As a candidate, Donald Trump promised Republicans that “We are going to win so much that you may even get tired of winning.” Over the past year, I’ve noticed that the president’s supporters and conservative critics don’t seem to share the same definition of “winning.”
A few times recently the different views of winning have come to the surface. When Donald Trump tweeted, “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?’ Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend - and maybe someday that will happen,” Trump supporters erupted in cheers and celebrations on social media. Several lists of Trump’s accomplishments making their way around the internet, such as this one on Conservapedia, point out the areas where Trump supporters believe he is winning.
From my analysis, President Trump’s accomplishments seem to fall into three main categories. First is the appointments of conservative jurists to positions throughout the judiciary. Second, Trump has used his executive authority to enact a number of promised reforms. Finally, Donald Trump uses his “bully pulpit” to fight back. The duration and effect of these accomplishments varies wildly.
In my view, President Trump’s most important and – so far – only lasting accomplishment has been his effect on the federal judiciary. The appointment of Neal Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is only the tip of the iceberg. Working with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who many Trump supporters view as an establishment foe, Trump had appointed 44 federal judges and had eight confirmed by August. These conservative judges will have a lasting effect on the judicial branch.
The same cannot be said of Trump’s executive actions. Many of President Trump’s executive actions overturn President Obama’s executive actions. A successor could erase President Trump’s executive legacy just as easily.
The quality of President Trump’s executive actions varies as well. His executive actions range from the excellent, such as cutting bureaucratic regulations and reinstating the Mexico City policy to ban federal funding for abortions in other countries, to the ineffective, such as his travel bans that would likely have no effect on fighting terrorism.
Some of Trump’s executive actions, though they fulfill campaign promises and are applauded by his supporters, are actually harmful to the country. In one of his first acts as president, Trump withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership. The lack of American participation did not kill the trade deal, however. Other parties to the treaty are continuing to move forward on the agreement. If the deal goes forward without the United States, it will be American businesses, workers and consumers who lose.
The third category of Trump accomplishments is the most meaningless and illusory. Trump supporters love his snarky tweets and insults. They like the fact that he fights back and consider this an accomplishment. Essentially, Trump’s tweets and insults make Republicans feel good about themselves.
The problem is that Trump has the opposite effect on the rest of the country. An ABC News poll found that 70 percent of the public thinks that Trump does not act presidential and 68 percent don’t see him as a positive role model. The president’s behavior is now directly linked to electoral losses in which voters say that they are voting for Democrats specifically because they oppose Donald Trump.
Another commonly cited accomplishment is the surging stock market. While stocks have hit record highs under Trump, they did the same under Obama. In fact, a look at the stock market over the past 10 years shows that the market has been climbing since the end of the Great Recession in 2009. Supporters have difficulty pointing to any specific Trump policy change that could explain the surging market since Republicans have scored so few victories on fiscal and economic policy.
On the other hand, my definition of “winning” relies heavily on legislative victories that would be difficult for Democrats to reverse. As the Trump Administration prepares to close out its first year and enter a midterm election year, it has not scored a single legislative victory.
The repeal or reform of Obamacare would have been a major legislative victory since Republicans had been campaigning against the federal health law since 2010. Donald Trump campaigned against Obamacare as well, but when the chips were down, the president’s erratic behavior and attacks on Republican senators almost certainly contributed to the reform effort’s demise.
Likewise, Trump began the tax reform effort with a war against Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a member of the Senate budget committee. Trump insisted that, in contrast with conservative fiscal doctrine, that the tax reform not lower the rates of the wealthiest taxpayers. The top 20 percent of taxpayers pay 95 percent of taxes per the Office of Management and Budget, but taxpayers in the top bracket won’t get a lower rate, if tax reform actually becomes law, thanks to President Trump.
While Trump supporters may argue that the president has accomplished more than any president except FDR, most Americans understand how little has been done in the past year. Without the passage of a single piece of legislation that is part of the Trump agenda, Republicans seeking reelection have few accomplishments to run on. As a result, many Republicans are deciding that 2018 is a good time to retire.
Donald Trump has not ushered in an era in which conservatives have grown tired of winning. In fact, winning has been in short supply over the past year. What President Trump has lacked in winning, he has more than made up for in whining, but that makes a poor substitute.