Trump at 100 days: his five biggest wins and five biggest fails
The rambunctious American president passes the 100-day milestone this weekend. A score card:
1. Wall Street roaring
To a large degree, economies run on confidence and, at the moment, the US has it. Despite some of his “war on Wall Street” campaign rhetoric, investors have liked what they’ve seen so far of Trump in office, with ex-bankers peppered through his administration, his war on regulation and his tax cut pledge. The major indexes are at record highs and employers are hiring. On the flipside, first-quarter GDP growth slowed to sluggish 0.7% on tepid consumer spending.
2. Conservative majority restored to the Supreme Court
True, most of the credit (if that’s the word) has to go to Republicans in the Senate who stonewalled President Barak Obama for months to keep the vacant court position open until after the election. But President Trump duly delivered on his campaign promise to appoint a social conservative as Neil Gorsuch was confirmed.
3. Assertive appointments
Trump delighted his base with his cabinet picks and appointments such as making climate change sceptic Scott Pruitt the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. With many such appointments, the effectiveness of the newcomers will be largely influenced by the Trump administration’s first budget. In Mr Pruitt's case, that means whether Republicans in Congress agree to slash the EPA’s budget. But the new president has strongly signalled a change in direction. Some would say there are too many ex-lobbyists, family members, industry insiders, Wall Street insiders and career politicians in key appointments to call it "draining the swamp" but Trump supporters seem happy.
4. Executive orders and the war on regulation
Yes, courts have blocked two of his highest-profile efforts; some orders are dependent on Congress agreeing to funding, and some are PR piffle (I defy anyone to find any actual measure, however, minor, in the order Trump signed this week to promote US agriculture). But otherwise, the new president has set a furious pace for executive orders, maximising the (limited) ability of the White House to push through change without recourse to other branches of government. Obama-era workplace rules, environmental regulations and limits on offshore drilling are among the many regulations that have been wiped or eased as Trump fulfils a series of campaign promises.The hyper-controversial Keystone XL pipeline got the go-ahead (albeit with foreign steel due to a special exemption from the administration's lightly enforced "buy American" push). Trump also used executive orders to spur more assertive policing of current immigration rules and to freeze federal hiring, if only for 90 days (it was lifted last month) and with the resilient bureaucracy managing to add 6000 government hires over January and February regardless.
5. Withdrawing from the TPP:
Many NBR readers would question the economic merit of protectionism but Trump duly delivered on his campaign promise to withdraw the US from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
IN THE BALANCE
1. Tax cuts
A one-page document issued by Trump mid-week proposed big tax cuts for businesses and individuals. Yet the administration’s failure to repeal Obamacare – which would have saved hundreds of billions – means Congress will now have to lift the legislatively-imposed debt ceiling to institute the White House’s desired level of tax cuts. Even some virulently pro-tax cut Republicans like Steve Forbes say there will be a big lag between tax cuts being introduced and the benefits of stimulus flowing through, making deficit hawks nervous. Another major stumbling block: Republicans in the Congress and the White House disagree over a proposed 20% border tax. Most US pundits say the tax cuts Trump proposed this week are just the opening bid in what will be a long negotiation process.
2. The wall
With Mexico refusing to pay for it, and many Republicans wary that a border tax with Mexico would push up prices for US consumers, or not seeing a physical wall as the most effective security measure, Trump has been forced to request direct funding from Congress for a wall with Mexico. This week, the president tried to tack on wall funding to a bill primarily aimed at stopping overspending to avoid a government shutdown. House Republicans gave him the cold shoulder and he dropped the bid. Trump has indicated he try again when the new fiscal year starts on October 1.
Trump made hay on the campaign trail by calling the North American Free Trade Agreement a “horrible deal.” Just last week, the White House was preparing an executive order to pull the US from the deal, and the President told Reuters he was 'psyched to terminate Nafta' before telephone calls from Canadian, Mexican leaders. But those calls helped persuade him that negotiations were in order, not a pull-out. It's hard to pick which way the president will swing on this one. The TPP was easy to axe; it only existed on paper. But most Republicans in Congress support Nafta, which they say has created jobs and boosted the US economy. According to an NBC report, pro-trade members of the Trump White House won over the short-attention-span president with a visual prop: putting a map in front of him and pointing to the areas they said would be hardest hit by terminating the trade deal. Trump is giving them the benefit of the doubt, for now, but he also has to bear in mind the promises he made to his rust-belt base. Economic nationalists will be worried that Trump recently switched from wanting to eliminate the the federal government-funded, trade-promoting Import-Export bank to supporting it.
