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What Conservative Historians Are Saying about Trump's First 100 Days


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What Historians Think of Trump's First 100 Days

“Trump is not a conservative. Nothing that he represents, says, or has done deserves the support of principled conservatives.” – Andrew Bacevich

Donald Trump’s first 100 days have seen the appointment and termination of decorated general Michael Flynn from the Defense Intelligence Agency, the eclipse of former Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon, a steady decline in the relationship with Russia, the bombing of Syria, a failed attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, and two failed attempts to impose a ban on certain groups of immigrants. This wasn’t exactly what Trump promised.  On the plus side he succeeded in appointing a religious conservative to the Supreme Court, fulfilling his commitment to evangelicals, while issuing executive orders that many conservatives approved.

We wondered what conservative historians make of Trump’s debut.  Here’s what they told us.

Larry Schweikart

Professor of history at the University of Dayton and the author of more than a dozen books including A Patriot’s History of the United States.

Trump’s first 100 days have been nothing less than spectacular, even more so when considering Democrat obstructionism in failing to confirm many of his appointees. He has done more than Ronald Reagan in rolling back existing rules, regulations, and has issued path breaking orders to “massively” cut in every department. His appointment of Judge Gorsuch has shifted power (somewhat) back to conservatives. Although the health care bill was withdrawn from a vote, it didn’t technically fail and a new one will soon emerge.

Trump continues to baffle all of the “experts” by ignoring the fake news media and pressing ahead with his agenda. Various statistics of illegal immigration declines – some saying as much as 70% – reflect his ongoing commitment to end the open border policy His rollback of environmental over-regulation and releasing American business to grow and prosper is already seen in the all time high of numbers employed. American confidence, in survey after survey, of both business and our overall future, has sharply spiked upward. The strike against Assad’s chemical weapons airbase is overwhelmingly approved of by even leftward tilting polls (who were overwhelmingly wrong in November).

Just imagine where we’d be if just all Republicans would get on board the Trump Train.

Daniel Pipes

Professor of public policy at Pepperdine University and the president of the Middle East Forum.

Donald Trump as president hardly differs from Trump as candidate: a blowhard who insouciantly breaks with customs and laws, delighting his fans and infuriating the rest of the world, sometimes getting it right but more often proving ineffectually amateurish. The great question is whether he will learn from his many mistakes and turn into a more conventional, respectable, and intelligent president – or whether he will continue in the same mold through the whole four-year period. I am pessimistic. However, if he is egregious enough and Republican members of Congress sick enough of him, we could well have a President Pence. 

In my field, the Middle East, the new administration has strikingly ignored Trump's campaign assertions about such matters as the Iran Deal, moving the embassy to Jerusalem, and staying out of Syria's civil war. This makes prediction of its future steps particularly difficult. 

Victor Davis Hanson

American military historian, columnist, former classics professor, and scholar of ancient agrarian and military history.

Trump presents a paradox for conservatives and liberals alike. His wandering tweets and ad hoc commentary frustrate conservatives as needlessly diversionary, and yet his appointments to the courts and cabinet are not only thoroughly conservative, but are more so than would likely have occurred under a more traditional Republican president such as the prior two Bushes or a putative president John McCain or Mitt Romney—perhaps because as an outside candidate he is not beholden to the Republican architecture or invested in doctrinaire policies or protocols. In that context, certainly Trump’s prompt action on Keystone or deregulation or the wall would not have been expected from the Republican congressional mainstream or prior Republican presidential candidates.

Moreover, Trump’s Jacksonian foreign policy fits neither Bush-era neoconservative nation-builidng nor Obama’s ‘lead from behind’ recessionals from traditional U.S. global leadership. And so at times it is paradoxically criticized by his base as needless interventionism and a throwback to Afghanistan/Iraq—and yet praised by his enemies as morally guided help for the gassed in Syria (in a fashion lacking under Obama).

Similarly, in an ironic fashion the Obama-era legacy may be the empowerment of the Trump administration, whether defined as setting the precedent of pen-and-phone executive orders, or the facilitation of the Senate nuclear option on Supreme Court appointments, or a general sense that the press was unethically obsequious then and so now cannot be ethically credible in its hostility. Let us also hope that Trump does not follow the Obama precedent of weaponizing the government itself against the press, rivals and enemies, in the fashion of Eric Holder and the AP journalists, or Lois Lerner and the IRS, or John Brennan and the Senate computers or the allegations pending concerning the NSA surveillance and unmasking in connection with Susan Rice.

