The winning argument Democrats have against the president
What President Trump has done and said in his short time in office is bad enough. But Democrats may find that it is what Trump has failed to do — and is likely to continue to fail to deliver — during his tenure that provides the most powerful case against him.
The importance of this line of attack is underscored by the one pro-Trump finding that stands out among the president’s dismal poll numbers: a solid plurality believe Trump is “being effective and getting things done.” For Democrats, debunking this misperception is vital.
Most of the country is divided between those who love Trump for the cultural war he is waging, no matter what else he does, and those who loathe him for his divisiveness, even if he somehow produces results on other issues. As a consequence, the future of Trump’s coalition — and the success of his presidency — turns on voters caught between the two groups, voters who were troubled by Trump’s outrageous behavior and statements, but “held their noses” to support him out of a belief that he would produce change on health care, jobs, trade and incomes.
These “in spite of the outrages” voters are looking for results on bread-and-butter issues. Trump is not delivering for them, his claims to the contrary notwithstanding. Democrats need to point this out — relentlessly.
Take health care. During the campaign, Trump promised immediate action to repeal and replace Obamacare. In the world according to Trump, everyone was “going to end up with great health care for a fraction of the price” that would “take place immediately after we go in.”
Now, 124 days after the election, Trump’s laughable promise to call a special session of Congress to repeal Obamacare has evaporated. The plan circulated last week by House Republicans is under fire from conservatives and liberals. And Trump has still failed to put forward any approach of his own. About that “great health care for a fraction of the price”? Don’t hold your breath.
Or take trade. Trump promised “in the first 90 days” he “would immediately start renegotiating our trade deals with Mexico, China, Japan.” Not a single one of these negotiations has begun. He also said he’d “fight for . . . passage within the first 100 days of my administration” for legislation to end U.S. companies’ ability to manufacture goods overseas and import them without tariffs. Again, Trump hasn’t written any plan to do that, let alone asked Congress to pass it.
Trump promised to stop the loss of jobs going overseas starting on “day one. It's so easy.” But major manufacturers continue to move jobs overseas in far larger numbers than the jobs supposedly “saved” at Trump’s December photo-op at Carrier, even including jobs at Caterpillar and Nucor, companies represented on Trump’s own job-creation task force.
And then there’s infrastructure. Here, too, Trump promised to fight for passage of a $1 trillion public-private infrastructure plan within his first 100 days. Many — myself included — were skeptical that the plan Trump put forward during the campaign would create jobs or fund needed projects. But even the harshest critics thought he would at least try. Instead, the White House has told allies that Trump likely won’t even send an infrastructure plan to Congress until 2018 — meaning shovels won’t be moving until 2019 at the earliest.
The list of “kitchen table” concerns on which Trump promised focus and action — “immediately” — in his first 100 days as president goes on: affordable child care, middle-class tax relief, simpler tax forms, savings accounts for elder care and more. But Trump has not offered plans to do any of these things thus far — not one.
Not only is Trump failing to deliver on the economic promises he made during the campaign, but also he is breaking new ones he made as president. On Feb. 23, Trump said he’d create jobs by insisting that the newly approved Keystone XL pipeline “buy steel made in this country” and promising that all pipe used in the project would be “coming from this country.” It took just days for the White House to repudiate Trump’s promise, saying that Keystone would be exempt from any Buy American rule.
To be fair, most presidents tend to overpromise and underdeliver in the early days of their terms; few achieve the kind of blockbuster legislative achievements that Franklin D. Roosevelt or Barack Obama did in their first 100 days. And Trump’s “sound and fury” presidency has persuaded a plurality of voters, at least for now, that he is getting things done.
But most voters still don’t like Trump, and other than a single good performance before Congress, he’s done little to assuage their anxieties and much to exacerbate them. This puts the burden on Trump — even more than most new presidents — to deliver on his audacious campaign promises or risk being viewed as just another “all talk, no action” politician. Ronald A. Klain served as a senior White House aide to both Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and was a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
Trump supporters rally near the Washington Monument on March 4.