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Scorecard: Trump’s First Six Months

Michael D. Tanner

The first six months of the Trump presidency have been dominated
by tweets, insults, and investigations. But obscured by all the
noise have been important questions of policy. Let us, therefore,
put aside issues of style and look more closely at the substance.
What has President Trump accomplished?

There have clearly been successes. At the very top of the list
is Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who gives every sign of
being the brilliant originalist who was advertised. Trump has been
slower in nominating judges to lower courts, but those he has put
up, in general, appear to be excellent choices.

On the legislative front, Trump’s biggest victory may have been
a bill making it easier to fire incompetent employees at the
Department of Veterans Affairs, and protecting whistleblowers in
the agency. He has also signed some 15 bills repealing all or parts
of Obama-era regulations. Few have been earthshaking, but most have
been steps in the right direction. And while his withdrawal from
the Paris climate accords was as much symbolism as substance (as
were the accords themselves), it was an important signal that
America is going to prioritize economic growth.

Some wins (Gorsuch,
regulations, Paris accord), but character flaws continue to tarnish
his achievements.

Nor should we ignore addition by subtraction, so to speak. There
are all the regulations that the Trump administration has not
enacted, especially compared with what a Clinton administration
probably would have done. By some measures, the Trump
administration has been the least regulatory presidency since
Reagan’s. That’s not nothing.

But the president has mostly struck out on bigger items. Even if
Republicans eventually cobble together some sort of health-care
bill, full repeal of Obamacare is, by all accounts, not going to
happen. Tax reform remains nothing more than a one-page outline and
is unlikely to pass this year. The budget remains stalled,
entitlement reform is off the table, and deficits are rising.
Congress, of course, shares the blame for these failures. But
Trump’s distraction, disengagement, and vacillation helped turn bad
situations into true disasters.

Then again, we should probably be grateful that many of Trump’s
other initiatives, such as Ivanka’s paid family-leave and
child-care programs, the trillion-dollar infrastructure boondoggle,
and, of course, the wall are not going anywhere.

And if you want to see a complete policy train wreck, look no
further than the president’s travel ban, originally intended to
bar entry for 90 days for applicants from seven Muslim-majority
countries. Setting aside that the president managed to insult an
entire religion and caused enormous personal hardship to innocent
people, or that the ban does nothing to make America safer, one
can’t overlook that the whole exercise ended up bogged down in the
courts for longer than the order was originally supposed to be in
effect.

Meanwhile, on foreign policy, Trump’s flubs and snubs have
obscured the fact that he has mostly carried on a pretty
traditional approach to most issues. His rhetoric might be more
bellicose, but his actual policies are not much different than what
President Clinton probably would have done.

Under other circumstances, one might consider these six months
as perfectly mediocre, not as bad as critics feared, but no great
shakes either. But circumstances are hardly normal. It’s all but
impossible to separate Trump on policy from Trump’s character. From
the point of view of his many critics, his petty feuds, continuing
misogyny, and relentless assault on the truth have tarnished those
things he has accomplished.

Polls show that Trump’s support among voters is at record lows
at this point in a presidency, but he retains nearly all the
support of his base. For some of them, it’s enough that he appears
to speak for them against the bipartisan Washington establishment.
For others, they are enthralled by the way he drives liberals,
critics, and the media crazy. For others, not being Hillary or
Obama will carry him a long way. Besides, the Democrats are hardly
offering much of an alternative.

But if we are looking for real solutions to the serious problems
facing this country, the Trump administration is a long way from
winning.

Michael
Tanner
is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author
of Going for Broke: Deficits, Debt, and the Entitlement
Crisis.