Don’t Buy the Spin: Trump’s Accomplishments Have Actually Been Pretty Modest So Far

Jonah Goldberg:

Contrary to what many predicted, President Trump’s end-of-year accomplishment list isn’t that skimpy. That’s an analytical observation. For many, particularly liberals and Democrats, Trump’s first year hasn’t been merely bad. It’s a great evil, a grievous wound to the American body politic. But even that is a kind of partisan tribute to what’s been accomplished on his watch: A record number of judicial appointments, including a Supreme Court justice, the defeat of Islamic State, repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate, tax reform and major rollbacks of various regulations, from arctic drilling to Net Neutrality.

This has become a standard meme on the right, but Goldberg argues that most of Trump’s accomplishments are really just Republican Party accomplishments, and I think that’s the right way to judge him. Has Trump accomplished any more than any other Republican with control of Congress would have? First, let’s make some lists:

Trump Accomplishments:

  • Regulatory rollbacks
  • Paris treaty
  • Judges
  • Tax bill
  • Individual mandate
  • Moving American embassy to Jerusalem

Trump Failures (so far, at least):

  • The wall
  • Repealing Obamacare
  • Immigration order
  • Infrastructure
  • Deficit reduction
  • Blue-collar jobs

No Trump Influence:

  • Economy
  • War against ISIS

This covers most of the concrete, big-ticket items. Of Trump’s accomplishments, any Republican president would have done most of them. However, President Cruz might not have withdrawn from the Paris Treaty and probably wouldn’t have moved the embassy, so I’d give Trump points for those.

On the failures, most Republicans wouldn’t even have bothered with most of them. However, it’s quite possible that a less chaotic White House could have provided the leadership needed to repeal Obamacare. This is a guess, but I think President Cruz might very well have succeeded.

Finally, both the economy and the war against ISIS have followed the course set over the past couple of years. Trump has neither helped nor hindered either one.

So from a conservative point of view, you have two symbolic victories from Trump (Paris and Jerusalem) and one big concrete loss (Obamacare). Policywise, Trump is obviously better than Hillary, but he’s probably worse than any other Republican would have been.

But what about the less concrete side of Trump? After all, his policies were never all that different from any other Republican. He just talked a lot more shit than the rest of them. So how has that worked out?

Badly, I’d say. Trump has alienated Europe and NATO. His public acts of racism have probably tarred the party for years. His tweets have gotten tiresome even to a lot of his supporters. His administration is facing a major corruption and collusion investigation that started four months after he was inaugurated. He’s been rather obviously played by China’s president. The middle class is going to figure out pretty quickly that his tax bill doesn’t do much for them. He’s doing his best to undermine the FBI, something that’s eventually going to rebound against him and his enablers in the party. His inner circle plainly doesn’t trust him with nuclear weapons. He’s made your demographic problems even worse than they used to be. His job approval rating is at a historic low for a first-year president. Republicans are facing a potentially huge wave against them in the 2018 midterms.

So to Republicans I’d say: you haven’t gotten anything that any other Republican president wouldn’t have delivered—maybe less, in fact—and you’ve taken on an enormous amount of baggage in the meantime. Trump has been a pretty obvious loser for your party.

And to Democrats I’d say: As bleak as things seem, you really shouldn’t buy the spin that Trump’s accomplishments have been world-historically terrible. He hasn’t rolled back all that many regulations so far (mostly just ones that passed in the final year of Obama’s presidency and hadn’t even gone into effect yet). Tax cuts don’t do much harm and can be changed pretty easily down the road. The Paris Treaty was nonbinding and mostly symbolic. The repeal of the individual mandate hurts, but probably less than CBO thinks. The embassy move is unlikely to have much effect since there hasn’t been any peace process to damage for the past two decades. ANWR isn’t as big a deal as a lot of liberals make it out to be. Ditto for Keystone XL. Relations with Europe can be repaired.

At a policy level, that leaves judges. That’s a big deal, and it could become an even bigger deal if Trump gets to replace a liberal Supreme Court justice. But really, that’s about it—aside from Trump turning America into a laughingstock, of course, and making open racism and xenophobia acceptable once again. But those can be repaired too.

And on the bright side, Trump hasn’t gotten America involved in a massive, pointless land war in the Middle East like the last Republican president. So far, anyway.


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