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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

First 100 days of Bill Clinton's and Donald Trump's presidencies

Bill Clinton celebrates his victory in the Illinois

Bill Clinton celebrates his victory in the Illinois primary on March 17, 1992. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Timothy Clary

So, how are the first 100 days going?

Overstretched and lacking a coherent strategy for achieving his goals.

Incoherence and inexperience.

Administration was woefully ill-prepared to take over the government.

Shuffling and sidestepping, giving the impression of confusion and indecision.

Can he learn from his mistakes?

That’s the judgment of Newsday’s editorial board — rendered on May 2, 1993.

The president was Bill Clinton.

Yes, we have seen something like Donald Trump before.

And the parallels are eerie.

Some of the issues have changed. In some ways — age, party, home state, philosophy, wealth, first lady’s involvement, size of family — the two presidents clearly are different.

But in some matters of substance and many matters of style, the echoes cannot be dismissed. Both, after all, were in some sense outsiders seeking to shake up Washington.

After Clinton’s first 100 days, Newsday advised him to put off the health-care overhaul that he and first lady Hillary Clinton were trying to ram through until Congress — fully in the control of his own Democratic Party — completed a tax and spending program that was key to reducing the deficit.


The board cited Clinton for trying to do too much too quickly.


It wondered whether Clinton and his White House team were being arrogant with Congress, many of whose members “have more experience, expertise and historical knowledge than the new president?”

Check, check, check.

The editorial that ran 24 years ago noted Clinton’s campaign vision that included “shaking off economic lethargy and reinvigorating the national spirit.” But it said Clinton, as president, was wallowing in problems of his own making.

Sound familiar?

And the nature of those self-inflicted wounds is startingly similar.

Newsday cited the Clinton White House’s pre-occupation with damage control.

It noted Clinton’s “insular style,” with a passage that that turned out weirdly prescient:

“The president is gregarious and known for late-night telephone calls to a network of business, political and academic friends. Meetings aren’t closely held sessions among a few, but freewheeling discussions of two dozen or more.” And the board noted that both Clintons, like Trump now, “hold decision-making closely, trusting few, if any, others.”

One problem with Clinton’s decision-making structure after those first 100 days was the “abominable” lack of progress in making presidential appointments, which the editorial board noted left cabinet secretaries with almost no key personnel beneath them. Ditto Trump. His White House, as of Thursday, had not nominated anyone for 468 of 556 key positions that need Senate confirmation.

“Secretaries haven’t been allowed to name appointees without White House review and approval — and without meeting a litmus test...”

Those words, written about Clinton, apply verbatim to Trump. In Clinton’s case, the board noted, the litmus test was ethnic, gender and geographic diversity. For Trump, it’s loyalty.

And Newsday’s advice then is just as true today: “This madness must stop.”

We advised Clinton to trust his cabinet members to select talented staffers to work for them, and we would proffer the same to Trump.

Will the parallels between the two nascent presidencies hold? Trump probably would hope so in some cases, but not others.

Clinton’s tenure lasted eight years. It was marked by a booming economy and the Monica Lewinsky sex and impeachment scandal. It led to three straight years of budget surpluses and to the opposing party taking control of Congress for the first time in 40 years.

Ultimately, and this perhaps would be the consummation for which Trump most devoutly wishes, Clinton left office with what is still the highest end-of-tenure approval rating for any post-World War II president.


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