"It's hard work!"
Trump has made one of the most famous presidential statements in history this week, one that should be his epitaph:
"I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier. I do miss my old life. This — I like to work, but this is actually more work."
Yeah. He said that. Out loud. Because he's an imbecile.
But it is revealing. He thought the presidency was a performance, kind of like Kim Kardashian hosting a party at Hakkasan. He didn't know you have to do anything more than run your mouth and appear on TV. It turns out that the TV part is real but it's about 1/10th of the job. He's disappointed.
You cannot make this stuff up.
538 published a helpful primer on the first hundred days of Trump. I think their observations are acute and I've highlighted a handful of them:
Trump isn’t a “normal Republican” … but he isn’t a populist, either.
Trump campaigned as a populist (in rhetoric if not always in policy). He railed against undocumented immigrants, job-killing trade deals and “elites” of all stripes. He promised to bring back jobs, avoid foreign entanglements and to “drain the swamp” in Washington.
Trump hasn’t exactly governed as a populist, however. He repeatedly turned to Goldman Sachs and its alumni network for top advisers. He made nice with China, rolled back financial regulations and just this week proposed a huge tax cut for businesses and the wealthy. His health care bill would have reduced insurance subsidies for many of his rural supporters.
Yet Trump also hasn’t become a “normal Republican,” as some pundits thought (or perhaps hoped) he might once in office. He has broken with Republicans’ free-trade orthodoxy by slapping tariffs on Canadian lumber imports and (briefly) threatening to pull out of NAFTA. He wants to limit legal as well as illegal immigration, worrying big businesses that depend on immigrant labor. And his tax plan would blow a multitrillion-dollar hole in the federal budget.
Trump is doing what he said he’d do … except when he isn’t.
The early narrative of Trump’s presidency was that he was “doing what he said he’d do.” That is, no one should have been surprised when he took steps to dismantle the Affordable Care Act on Day 1 of his administration, or when he cracked down on illegal immigration or when he tried to ban travel from some Muslim-majority countries. He had said on the campaign trail, repeatedly, that he would do all of those things.
The lesson of Trump’s first 20 days, then (give or take), was that we should forgo the admonition to “take Trump seriously but not literally” — that he didn’t really mean the things he said during the campaign. But since then, Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that we shouldn’t expect him to fulfill all his promises, either. Or, in some cases, even to try.
Trump, for example, pledged during the campaign to label China a “currency manipulator” on his first day in office. He didn’t, and now he has abandoned that promise altogether. Trump campaigned on a promise to avoid foreign entanglements and (in 2013) warned then-President Barack Obama not to attack Syria; less than three months into his presidency, he launched missile strikes on Syria in response to its use of chemical weapons. And Trump said repeatedly during the campaign that he would protect Medicaid from cuts; the Republican health care overhaul that Trump backed would have cut billions from the program.
Trump really means it on immigration.
If there is one policy area in which Trump has been consistent, it is immigration. Sure, there have been a handful of inconsistencies and reversals — he has wavered on when and how Mexico will supposedly pay for the border wall, and the rumored “deportation force” never materialized — but unlike in foreign policy or trade, Trump has never backed away from his hard-line stance on immigration. The administration has announced plans to hire thousands more border guards and enforcement officers, to withhold federal funding from “sanctuary cities,” to create a new office to draw attention to crimes committed by undocumented immigrants (it launched this week) and to expand the number of immigrants who can be deported through an expedited process. He has also taken steps to limit legal immigration, putting new restrictions on the use of temporary H1-B work visas and proposing a (still vague) merit-based approach to immigration.
The direct practical impacts of Trump’s new policies aren’t yet clear. Deportations are up but are still below the level from earlier in Obama’s term. A federal judge this week blocked part of Trump’s order on sanctuary cities. And Trump has thus far left in place Obama’s protections for immigrants who came to the country illegally as children. But there is evidence that Trump’s actions are having an impact even before his policies are fully in place. The number of undocumented immigrants apprehended at the Mexican border — a rough proxy for the level of illegal immigration — is down sharply under Trump, a drop many experts attribute to Trump’s tough talk and to would-be immigrants’ fears that they would not be welcomed in the U.S. At the same time, there have been early reports that fewer foreigners are coming to the U.S. as tourists or students, trends that, if they continue, could be bad news for the U.S. economy.
Some political rules do still apply to Trump.
During the campaign, Trump often seemed to defy political gravity, surviving scandals that would have felled more traditional candidates. That Teflon reputation was always overblown — Trump did fall in the polls after controversies such as the “Access Hollywood” tape and his comments about a Mexican-American judge, though he eventually rebounded. As president, Trump has continued to make bizarre and sometimes false statements, and has continued to survive them. But that doesn’t mean there have been no consequences: Trump is deeply unpopular (though only modestly more so than when he took office), and his approval ratings took a particular hit after the high-profile failure of the Republican health care bill.
Trump is learning that he isn’t immune to other political realities, either. The health care bill was doomed by the same intra-Republican disputes that have plagued the party for years. Trump lost his first nominee for labor secretary and several lower-level appointees over ethical questions and conflict-of-interest issues. And persistent questions over his campaign’s relationship with Russia have brought down Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and have proven a constant distraction during the first 100 days.
Facts still matter (sometimes).
Trump’s habit of playing fast and loose with the facts didn’t hurt him in the election (at least not badly enough for him to lose), so maybe it’s unsurprising that he has continued the practice since taking office. Most famously, he tweeted that Obama had tapped his phone during the campaign, a claim for which no one has ever produced any supporting evidence. He has also claimed that the U.S. murder rate is at a 47-year high (it isn’t), that he has created 600,000 new jobs (he hasn’t) and, repeatedly, that millions of undocumented immigrants voted in November (there’s no evidence to support that claim). In one particularly peculiar incident, Trump said he was sending an aircraft carrier off the coast of Korea, when it was in fact moving in the opposite direction.
But while those misstatements and falsehoods have generally carried few consequences, there are signs that facts still matter in policy and politics. Perhaps the clearest example was the failure of Republican efforts to discredit the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office ahead of its report on the GOP health plan. Despite those efforts, the CBO’s report — which found the bill would leave millions more Americans without health insurance — helped kill the bill. His new tax plan could face a similar fate: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the bill will pay for itself through economic growth, but it won’t be up to the White House to determine the plan’s cost, which will likely run into the trillions of dollars.
There is no ‘Trump administration.’
Political reporters routinely write about the executive branch as if it is a single person — “the White House announced X” or “the administration believes Y.” That’s a conceit, of course; any presidential administration is full of thousands of strong-willed individuals who frequently disagree with one another. But it’s a conceit that contains a fair amount of truth. There may not be one opinion, but there generally is one policy, and a clear process for making it. Members of an administration may disagree, but once a decision is made, they typically fall in line behind it.
It's a total mess. But seriously, who thought it would be otherwise?
That does not appear to be how the Trump administration works. This month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley gave contradictory descriptions of the U.S.’s policy on regime change in Syria. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has called publicly for the U.S. to pull out of the Paris climate accords, a position other members of the administration do not seem to share. Trump’s various economic aides often seem at odds over the administration’s position on free trade.