There are two ways to look at President Donald Trump, observed Lee Edwards, distinguished fellow of conservative thought at the Heritage Foundation. One is that Trump is “a feckless idiot” who is “almost dysfunctional.” The other is that “this man actually knows what he’s doing.”
Which is the real Trump? At a Heritage symposium on Trump’s first 100 days in office, Edwards went with the second option. He said he believes Trump “very cleverly” does what many politicians do — get the opposition to underestimate them.
“This is more work than in my previous life,” Trump told Reuters on Thursday. “I thought it would be easier.”
Was this an attempt at getting Democrats to underestimate him? More likely these remarks are just another example of Trump being Trump — a supremely confident and perennially impulsive billionaire who just admitted that he underestimated how difficult it is to actually be the leader of the free world.
People often forget that presidents are human beings — with great strengths that carry with them corresponding weaknesses. Trump voters went with the brash billionaire, because he was a nonpolitician who promised to shake the Washington power elite to its core.
The flip side of that coin is that, as an outsider, Trump doesn’t have any experience navigating Congress. And as a true outsider, he hasn’t tried particularly hard to hire top staffers who know how. It is no surprise, then, that Trump’s first foray into the sausage making of legislation — his bid to repeal and replace Obamacare — fell flat, even though his party controls the House and Senate.
Trump’s behavior in his first six weeks in office handed his critics ammunition to fire back at him. As he took the oath of office, Trump did not use the occasion to reach across the aisle, as he did during his election night acceptance speech.
The next day, as anti-Trump marchers filled the streets of Washington and other cities, Trump sent out Press Secretary Sean Spicer to launch his first press conference haranguing the news media for its “shameful” reporting on the size of the new president’s inauguration crowd on the Capitol Mall.
During a bipartisan meeting with congressional leaders, Trump groused that millions of “illegal” voters deprived him of the raw vote victory he otherwise would have won. To this day, Trump has provided no proof of such massive voter fraud, and the sort of bluster that worked for the unorthodox candidate during the 2016 primary has backfired.
And that was just his first week.
Former Congresswoman and Obama State Department Under Secretary Ellen Tauscher said she would give Trump a grade of D or F for his first 100 days, “because a lot of the mistakes are self-inflicted.”
On day seven, the Trump administration botched its rollout of a travel ban on individuals from seven Muslim majority countries. It was a poorly drafted document that needlessly alienated allies in America’s war on terrorism. Trump’s attacks on the “so-called judge” forced his Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch to distance himself from the president’s rhetoric.
A second more carefully crafted travel ban released weeks later also was blocked by federal judges.
The specter of Russia haunted Trump’s first days in office, as Democrats argued for a bipartisan investigation into Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election. Although he provided no proof, Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told the media there was more than circumstantial evidence that the Trump team colluded with Russia.
It didn’t help when the Washington Post reported that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his relationship with Russia. After the story went public, Trump fired Flynn.
Then on March 4, Trump tweeted that “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower.” Trump’s failure to produce any corroborating evidence enraged the left.
Thereafter, Trump exercised more discipline on Twitter. About this time, the Trump White House hit a turning point. Trump’s Feb. 28 joint address to Congress received rave reviews. The president seemed to move away from his more bellicose advisers and toward the people whose advice, when heeded, resulted in praise.
With Flynn gone, Trump found a savvy foreign-policy triumvirate in Flynn’s replacement, H.R. McMaster, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis that lifted his standing on the world stage and guided Trump to enforce former President Barack Obama’s red line against the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
In the last few weeks, Trump has been talking about how much he likes Angela Merkel. They talked on the phone twice in April.
“He likes to talk to people who take him seriously,” James Carafano, a Heritage senior fellow and member of the Trump transition team, explained.
It was that motivation that won Trump the GOP nomination and the White House last year. Trump wants history to take him seriously, as well. He has come to understand that it won’t be easy.
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