Grading President Trump

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tags: Trump, ranking presidents



Julian E. Zelizer  is a historian at Princeton University and a CNN political analyst. He is the author of The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society.

Supporters of President Trump like to say that despite all the tumult, the commander in chief is doing just fine. While the pundits rant and rave about whatever the “unprecedented” action of the day happens to be as he seems to move from one scandal to the next, the president’s allies dismiss the fireworks as nothing more than passing noise.

Even many cynical Democrats conclude in frustration that the president is simply distracting the public while he moves forward with an aggressive deregulatory agenda. After all, they say, when push comes to shove Donald Trump still is president of the United States despite all the controversy. Barring impeachment, he will be at least until 2020. Both his staunch supporters and cynical opponents love to dig into the polling data so that they can point out that his base still loves him, proof that Trump is succeeding.

But both of these measures tell us very little about whether his presidency is succeeding. Indeed, these are pretty ridiculous standards by which to measure the progress of any commander in chief. The “he’s still the president” standard would mean that anyone who serves a full term without voluntarily resigning or being impeached is successful. In this way of judging presidents, James Buchanan, Herbert Hoover, and Jimmy Carter would be on the same level as Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan.

The obsession with “the base” is equally misleading. By definition, the “base” of a president’s support is the part of the electorate that is so passionate about the victor on election day that it takes immense problems and a long time to shake their support. Most presidents, including Richard Nixon, don’t lose their base. In a look at Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the Monica Lewinsky scandals, Julia Azari, Perry Bacon Jr., and Harry Enten found that the party base remained loyal to the president until the very end. Using the “base is still with him” standard is a little like saying that in a bad season the 30-year NFL season-ticket holder who never misses a game, who hosts a massive tailgate party every Sunday, who owns every piece of team paraphernalia sold at the team store, and who spends most of the non-working day checking his or her smartphone to see the latest injury report, still loves his or her team.

There are much better ways through which to evaluate the president that offer us a better understanding of how Trump has performed thus far. ...




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