Conservatives have much to cheer in President Donald Trump’s first year in the White House.
Justice Neil Gorsuch sits on the Supreme Court. A $1.5 trillion tax cut is law. There is deregulation across agencies, largely through executive orders.
Trump, who campaigned as an outsider running against the establishment, has ushered in policies with far-reaching gains for the right that line up with traditional Republican priorities.
“He was known more as a populist; he’s still more of a populist,” said Mike Long, chairman of the Conservative Party of New York State. “But he clearly has made people with conservative beliefs very happy and very surprised.”
Trump marked the anniversary of his inauguration on Saturday with his list of promises kept for conservatives long and his list of pledges fulfilled for populist ideals shorter.
He has the lowest average job approval rating of any elected president in his first term, according to a Gallup Poll. And his year was colored by investigations into whether his campaign colluded with the Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign, more than 2,600 tweets including several provoking North Korea, and controversies of his own making — from his firing of FBI Director James Comey to his handling of the racial unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia, to his unsuccessful backing of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore to his purported remarks calling Haiti and African nations “shithole” countries.
But far-reaching actions were taken.
Trump successfully appointed Gorsuch, as well as a record 12 appeals court judges, confirmations that will help tilt the judicial landscape to the right for generations.
The tax overhaul offers temporary cuts for individuals but permanent relief for corporations, some of which are passing down the savings as one-time bonuses to their workers.
And within the tax law is a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate — in light of the GOP’s failures to repeal and replace the program — and the opening of the long-protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development.
Trump used the power of the pen on massive deregulation. He most notably moved to repeal the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and used the previously obscure Congressional Review Act to halt 15 rules and regulations that had yet to take effect.
He presides over a strong economy with stock market highs and unemployment lows, though economists and public opinion are split over whether to credit Trump or his predecessor.
The Trump presidency also has seen dramatically fewer illegal border crossings; withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership; a break with the Paris climate accord; larger contributions by NATO allies toward collective security; the dismantling of the Islamic State’s caliphate in Syria and Iraq; and the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“He’s the most conservative man ever to sit in the White House,” said Christopher Ruddy, a Trump confidant and chief executive of the right-leaning Newsmax media organization. “When you look past the tweets and the controversies, he has tremendous accomplishments.”
To be sure, Trump has his conservative detractors.
Bill Kristol, founding editor of The Weekly Standard, is among the most vocal, and tweeted last week, “A note to the dissemblers, apologists, and rationalizers: Trump really isn’t worth it.”
Columnist Quin Hillyer similarly has said Trump lacks the character to serve in the Oval Office. He wrote in The Washington Examiner: “Almost everything Trump has done to make me and other longtime conservatives happy so far was the equivalent of plucking low-hanging fruit.”
Meanwhile, pushed to the back burner are the promises that reflect the populist promises of Trump’s candidacy, particularly his vows to govern outside the box and serve the forgotten.
“People who voted for Trump in November 2016 on the theory that he would deliver policies radically different from what other Republicans would do should be disappointed,” Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor for the conservative National Review, wrote in a year-end analysis. “Those who voted for him because he would usually line up with conservatives and sign Republican bills, on the other hand, have reason to be pleased.”
Trump hasn’t lobbied in earnest for his proposed injection of $1 trillion into infrastructure improvements to broadly benefit the country. In contrast to the GOP tax plan that passed without a single Democratic vote, infrastructure investment holds the promise of bipartisan backing.
With his rejection of TPP as an exception, the president has shied from acting on the harsh rhetoric he used as a candidate to blast trade deals that he said hurt the American worker. He did not, as promised, label China a currency manipulator — a practice the country no longer technically engages in — or impose tariffs to stop its flood of cheap imports. He reopened the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico but has yet to make changes.
He also hasn’t yet secured funding to fulfill his signature “build that wall” pledge to erect a southern border barrier.
Then, there are actions Trump did take that appear contrary to his campaign trail talk of representing the regular guy.
He appointed several Wall Street executives to his administration, despite the “drain the swamp” chants of his campaign rallies; his Federal Communications Commission reversed net neutrality, which allowed for equal access to the internet; and his Education Department rolled back policies giving relief to students struggling with for-profit college debt.
The Democratic Party, interpreting Trump’s populist rhetoric more generally as a pledge to middle- and working-class Americans, has accused the president of deceiving that base and instead delivering for the wealthy.
In Senate floor remarks last month, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) argued that tax legislation with permanent corporate rate cuts but temporary — and more modest — individual relief “exposed the faux populism” of Trump’s identity.
Chuck Jones, former president of United Steel Workers Local 1999 in Indianapolis, pointed to the loss of 600 jobs at the Carrier plant there and others being outsourced across the country. Trump had visited Indianapolis in December 2016 to announce he had worked out a deal to save their jobs.
“Donald Trump’s a liar,” Jones told reporters last week. “Working-class people bought into his message and he used them.”
Henry Olsen, author of “The Working Class Republican” and a senior fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said Trump missed an opportunity to help everyday Americans with the tax law but has time yet to govern as a populist.
“The GOP tax plan . . . has virtually no populist elements. The provision of the enhanced child tax credit that allows for greater refundability is about the only one,” Olsen said.
“If 2018 focuses more on trade, immigration and infrastructure, that will be a good start on reinvigorating Trump’s populist agenda,” he said in a statement.
Jan-Werner Müller, a Princeton University professor of politics who believes populism doesn’t revolve around economic policies, argued that Trump is indeed leading as a populist.
Protectionism and the like were never Trump’s central pledge to begin with, Müller said.
“The core promise is that only some people are the real Americans and whoever doesn’t conform — whether it’s the press or some immigrants — to that image of the real America is going to be kept out or going to be kept down,” he said.
Where Trump stands in favor of nationalism and against globalism will be put to the test this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which he will attend with executives and politicians of the international elite.
Trump did not attend last year as he was preparing to take office but will take a delegation with several Cabinet members this year.
The president will champion his “America First” agenda, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, adding that Trump will promote “his policies to strengthen American businesses, American industries and American workers.”