In the first 100 days, the only constant is a clearly conservative president who believes that unpredictability, heterodoxy, and flexibility are important bargaining tools — even as his critics believe such reversals are hypocrisy and his supporters worry they are dilution of his agendas. Of course, three months are far too early to offer an assessment; yet theTrump base for now remains solid and sees progress on deregulation, the restoration of deterrence, a decrease in illegal immigration, and hope for tax and health care reform, and so are sticking with him.

Paul Gottfried

Former professor of humanities at Elizabethtown College.

I wrote this column for frontpagemag.com about seven weeks ago, and I still stand by the observations that I make there. The Left, by which I mean the multicultural, open-borders Left, may be too well organized in the permanent state, the media, educational institutions and the cultural industry for Trump and his advocates to win over a majority of the public. Even now Trump's popularity hovers around 40%, although most economic indicators look good and it would appear that the Democrats in the Senate have made fools of themselves by carrying their obstructionist tactics too far.

Brad Birzer

Professor of history and the chair of American studies at Hillsdale College.

Two years ago, most of those “in the know” would never have believed a Donald Trump presidency possible. Having made his name in the 1980s as the corporate equivalent of the big-haired and overly-made up televangelists of that same decade, few knew what to think of this brash figure by 2014. Certainly, neither intellectual conservatives nor libertarians viewed him as viable or acceptable.

Yet, yet, yet! 

Despite sometimes outrageous meanderings in terms of ideas but always armed with an unrelenting personal drive as well as an uncanny ability to pick the best of the best to aide him, Trump ably captured the mood of an angry and nationalistic middle America.  Sick and exhausted by the inanity of the cultural leftism of the “let me stare at you in the bathroom” crowd, a large minority of Americans and their allies readily chose the forthright Trump rather than the seemingly corrupt Clinton. If nothing else, those Americans who have supported Trump are thrilled to have a man’s man, a Gary Cooper or John Wayne figure who speaks his mind, openly and without hesitation. 

“Out here, a man settles his own problems.” 

Now firmly ensconced in the White House, President Trump has already succeeded greatly and failed greatly. 

His successes are obvious, especially in the choices he has made for a variety of offices. Whatever one thinks of their individual political beliefs, it would be impossible, for example, to question the professionalism and excellence of James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court Justice, or Brittany Baldwin as a speech writer. 

Trump’s failures, however, are equally glaring.  In particular, of the three things he promised – the end of the Affordable Healthcare Act; no major military intervention abroad; and building a Wall between the United States and Mexico –  none of have worked out as hoped by those who elected him or, most likely, by Trump himself. 

Given his extraordinary charisma and personality, though, Trump’s presidency will prove a major moment in American history. Whatever happens after the first 100 days, Donald Trump has already put a stamp on the White House, the country, and the world that will linger for years and, perhaps, decades to come. 

If nothing else, the East and Left coasts have learned that they cannot control the American “fly-over” country in the ways they so oppressively desire. The same is true of those countries that have either taken our help for granted or have seen us as a mortal enemy.

Robert Merry

Editor of The American Conservative, former columnist for the Wall Street Journal, the author of four books, and a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

We had LBJ campaigning in 1964 with promises that he wouldn't send American boys to fight in Vietnam – and then did. We had GHW Bush saying “read my lips; no new taxes” –  then raising taxes. We had Woodrow Wilson campaigning on the slogan, “He kept us out of war” –  and then maneuvering America into the European war. But never have we had a president so totally abandon the promises and the spirit of his campaign to such an extent as Donald Trump. Whether Russia, Syria, China's trade posture, the World Bank, NATO, or draining the swamp, Trump has abandoned not just a promise or two, but the entire rationale of his campaign. This is the greatest open display of political cynicism in American history. 

It doesn't bode well for his administration. Perhaps he can craft some kind of governing coalition in the face of erosion of support from his core constituency from the campaign, but that doesn't seem likely. But this is an agile politician, unencumbered by strict adherence to any body of principle. So maybe he can wend his way through the political thicket he has created. More likely he will prove a failure at governance, like James Buchanan, another president with serious character issues.