JULY 30, 2017 — In a divided nation, this president took office amid controversy. Many Democrats believed his victory was illegitimate. And what exactly were his qualifications?
Obviously, we’re referring to President George W. Bush, who won the 2000 election only after the U.S. Supreme Court validated his 537-vote Florida victory. Yet Bush’s first six months in the White House went smoothly, professionally. In June 2001 he delivered on a promise to cut taxes. Don’t spit out your coffee here, but Congress passed that legislation with broad bipartisan support.
“What we’ve seen so far is a calm and careful administration, one that has established itself in the mainstream of conservative orthodoxy, one that, to its credit, understands that campaign promises should be kept,” the Chicago Tribune editorial board wrote in late April 2001. “That will annoy some people who cling to the notion that this is an illegitimate presidency run by a hapless man. But for the great majority of Americans, it should give confidence that the White House is in capable hands.”
Looking back to Bush reminds us of what the American people should demand of the incumbent president: Do your job and deliver results. While everything would change for Bush’s presidency on 9/11, he overcame odds early in his tenure to govern effectively. That Donald Trump has failed, abjectly, to move the country forward is not a matter of political circumstances beyond his control. The disarray in the White House is all on Trump. And it must end — now.
What is Trump’s record so far? Beyond seating Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and a welcome shift of regulatory policies to encourage economic growth, we’ve seen mostly disappointment, stasis and reason for concern. The investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election would have remained in the background if only the president had self-control. Instead, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, which led to the naming of a special counsel and the amping up of an investigation that has sucked the oxygen out of Washington. Still the president won’t shut up, picking on Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself. Might Trump fire Sessions, too, to get at the special counsel?
No one in the White House is capable of restraining Trump from his impulses, or coaxing him to focus on the details that matter. The president uses Twitter as an insult machine. He ignores decorum to attack foes and gloat about his accomplishments at nonpolitical events. In case you missed it, the head of the Boy Scouts apologized to families for Trump’s tacky political comments at a Scout jamboree.
Obsessing on the president’s crass behavior often strikes us as a waste of energy. Yes, he can be vulgar and impetuous. That was clear before the election, which he won. While we rejected his candidacy, tens of millions of voters were drawn to him precisely because he is an outlier. “Trump supporters did not want a cookie-cutter president, they wanted someone who is different — and that’s who the country will get, deep flaws and all,” the Tribune wrote in January.
Our underlying premise is that he should be judged above all on his policy agenda for the country, which includes spurring economic growth and creating jobs. Where Trump gets himself in the most trouble is when his rash temperament and classless comments distract from important issues and derail political progress. Infighting among aides exacerbates the sense of chaos.
Trump promised to repeal and replace struggling Obamacare with a better health care plan, but he failed to develop a strong working relationship with the Republican-led Congress. His tax plan awaits his attention. He burned political capital on a Mexican wall instead of crafting immigration reform. Allies in Europe and Asia are still not sure they can trust Trump. Perhaps if the president stopped rehashing his victory over Hillary Clinton he’d have more time to think about the future.
It’s now the cusp of August. Congress soon will recess, in all likelihood without an Obamacare replacement. Members will go home to get an earful from frustrated constituents. Then soon enough the fall session will begin. The window of opportunity to achieve results will reopen, then slowly shut as the 2018 election season intensifies.
Trump has two options: He can get a grip on his presidency or see it wither.