4. Executive orders on immigration
Courts have shot down two attempts at a ban on travellers from a half-dozen Muslim-majority countries. And this week, a court nixed an executive order to starve "sanctuary cities" of federal funding. The president has complained about Democrat-leaning judges (even though a key decision was made by a Republican judge appointed by Bush) and threatened to disband the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that has caused him so much grief. That may be too extreme a move for many in his own party, not to mention outside his direct power. Some pundits say that poor preparation and trying to do too much too soon are the real problems. Meanwhile, the Trump administration remains committed to eventually getting its travel ban-related executive orders enacted.
5. Social media strategy
Trump's use of social media proved a brilliant way to talk directly to his base during the campaign, and set the news agenda (or send it hurly-burly on to a fresh controversy if the current one wasn't going so well). In office, it's been a mixed bag. Rambunctious tweets have helped cheer his supporters amid various setbacks. But his use of Twitter-bullying in a bid to push Republican foes in Congress into line backfired, notably around healthcare reform. And his 3am twitter habit has at times contributed to an impression of chaos in the White House and an administration that makes things up on the hoof. It is notable that Trump has recently pulled back from attacking individual Republican members of the House and Senate, and we haven't had a repeat of anything at the level of the unsubstantiated allegation about Obama bugging Trump Tower. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the first thing Trump staffers do when they wake up in the morning is nervously check their phones.
1. Obamacare repeal and replace
Trump’s failed bid to axe the Affordable Care Act exposed divisions between three camps within the Republican majority in Congress, each of which meet weekly: the hardline conservative Freedom Caucus, the mainstream-right Republican Study Group and the moderate Tuesday Group. The White House made a fresh bid to repeal Obamacare this week, with a vote Friday or Saturday as a 100-day marker. Trump toughened the scheme to replace Obamacare in a successful bid to get the Freedom Caucus onside. The conservative faction did duly come onboard but moderates took fright and the push was again abandoned. So far, the new president does not seem to have a strategy to resolve the Republican faction-fighting. Insider reports indicate his lack of detailed policy knowledge (and disdain for homework to gain it) is hindering negotiations with all three of the major groups.
2. No major legislative achievements
With healthcare reform sidelined and tax reform much more complicated than the president anticipated, the new administration marks its first 100 days with no major legislation passed.
3. The Trump doctrine on foreign policy
Trump campaigned as an isolationist but in office he’s progressively moved to embrace Obama-era positions. Nato is no longer considered obsolete, Russia is a foe again, Syria is back on the US radar (indeed, assertively), and a trade war with China seems off the table with the country no longer deemed to be a currency manipulator. North Korea remains a wild card.
4. Russia ties
Controversy over Trump campaign ties to Russia have already claimed the job of NSA advisor Michael Flynn. Ongoing Senate, House and FBI investigations will dog the admiration for months, if not most of its first term and could get a lot worse. Now that Russian President Vladimir Putin is now once again clearly painted as a bad guy, any evidence that does turn up is going to be political dynamite.
5. Palace feuding
Economic nationalist Steven Bannon was clearly dominant among Trump’s inner circle of advisers during the early days of his administration. More recently the president’s son-in-law, the globalist Jared Kushner, has been in the ascendent. The vigorous infighting, coupled with Trump’s preference for transactional politics over ideology, makes it hard to pick which direction the White House will head in next, and has contributed to its failure to push any major measures through Congress so far. The Kushner faction’s ideas are generally the most appealing to Congress – and the most economically orthodox for a Republican president – but Bannon’s the most appealing to Trump’s base. So far, the new president has failed to reconcile their differences. Through it all, the new president just doesn't seem to be enjoying himself. He told Reuters earlier this week that he thought being president would be easier than his old life. Turns out, it's not.