President Trump’s administration started off strong on policy but predictably chaotic on messaging.
Here are his grades thus far:
In his third week, though, no policy was forthcoming – but lots of controversy was. That means that this was Trump’s worst week by far, and sets him up for a series of politically inconvenient events that could plague the next few months of his presidency. Those rooting for the success of President Trump should be deeply concerned about how the administration has handled a bevy of issues, as well as Trump’s rhetoric on everything from business conflicts to American exceptionalism.
As always, we grade Trump along three tracks: policy, rhetoric, and the in-between (rhetoric that impacts policy).
Policy. There was very little policy this week. Unlike the first two weeks, which were a whirlwind of executive orders, this week slowed markedly. That’s because the executive branch isn’t a dictatorship, and sooner or later, the checks and balances of the government hamstring any president, no matter how ambitious. Trump’s big policy victories weren’t his this week – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-KY) rammed through the confirmations of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Of course, McConnell also elevated Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to martyr status by foolishly censuring her on the Senate floor. But none of that is Trump’s fault.
Rhetoric. Trump’s rhetoric this week was particularly ridiculous. Not only did he essentially disown American exceptionalism by making excuses for Vladimir Putin’s thugocracy (“we’ve got a lot of killers”), he dismissed polls that don’t favor him as “fake news”; deployed his press secretary to rip on Nordstrom and doing so himself – and then did nothing when Kellyanne Conway possibly violated federal law by stumping for Ivanka’s product line; got in a fight with his own Supreme Court nominee; got in a slapfight with John McCain about honor and the military; and facilitated talk about chaos within his administration by openly tweeting that he’s in charge (hint hint, NOT Steve Bannon). Somebody needs to contain Trump’s Twitter feed. It’s a disaster area.
The In-Between. It’s not Trump’s fault that the Ninth Circuit moved forward on an asinine, unjustifiable ruling regarding his immigration and refugee executive order. That ruling is indeed a disaster, and Trump is fully within his rights to attack it (although tweeting about "EASY D!" is not good strategy). But if Trump hadn’t rolled out the executive order doltishly, it would have been far less easy for the court to do what it did. Meanwhile, news has broken that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn allegedly talked to Russia about rolling back sanctions before Trump even took office -- and then allegedly lied about it to Vice President Mike Pence, who informed the public of the alleged lie. And press secretary Sean Spicer is on the ropes after a brutal first two weeks.
This was a pretty awful week for President Trump. He’s going to need some more policy to right this ship – and he’s going to need to contain his id. Even Matt Drudge, a Trump fan, is calling for faster movement on Obamacare repeal and tax cuts. Like Manny Ramirez, Trump can only get away with being Trump so long as he’s hitting. This week, he wasn’t. And that means the act wore thin.
Third Week Grade: D