Can Trump save his pres­i­dency?

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Don­ald Trump’s first six months in the White House have been a riot of scan­dal, chaos and out­rage that ab­sent a ma­jor course cor­rec­tion - could spell doom for his en­tire ad­min­is­tra­tion. All US pres­i­dents face crises that seem to sweep the White House from its moor­ings. Abra­ham Lin­coln strug­gled through a bloody Civil War. Bill Clin­ton was hu­mil­i­ated by muck­rak­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions. Barack Obama took five months to plug a dev­as­tat­ing oil spill and even longer to right the econ­omy.

But few pres­i­dents have caused such out­rage or faced such a mul­ti­tude of crises as Don­ald Trump has in his first six months. “To be con­sumed by scan­dal from day one is not good, no ma­jor leg­is­la­tion is not good, to have ap­proval rat­ings that are so low and the po­ten­tial for

Re­pub­li­can de­fec­tions, all of this is not what you ex­pect,” said Ju­lian Zelizer, a pro­fes­sor of his­tory at Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity.

Trump swag­gered into of­fice on Jan 20 declar­ing Wash­ing­ton was broke and only a killer busi­ness­man such as him­self could fix it. That prom­ise looks in­creas­ingly thread­bare. The White House re­mains un­der­staffed, un­der-skilled and strug­gling to at­tract new tal­ent. Ex­ist­ing staff there ad­mit to be­ing ex­hausted and de­mor­al­ized. Trump’s po­lit­i­cal agenda has been blown to smithereens: The bor­der “wall” has not been built, NAFTA has not been torn up, the Iran deal is still in place and Oba­macare re­mains the law of the land.

Even with Repub­li­cans in con­trol of both houses of Congress, the in­flu­en­tial and nom­i­nally sup­port­ive Drudge Re­port de­clared this the “MOST UN­PRO­DUC­TIVE CONGRESS IN 164 YEARS.” Ora­tor­i­cally, Trump has con­tin­ued where his cam­paign left off, pick­ing fights with the press, judges, his own party, Democrats and FBI di­rec­tor James Comey, whom he fired. All the while, a drip, drip of ev­i­dence has am­pli­fied al­le­ga­tions that his fam­ily and aides sought help from Rus­sia to tip the elec­tion against Hil­lary Clin­ton.

There have been bright spots. The Is­lamic State group has been vir­tu­ally de­feated in Mo­sul and in Raqa, the cap­i­tal of the so-called caliphate, is be­sieged. Trump has ful­filled his prom­ise to scrap a trans-pa­cific trade deal, and suc­cess­fully ap­pointed con­ser­va­tive judge Neil Gor­such to the Supreme Court. But Trump wins have been few and far be­tween. “I don’t see these six months as a suc­cess and it’s hard for me to see the ar­gu­ment that it was,” said Zelizer.

But pres­i­dents can and do right the course. Bill Clin­ton’s first term was no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult and like Trump he suf­fered an early and em­bar­rass­ing leg­isla­tive de­feat on health­care. “His­tory is full of ex­am­ples of pres­i­dents who learn from their mis­takes and go on to have ma­jor leg­isla­tive suc­cesses,” said Alex Co­nant, a Re­pub­li­can strate­gist at Fire­house Strate­gies who served in Ge­orge W. Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. “Pres­i­dents are ul­ti­mately judged on what they get done and he’s only six months in. There is still plenty of time for them to do a lot. He could still end up be­ing a highly suc­cess­ful pres­i­dent.”

But changes would be needed, Co­nant ad­mits. Even Repub­li­cans have crit­i­cized Trump’s re­cent failed ef­forts to push his own health­care re­forms over the line. With lit­tle pol­icy back­ground, Trump has seemed more at home with the the­ater of the pres­i­dency: Pre­fer­ring mil­i­tary pa­rades in Paris to mak­ing pol­icy speeches and wran­gling votes. “A cou­ple of meet­ings with sen­a­tors and a hand­ful of tweets is not go­ing to cut it on some­thing as con­tro­ver­sial as health­care re­form,” said Co­nant.

But, he ar­gues, Trump still has the time and some of the skills needed to se­cure vic­to­ries, as long as he is will­ing to make the pitch. “His en­tire life he’s been a very good mar­keter and dur­ing the cam­paign he did an amaz­ing job en­er­giz­ing the con­ser­va­tive base,” Co­nant said. “Those are the skills he needs to now ap­ply to gov­ern­ing.”“In his pre­vi­ous life he was marketing ev­ery­thing from steaks to bot­tled water to con­dos with his name on it. Now tax re­form is go­ing to have his name on it.”

But Trump’s char­ac­ter could equally prove his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s worst en­emy. “A lot of the prob­lems he faces are him, and he’s not go­ing to change his per­son­al­ity,” said Zelizer. Michael Signer, the Demo­cratic Mayor of Char­lottesville and a lec­turer at the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia said “the path to le­git­i­macy” for Trump “would be to sig­nal his em­brace of our tra­di­tional norms and our checks and bal­ances”. “The more he re­fuses to do that, the lower his num­bers will go, the more il­le­git­i­mate his pres­i­dency will get and the more des­per­ate he will get.”

If noth­ing changes, Trump’s ap­proval rat­ings al­ready his­tor­i­cally low at 40 per­cent - could por­tend a shel­lack­ing in the 2018 midterm elec­tions. “If Democrats strengthen their size or gain power in one or both cham­bers then the pres­i­dent is in for a ride,” said Zelizer, pre­dict­ing im­peach­ment hear­ings and whole­sale push­back. “The more cor­nered he feels, he’s not go­ing to have some di­plo­matic re­sponse. He’ll get an­gry, he’ll at­tack his at­tack­ers. I don’t think it gets calmer or pretty in the Oval Of­fice, I think as things get in­tense it’s go­ing to get much uglier.” — AFP

WASH­ING­TON: US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump leaves af­ter speak­ing dur­ing the first meet­ing of the Pres­i­den­tial Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion on Elec­tion In­tegrity in the Eisen­hower Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fice Build­ing next to the White House yes­ter­day. — AFP

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