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Blue State Blues: Trump’s First 100 Days in Historical Perspective

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Next weekend, President Donald Trump will complete his first 100 days in the White House, a benchmark for presidential performance ever since Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in the depths of the Great Depression.

Though there are several days left before the 100-day mark, it is already possible to evaluate President Trump’s performance, and to compare him to his predecessors.

As I will argue in this column next week — with much news still to come before then — President Trump has had a remarkably active first 100 days.

His major achievements have been in foreign policy and national security, where he has restored America’s military deterrent and reversed its international decline. He also appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, signed over a dozen laws repealing existing federal regulations, drastically reduced illegal immigration, and renewed economic confidence.

In the face of unprecedented media opposition and Democratic “resistance,” Trump has endured some setbacks, notably the failure of the American Health Care Act, which was to have replaced Obamacare. But that effort will be revisited, along with tax reform, in the coming weeks. Absent major shocks, Trump has ample room to grow.

The media disagree. CNN, among others, is declaring him a failure, claiming he has a “short list of accomplishments.”

Some historical context is in order.

President Barack Obama did little of consequence in his first 100 days, aside from the ill-fated $862 billion stimulus and a failed executive order to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay.

Yet the mainstream media were effusive in their praise, with Jonathan Alter of Newsweek trumpeting the White House line: “Barack Obama has put more points on the board than any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.” Only Lyndon Johnson did more, he claimed.

The media are often biased to favor Democratic presidents in this way, not only because of their political preference for Democrats, but also because of their ideological predilection for the idea of government “doing” something — putting “points on the board,” in Alter’s words, even if those “points” turn out to be useless or harmful.

As such, Trump will never be given the same credit for repealing regulations that Obama was given for introducing them, for example.

Until Trump, only Johnson and Ronald Reagan were considered effective in their first 100 days. As scholar William Lasser wrote in 2001, anticipating an embattled presidency for George W. Bush after the grueling Florida recount:

Few of Roosevelt’s successors have been even moderately successful during their early days in office, at least in terms of legislative accomplishments. Harry Truman, who took office after Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, spent his first four months in office presiding over the last days of World War II-hardly a time to work with Congress on new legislation. Dwight D. Eisenhower initially focused on his campaign promise to end the war in Korea, and, despite having a Republican-controlled Congress, expended little effort on legislative matters. John Kennedy likewise focused on foreign policy, and had little real success on the domestic side. Nor were Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George [H.W.] Bush, or Bill Clinton spectacularly successful in their first few months in office.

Inexperience and disarray have also made several past presidents susceptible to rookie mistakes during the first 100 days. Jack Kennedy authorized the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, for example, in April 1961. Bill Clinton’s early mistakes doomed his health care plan, while Jimmy Carter’s missteps greatly damaged his relationship with Congress and the federal bureaucracy.

The exceptions to the rule of ineffectiveness might be Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan. Johnson capitalized on his own legislative experience and the national trauma following the assassination of Jack Kennedy to push through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a major antipoverty measure. Then he built on his landslide reelection victory in November 1964 to win approval of the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, and a massive increase in federal aid to education. Reagan, who took office amidst high unemployment and high inflation and after a year-long hostage crisis in Iran, likewise acted quickly in 1981 to win congressional victories on tax and spending cuts (along with increases in military expenditures).

Trump has not passed major legislation in his first 100 days — but neither did Obama. Obamacare and Dodd-Frank would not be passed until 2010.

Arguably, the most important thing that happened in Obama’s first 100 days was that the stock market hit rock bottom. Shortly after Obama’s first 100 days, the Federal Reserve released optimistic results from its “stress tests” of U.S. banks, which helped the economic recovery — though it was the slowest since WWII.

Trump’s first 100 days have been far more consequential. His approval ratings are low by historical standards — thanks largely to hostile media — and he may yet struggle to pass his legislative agenda. Like Obama, Trump has energized his opponents. His own supporters worry he will stray from his promises. And Congress (unexpectedly) and the courts (predictably) have frustrated him.

Yet measured against his predecessors, Trump’s first 100 days place him in league with Reagan and Johnson, for sheer impact.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. His new book, How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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