The first 100 days of failure

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Good news: so far, many of Trump’s wrongheaded impulses are being blocked by his inability to govern, together with a massive wall of opposition. Even better: as a 70-year-old man who doesn’t listen to advice, he’s not learning very fast. But we can’t let down our guard. He may eventually figure out how to do something – or hand over control to someone who can.

Here’s a good summary of his first 100 days, by David Leonhart.

Trump has made no significant progress on any major legislation. His health care bill is a zombie. His border wall is stalled. He’s only now releasing basic principles of a tax plan. Even his executive order on immigration is tied up in the courts. By contrast, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan had made substantial progress toward passing tax cuts, and Barack Obama had passed, among other things, a huge stimulus bill that also addressed education and climate policy.

Trump is far behind staffing his administration. Trump has made a mere 50 nominations to fill the top 553 positions of the executive branch, as of [last] Friday. That’s right: He hasn’t even nominated anyone for 90 percent of its top jobs. The average president since 1989 had nominated twice as many, according to the Partnership for Public Service.

Part of the reason is a lack of execution: The administration has been slow to make nominations. And part of the reason is who is being nominated: A disproportionate number of affluent investors and business executives with many potential conflicts of interest that require vetting. Either way, the effects are real. The executive branch can’t push through the president’s priorities if it doesn’t have his people in place.

The Trump administration is more nagged by scandal than any previous administration. No new administration has dealt with a potential scandal anywhere near as large or as distracting as the Russia investigation. It could recede over time, true. But it also could come to dominate the Trump presidency.

Trump has no clear foreign policy. Is he protectionist, as he appeared to be when starting a trade spat with Canada on [last] Tuesday, or a globalist, as he appeared when backing off his criticism of China? Is he an isolationist, an interventionist or some alternative? No one seems to know, which confuses allies and does a favor for rivals who would welcome diminished American influence.

Trump is by far the least popular new president in the modern polling era. His approval rating is just 41 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight. All other elected presidents since Roosevelt have had an approval rating of at least 53 percent after 100 days. (Gerald Ford was at 45 percent.) Some, including Obama, Reagan and Johnson, have been above 60 percent.

Trump’s low approval isn’t only a reflection of his struggles. It also becomes a cause of further struggles. Members of Congress aren’t afraid to buck an unpopular president, which helps explain the collapse of Trumpcare.

Obviously, Trump can claim some successes on his own terms. Most consequentially, he has named a Supreme Court justice who could serve for decades. Trump has also put in place some meaningful executive orders, on climate policy above all, and he has allied the federal government with the cause of white nationalism, as Jonathan Chait wrote.

Trump remains the most powerful person in the country, if not the world. It would be foolish for anyone to be complacent about what he can do. Yet by the modern standards of the office, he is a weak president off to a uniquely poor start.

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