He’s had soaring moments and searing setbacks, distractions, scandals, unsubstantiated claims and a call for ending “trivial fights” that was followed by new rounds of the same.
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The source of nearly all of that was one man: the president of the United States.
Fifty days in, President Trump has smashed conventions and challenged assumptions with startling regularity. He has created a chaotic new normal in national politics that’s in keeping with the campaign he ran, and with the marvel-mogul image he fostered over decades in the public eye.
At the midpoint of his first 100 days, Trump has changed Washington more than he has changed himself.
He is also straining his own credibility and the credibility of the presidency, while coming perilously close to losing control of his bold agenda. He has faced down few real crises and can boast of no major legislative victories. Unified control of Washington has seldom felt this divided.
The contradictions of this president are on public display almost daily, sometimes hourly. The public has seen flashes of the transformational leader Trump promised to be -– and also more than equal doses of pettiness.
Little sustained effort at maintaining a presidential narrative is evident -– not in any traditional sense, at least.
To cite just one of many tumultuous weeks, Trump’s first address to Congress on Feb. 28 appeared to be an upbeat and party-unifying affair, a promising kick-off to a month stuffed with legislative action items. There was bipartisan talk of Trump growing into the presidency, amid high hopes for the GOP’s governing momentum.
Inside of 48 hours, however, Trump’s attorney general and campaign adviser was recusing himself from a nagging Russia investigation that’s threatening to swallow Trump’s presidency. An Oval Office fight between Trump and top aides was caught on camera the next day, and Trump flew to Florida for the weekend without most of his key staff.
He woke up Saturday morning tweeting unsubstantiated claims that President Obama ordered his phones tapped -– the latest apparently fact-free outburst, seemingly based on tenuous conspiracy theories, that serve to strain presidential credibility. He also maintains that between 3 and 5 million undocumented immigrants swung the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, without offering evidence.
The jarring pace of this administration played out with an initial travel ban that caused chaotic, emotional scenes and a judicial slap-down. A modified version of what began as a “Muslim ban” was unveiled more deliberately and professionally, offering a glimpse of what Trump might yet achieve with the right mix of personnel and policy.
The saga over Michael Flynn, who was fired for misleading Vice President Mike Pence over his contacts with Russia, offers another case in point. It cuts to the heart of what’s been the biggest scandal of Trump’s initial months as president. Flynn was fired, but even then, Trump called him a “wonderful man” who was targeted by “fake news.”
Trump galvanized conservatives with his selection of Judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court vacancy, plus a flurry of promise-keeping executive orders on immigration, trade, and regulations. Now he has conservatives worried again, with a push to replace Obamacare that falls short of his initial promises and asks his base to trust his untested leadership.
If he falls short on Capitol Hill, his legislative agenda seems likely to be in tatters, with his opponents more energized than ever. As he turns to deal-making mode, though, it’s worth remembering that Trump has bested opponents while facing longer odds, with bigger stakes.
On Day 50 came a telling episode in the daily press briefing that offered a glimpse of how the presidency has changed. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer responded to the latest jobs numbers with a message he said came directly from the president: “They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.”
Spicer delivered that line with a laugh. He’s right, of course – all of this is real, though it’s not a laughing matter.
Trump has remade the nature of the presidency, using bluster, Twitter, personal magnetism, and “alternative facts.” He has brought a divisive tone to a divided country, by doing much of what he said he would do, in the manner in which he’s become expected to do it.
Uncharacteristically, the president is spending this weekend – at the midway point on the march to 100 days -- in Washington, at the White House. President Trump is finding his own sense of comfort in a town that’s no more comfortable with him than on the day he was elected.