Thirty days into his presidency and 100 days past his long-shot victory, Donald Trump has done little to justify the hopes of those who supported him, but has done a tremendous amount to validate the fears of those who opposed him.
From the start, the idea that Trump could succeed as president, always a possibility based on his wins in the private sector and the election, was premised on several conditions. To succeed, Trump needed to:
- Tone down his rhetoric, adopting a less combative, more inclusive stance.
- Realize that petty grudges and animosity are beneath his office.
- Move more carefully in foreign policy, understanding that the United States and its relationships around the world are delicate and complex.
- Gather and vet a staff of top talent that, while positioned to rock the boat in the ways he promised, also could run the government, work as a team and get Trump’s ideas over the finish line.
- Be an avid listener, always open to what his inner circle had to tell him, not just what he wanted to hear.
Thus far, as the turmoil of the past week showed, he has failed to do these things to an astonishing extent.
A month into his presidency, the New York billionaire is still publicly campaigning against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama more energetically than he is fighting for his policies — or even working to lay them out.
He continues to claim, with no basis in fact, that millions of immigrants here illegally voted in the election, giving Clinton a fraudulent popular vote victory. He claims his tally of 306 Electoral College votes was the largest since Ronald Reagan was elected, when it is really one of the smallest in the past 50 years. His national security adviser was forced to resign for having inappropriate contact with Russian authorities before Trump took office, and for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about those talks. His nominee for labor secretary had to withdraw after it was revealed he had employed an immigrant here illegally and senators saw a 1990 “Oprah” episode in which his ex-wife described how he physically abused her. Trump’s signature campaign promise of a “Muslim ban” fatally tainted a poorly drafted and disastrously implemented executive order that couldn’t stand even minimal judicial scrutiny.
And Trump has blindly repackaged his every failure as either a tremendous victory or a shortcoming caused by his dastardly media enemies or the allies he was throwing to the wolves.
There’s nothing unusual about a presidency hitting potholes and stumbling in the first 30 days. And Trump has presented enough showmanship and empty executive orders to keep the loyalty of his core fans. But he’s losing the battle to govern on substance and the battle for broad national support.
Donald Trump was never going to soothe us like the grandfatherly Reagan, or move us like the stirring Obama. The hope was that he could get things done even in a gridlocked system. For that to happen, he has to stop delivering potshots and start dedicating his energy to policy.
Beyond immigration, an area in which he has conducted highly publicized deportation raids even as his executive order was stymied, Trump promised progress in three particular areas and now must deliver results. He said he would repeal Obamacare and replace it with something much better. He said he would overhaul the tax system to make it simpler, fairer and easier on working-class Americans. And he said he would launch a huge program to restore the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, creating many great jobs and jolting the economy into a high-growth gear.
But we have not seen an inkling of any such plans, and between the years he’s had to think about these issues and the “experts” he promised to aim at the problems, there has been ample time to devise and communicate at least broad strokes. Instead, the nation has been subjected to whining and tweets about retailers that displease his daughter and about reality-show hosts he must disparage.
Now trying to remove himself from the muck of Washingon infighting to reset the narrative on his presidency, Trump is back in campaign mode. His news conference Thursday, a primer in taking credit for things he didn’t cause or which haven’t happened, and in avoiding blame for his towering mistakes, was highly reminiscent of his campaign. He promised more jobs in South Carolina on Friday. Saturday’s rally in Florida was clearly a return for him to those happy days when all he had to do was please crowds with slogans, not run the country for them.
A presidential term lasts 208 weeks, and Trump has completed four. There’s still plenty of time for his presidency to succeed, but there’s also deep concern about what a disaster it has been so far.
The nation is exhausted. Trump must focus on being a competent, responsible president. And quickly.