The Most Successful First 100 Days Of An Administration Didn't Belong To Who You (Or Donald Trump) Think

tags: FDR, New Deal, Eisenhower, Trump, 100 days

Kevin M. Kruse is a professor of history at Princeton and author of “White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism.”

President Trump recently tweeted that judging a presidency by its first hundred days is a "ridiculous standard." This is, in one sense, true. Historians generally shy away from the standard, knowing that the full measure of a presidency can't be taken in such short order. But the president, as we know, isn't a historian. And last fall, he accepted the standard of the first hundred days and insisted he could meet it.

In late October, the Republican candidate traveled to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to unveil an ambitious Contract with the American Voter. It was, he announced dramatically, "my 100-day action plan to make America great again." Specifically, the Contract laid out an ambitious list of ten legislative proposals that would make major changes on an array of issues: tax cuts, infrastructure spending, school choice, health care, national security, immigration restriction and, ahem, "new ethics reforms to Drain the Swamp." Trump literally signed his name to this contract, calling it "my pledge to you." But as his first hundred days comes to an end, that pledge has been unfulfilled. Indeed, the president has only made an effort on one of these ten promises—health care reform—and that fell apart spectacularly.

To be sure, he's been unusually active in some ways, issuing 32 executive orders and holding Oval Office signing ceremonies to dramatize their importance. But the usual standard measures something quite specific: legislative accomplishments.

This custom dates back to Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose early months with Congress were so impressive they set a milestone (despite, as Trump very erroneously noted, only signing a measly nine executive orders). Indeed, when historians write about FDR's debut, we give it the capital letters it merits as a Major Event: "The First Hundred Days."

When FDR took office, the Great Depression was three years deep, and only getting worse. With the nation demanding change, Washington raced to enact Roosevelt's New Deal at a breakneck pace. On the first day of its legislative session, FDR sent Congress the Emergency Banking Act, which promised to fix the collapsed system that wiped out the life savings of nearly nine million people. That day, the House approved the bill with a unanimous shout after just 38 minutes of debate; the Senate passed it almost as quickly that night. An hour later, FDR signed it into law. ...

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