that congressmen “answer to the President“, or that we should change our libel laws to make it harder to criticize Trump, or that we need to break up courts that rule against him. The man regularly praises current and past dictators, calling them strong leaders, and just this weekend invited a murderous Philippino dictator to the White House! The ONLY thing keeping Trump from turning into a dictator himself is congressional and judicial resistance. I only hope we can hold out.
4. The master negotiator
You’ll notice I have almost nothing on actual policy here, because as Point #2 indicates, he just blows with whatever wind will make him feel popular. So it’s hard to predict WHAT he will want, but we do have a sense of how he might try to get there. He’s often been called a masterful negotiator, including by me, but it’s become increasingly clear that this is not the case. He couldn’t get HIS OWN PARTY to vote for something that they spent 8 years promising. In his first 100 days with control over the House, Senate, White House and a friendly Supreme Court, he has passed zero laws of consequence, and all of his consequential actions are executive actions.
What’s more scary is the downside to the way he negotiates. I’m sure we’re getting big time leverage with China because they genuinely think Trump might attack North Korea. Trump DOES do a great job of staking out an aggressive position early. It’s a refreshing change from Obama who would just give away his negotiating position from the start. But the whole unpredictable crazy person thing doesn’t work as well when you’re the President of the United States.
What happens if nothing comes of the North Korea situation? You’ve shown yourself a paper tiger. He’s already done that in Syria. Do you think Assad fears him for a second after our pitiful attack that disabled their airfield for, oh, about an hour and half before launching more jets from there? Some Americans seem to think we can just send in some F-22’s and tell the world what to do. It doesn’t work that way. If Trump keeps negotiating like a crazy person with a big gun, it might work in the short term. But in the long term, it will either reduce our foreign influence or get us into a war.
5. He looks out for the big guy
Probably the most surprising to me is how he has just full throatedly embraced the role of the billionaire tycoon fleecing the poor, replete with Monopoly-man style monacle. Many of his actual legislative accomplishments are just inexcusably corporate giveaways. The assault on the environment is just fulfilling campaign promises even if it is inexcusable. But giving ISP’s the right to sell your browsing history and stripping the CFPB of their authority just stinks of corporate cronyism. Even the spin room geniuses at GOP headquarters can barely come up with paper thin excuses for these. The worst is probably if the GOP ultimately passes the law (passed by the House already) that significant new regulations need to be approved by Congress. I genuinely wonder if the public will see these for what they are: giveaways to wealthy donors.
6. He has actually changed things
He’s given a bit of red meat to each of his constituencies. He gave the Evangelical Christians a pro-life judge. He gave fiscal conservatives tax cuts. He gave the bigots an anti-immigrant push. And he gave the pro-business conservatives an anti-regulation campaign.
If I’m a Trump voter that was ok with how he campaigned to begin with, I have at least one feather in my cap right now. So all the talk in the world about Trump hasn’t done anything will not dampen their enthusiasm when he actually has given them something they like. Throw in the language of grievance, and he still makes people feel like he’s fighting for them, even if his policies don’t actually do that.
Democrats will need to find a way to show how his “accomplishments” actually harm us in the long run. In the meantime, the best way to fight it is an energetic resistance that make congressmen feel like working with the President is not in their interests.
Now that the low hanging fruit is picked, Trump will need to find a governing coalition or he will remain an executive order president. Getting the GOP unified on anything seems difficult these days. I imagine some kind of tax cut will emerge at some point, no matter how fiscally irresponsible. But beyond that, he may get frustrated and turn to dems for bipartisanship. It’s hard to imagine after the flaming dumpster fire of a campaign he ran and 80% disapproval ratings among dem voters that they’ll have any incentive to do so.
The first 100 days defined how he wants to govern. Now the question is what happens now that reality has set in and he’s not actually the CEO of the country?