Two years ago, January 20, 2017, Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States, against incredible odds. It was the culmination of one of the most remarkable Presidential campaigns in my life time, and arguably, all of American history. So it’s fair to look back and see how he’s done so far. Not of course by the standards of the media or the swampy establishment, but from the people who voted him in. Trump supporters such as myself.
Let’s break this down into some important categories and see how he fared.
There are a lot of ways to cut campaign promises and they are not all judged equally. Do we give the same value to a promise made at every campaign stop versus one made once or twice? Clearly it seems to be that we should concentrate on the handful of major ones, although the Trump unfriendly site Politifact seems to track them in a more scattershot fashion, particularly with their “Trump-O-Meter.” So some of these may be a bit subjective, but if I were to make my own list, based on the ones he seemed to repeat the most often, it would be something like this:
- Repeal and Replace Obamacare
- Build the Wall
- Cut taxes
- Get NATO to pay their fair share
- Infrastructure Bill
- Renegotiate Trade deals
- Appoint Supreme Court Justices from his pre-screened list
- Get out of Iran deal and Paris Accords
- Immigration Reform
- Defeat ISIS
In general, he’s done a pretty good job for just two years, but the ones he’s not yet accomplished yet or already failed at, are big ones. Obamacare was an early flop, as is the wall, but the most surprising was his inability to get an infrastructure bill through Congress. That should have been an easy bipartisan success. The wall of course is an ongoing failure, one that should have been started in his first two years, not waited until it became politically impossible.
Trump shocked everyone by keeping his foreign policy promises. He moved our embassy in Israel to the capital, Jerusalem; a perennial bipartisan campaign promise that is forgotten by inauguration. But not this time; Trump actually did it. He engaged with NATO to increase their agreed on contributions, began orienting our trade policy to put pressure on trade partners who had unfair policies, leading to a replacement of NAFTA with the USMCA (United States Mexico Canada Agreement), and has been the only US President to engage with China seriously over their unfair trade practices.
North Korea is an ongoing mess, but then it always has been. Presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton all negotiated with North Korea, all declared some variation of ‘peace in our time,’ and declared victory, only to have their efforts wind up in failure. That may be the fate of Trump’s attempt, but he’s trying something new (Art of the Deal-type deal making) and may have better results from that, but we may not know for sure for years.
In the Middle East, Trump has turned the orientation away from Iran and back to the Sunni Arab states, mainly Saudi Arabia, at a time when Saudi Arabia’s oil power has been in relative decline. By defeating the IS Caliphate, and beginning the process of pulling US troops from Syria, he’s fulfilling yet another campaign promise and keeping the lid on mission creep that the national security establishment is trying to suck the country into. Assad? Putin? Kurds? That’s not why we put troops in Syria; it was to get rid of the Caliphate, and now they control zero territory. Mission Accomplished.
His genuflecting to Putin is irritating however. After watching how he dealt with Kim Jong-un, it’s clear that is a typical Trump negotiation strategy: alternate threats with flattery and nice words. However whatever attempts at negotiations with Russia Trump may have planned has been spoilt by the absurd anti-Russian hysteria in the United States. Trump should stop pretending there is a chance to have any meaningful relationship with the Russians.
Trump’s economic policy can be broken down into 3 large planks:
- Tax Cuts
- Pealing back regulations
Tax cuts are already accomplished and the President is doing an unprecedented job of taking advantage of his position in the Executive Branch by reducing regulations. On that point, he’s been successful in a way that no modern Republican President has been, including Reagan. Trade is an ongoing foreign policy negotiation with an uncertain future, but the goal is definitely positive and Trump is the first President in decades who has connected trade and protecting American workers. Even if the progress is incremental, it’s going in the right direction.
If there is probably one issue that lead to Trump’s breakout success in both the GOP nomination fight and the battle for the Presidency, it was on the issue of immigration. Trump’s promises on immigration are a major reason he’s President. In office though, it’s been a mixed bag. In terms of the powers he holds in the executive branch, he deserves an A. He’s used the powers of the Justice Department and Homeland Security to enact policy changes in alignment with his immigration goals. However when it comes to legislation, Trump has accomplished almost nothing…wait, I guess it’s actually nothing. On that he would get an F. But I can average the two to give him…
One of the skills that candidate Trump touted from his resume was his ability to negotiate; “The Art of The Deal” style. Whatever skills he exhibited in the business world are totally absent in dealing with Congress. Consider, Trump’s campaign promise failures are almost all ones that required Congressional legislation to accomplish, and on that score, he didn’t accomplish much. And this was with a GOP Congress. That probably has a lot to do with why we no longer have a GOP Congress.
Trump has done great things on the executive branch side; the things he can directly control, but we’ve just had two years of GOP controlling the Presidency and Congress and nothing of importance was accomplished. It’s a wasted opportunity that the GOP may never have again in our lifetimes.
As I mentioned last month, I put the blame primarily on the GOP Congressional leadership, specifically Paul Ryan. Trump was suckered on Obamacare, with Ryan cranking out versions that couldn’t possibly pass because he didn’t WANT them to pass; he hated Trump and wanted to oppose him more than he wanted any sort of legislation. And of course McConnell and Ryan kept lying to him on the wall. That was something that the House and Senate could have easily provided early on, but didn’t because they hate Trump. Once Ryan got his tax bill through, he had no incentive to do anything but interview for post House jobs with donors. That was the only leverage Trump had and he gave it away. Trump, for his part, either didn’t recognize that the GOP Congress was opposing him, or did recognize it, but took no action to fight them. The past two years, they were the real enemy and Trump’s vaunted negotiation ability? It was nowhere to be seen.
He’s done little better against his actual political opponents, the Democrats. He’s scored plenty of zingers, many of them hilarious and far more ballsy than any other Republican President would have attempted, and he decisively won last year’s shutdown fiasco. But he’s had less luck this year. In fact, based on Trump’s offer yesterday it sounds like his negotiating position is collapsing, with Trump, after careful negotiations with himself, offered the Democrats DACA, TPS, and the Dreamers; all for a measly Five billion. Of course, it’s possible that Trump is using one of his standard tactics: making huge concessions when he knows his opponents won’t go for it, as he demonstrated during last year’s shutdown and several other previous, well publicized negotiations. However at this point it looks like Jeb Bush doing the negotiating. I was going to give Trump a D- for his political negotiation acumen, but after yesterday’s debacle of an offer, I’ve lowered it.
That’s why I have to give the Trump administration a midterm grade of C at the half way point. He’s had some spectacular successes and some spectacular failures (as this current shutdown strategy is revealing itself to be). And it only gets tougher from here. With the Democrats in charge of the House, it’s going to be full on war against Trump in impeachment and investigations, with no Trump friendly legislation getting through. At least under Ryan the House was merely passive aggressive in opposing him, with a few actual Trump allies sprinkled here and there in charge of powerful committees. Not so now. Still, considering the opposition he’s faced, the perseverance he’s shown is simply astounding. The guy is tough and with the odds stacked against him even more than he’s faced in his first two years, it will be interesting to see how he handles it.