Despite the best efforts of the White House “PR apparatus” to sell the president’s first 100 days as a success, the New York Times declared in an editorial, the new administration has, in fact, been plagued by “many missteps” including a “bungled sales job” on his first major legislative initiative and a “snakebit” confirmation process, all of which have produced “a flurry of articles bemoaning the lack of focus in the White House.” The first 100 days, the Times declared, is a period the president “might prefer to forget.”
The president in question is not Donald Trump. This is how, in April 1993, the Times described the first 100 days of Bill Clinton’s presidency. But not to worry, the Times reassured its readers: “It’s still early, and a hundred days don’t really mean very much.”
The Times is right: The first 100 days really don’t mean very much at all.
Right now, the Trump White House appears to be in a panic over the approaching milestone, looking desperately for last-minute accomplishments. It is pushing the House to vote this week on repealing Obamacare, and it is risking a government shutdown in an effort to make Democrats pay for a border wall with Mexico, instead of just passing a straight extension of current funding levels. And the president announced (to the apparent surprise of his own staff) that he would unveil his tax reform plan on Wednesday, before it is fully baked.
To which I say: Mr. President, slow down. There’s no rush. Ignore the critics. You’re doing just fine.
Trump has accomplished something more significant in his first 100 days than any president in recent memory has done: the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Trump’s predecessors’ early achievements were fleeting. President Barack Obama’s stimulus (with its false promise of “shovel-ready” jobs) is long forgotten. George W. Bush’s tax cuts were not signed until June and were partially repealed by his successor. But Trump’s success in placing the 49-year-old Gorsuch on the Supreme Court will affect the direction of our country for a generation. Indeed, Trump can count every 5-4 decision over the next three decades that goes conservatives’ way as one of his “First 100 Days” accomplishments. No other modern president can claim to have had that kind of lasting impact in so short a time.
Trump also did something in his first 100 days that his predecessor could not bring himself to do in his entire second term: He enforced Obama’s red line against Syria’s use of chemical weapons. When the Assad regime apparently used a toxic nerve agent on innocent men, women and children, Trump didn’t wring his hands. He acted quickly and decisively, and in so doing restored our credibility on the world stage that Obama had squandered.
He underscored the message by dropping the MOAB (aka “Mother of All Bombs”) on an Islamic State hideout in Afghanistan and by deploying the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group (after a brief detour off the coast of Australia) to the Korean Peninsula. And his decision to strike the Assad regime at the very moment he was meeting the Chinese president may have set Trump on a course to accomplish something three previous presidents failed to do: Enlist China in a real effort to pressure North Korea on its nuclear program.
Those things alone make Trump’s first 100 days a success. But he can also point to other accomplishments, such as signing into law an economic stimulus in the form of 13 resolutions of disapproval revoking regulations imposed by the Obama administration. Critics say undoing the actions of previous administration is not a legislative achievement. Yes, it is. Rolling back the wet blanket of regulations smothering our economy is critical to restoring job creation in the United States - and Trump is acting decisively to do so.
Of course, there is much more to do. And there is plenty of time to do it. History does not judge presidents by what they did in the first 100 days; it judges what they did during their presidencies. On tax reform, Trump should learn the lesson of the failed effort to repeal Obamacare: He has a better chance of success if he takes his time and does it right. George W. Bush did not sign the No Child Left Behind act until January 2002, nearly a year after taking office. Obama did not sign the Affordable Care Act into law until March 2010, about 14 months after taking office.
In other words, there is no hurry. So Trump should stop trying to throw Hail Marys before the 100-days clock runs out. Because when it does ... nothing happens. He’s still president on Day 101. Republicans still control both houses of Congress.
He has done big things and has plenty of time to get more big things done.
Thiessen, a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute and former chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush, writes a weekly online column for The Post.