As an avowed #NeverTrumper in 2016, I chose not to vote for Donald Trump in the primaries nor the general election. Up until Election Day, I would have rated Trump’s chances of electoral success very low. I resigned myself to the likelihood of a Clinton victory.
Then Trump won.
After my initial shock wore off, I took a step back. I wasn’t optimistic about America’s future under Trump, but I decided to give him a chance to govern before jumping to conclusions about his fitness to be president.
The next year was a political roller coaster. Ups, downs, good Trump, bad Trump, endless CNN interviews and panels, social media shouting matches, scandals, nothingburgers, all crammed into a rapidly shifting news cycle that somehow always managed to stay entirely focused on Trump.
As 2017 wounded down, many conservative commentators proclaimed Trump’s presidency a success in its first year. I’m unsure.
For every “good Trump” moment— regulatory rollback, the nomination of Justice Gorsuch, firing James Comey, crafting tax reform, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital— there seemed to be a “bad Trump” moment— Trump’s response to the Charlottesville riots, his unfounded claims of voter fraud in his own election, and his praising of despots Vladimir Putin and Rodrigo Duterte.
As everyone made up their minds about Trump’s year as President, I couldn’t quite decide. Then the first few days of 2018 rolled around.
In the span of two weeks, Trump contradicted his own administration’s positions on Twitter and in meetings five separate times. Trump also allegedly used vulgar language to describe the condition of certain countries and suggested that America should let in first-world immigrants instead, contradicting his own earlier position that immigration should be merit-based.
After reflecting on all this, I realized something. Most of what I liked about the Trump Presidency were actions Trump didn’t do himself. Rather, his administration had done them, or Trump had done them after asking conservative groups, like the Federalist Society or the Heritage Foundation, what to do.
Based on my current assessment, Donald Trump is at best a political neophyte who lucked his way into the Presidency riding a wave of disgust and anger directed against Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic agenda. At worst, he is a self-centered, glandular bloviator who can’t let perceived slights go, makes decisions mostly based on momentary gut feeling, and displays all the measured grace of an ice-skating hippo.
Trump is, though, probably good at two things: playing to his audience and putting his name on things. In keeping with these strengths, Trump has made easy moves he knows his voting base will appreciate, from the aforementioned recognition of Jerusalem to his more recent speech at the March for Life. Furthermore, Trump has relied on a crack team of moderate Republicans, political outsiders, movement conservatives, and army generals to staff his administration. That team has banded together, attempting to synthesize conservative policy making with Trump’s own broad emphasis on economic growth and national security. The administration’s successes have allowed Trump himself to claim success.
While his administration is busy pursuing conservative policies, Trump prefers instead to play golf and watch Fox News. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind if Trump just did that, but whenever he does speak (or tweet) off-the-cuff, he creates more problems than he solves. Though Trump has delegated much of his staffing and policy work away from them, the family members and campaign surrogates he’s placed in power have either amounted to distractions or disasters.
Going forward, I hope that Trump stops tweeting, talks less, and removes certain loyalists from the White House. He did recently nuke Steve Bannon from orbit for his disloyalty. Perhaps my hopes are not entirely in vain.
As a conservative, I love much of what the Trump administration is doing. Nevertheless, to put it mildly, Trump is a dumpster fire. I think America would be better off if nearly any other movement conservative were running the show, but Trump is who we have for the foreseeable future.
This is a unique situation in American politics. I believe it is possible to like the Trump administration and dislike Trump the man. If Trump is content to let his administration continue on this course while claiming credit, he may end up with a successful Presidency in spite of his own shortcomings.