For decades now, at the beginning of every presidency, the media and even the president himself have become obsessed with how well he’s doing in his first 100 days. President Trump opened the door to that test recently when he suggested that he would have one of the best first 100 days of any president in history. Politics is a risky business, and once a president invites such a comparison, his record is fair game.
If we use Franklin D. Roosevelt as a benchmark, the comparison game is all but over. President Trump has said he “inherited a mess,” so it’s logical to put him up against a president who truly inherited a mess. Roosevelt came into office with the nation suffering from the woes of the Great Depression. Unemployment was nothing short of staggering, and poverty was plaguing most of America.
From March to June of 1933, Roosevelt won enormous concessions from Congress. It passed the National Industrial Recovery Act to help industrial workers; the Agricultural Act, which helped farmers; the Securities Act, which regulated the stock market; and the Banking Act, which created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which protected bank depositors. For FDR, it turned out, those first 100 days were just the beginning, and were followed by many other historic accomplishments.
Dwight Eisenhower had pledged to end the Korean War, which eventually happened, but his relationship with Congress was poor and he had nothing to boast about after his first 100 days. John Kennedy was hung up on foreign affairs, and Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and the two George Bushes didn’t do much better. Bill Clinton tried to remake health care in his earliest days, and we all know that didn’t go anywhere.
Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan got off to fast and furious starts. Johnson laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, the Voting Rights Act and many anti-poverty laws. Reagan won big tax breaks and spending cuts, and managed to get 52 American hostages released by the government of Iran.
Barack Obama won early passage of many pieces of legislation and set the stage for the passage of the Affordable Care Act. A major victory at the ballot box and having his party in control of both the Senate and the House helped a lot. During the first 100 days of his second term, however, facing a Republican Congress, Obama struck out on most of his proposals. Those first 100 were useless, and marked the beginning of a bitter battle with House and Senate Republican majorities that were determined to challenge his legitimacy.
It’s useful to compare Trump’s campaign promises with his successes and failures since he took office. On immigration, he promised to stop illegal border crossings and, specifically, to keep various ethnic groups out of the country. He pledged that on “Day One” he would rid the nation of the Affordable Care Act and provide Americans with better health care coverage. He promised that we would have more jobs than we ever dreamed of, and that he would be known as the “greatest jobs president in history.”
Fast-forward to May and the number of Trump successes is far exceeded by the number of failures. He succeeded in getting the Senate to appoint Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. But that approval came at the expense of a Senate rule change, making Democrats even angrier than they’ve been ever since Trump was elected. The effort to repeal and replace Obamacare collapsed when the warring factions in the House couldn’t agree on a bill. The one that failed would have denied millions of people of their existing health coverage.
Trump’s ban on immigrants from six so-called risky countries is stuck in the federal courts. Most of his successes have been the result of the signing of numerous executive orders, which he accused Obama of doing to excess.
There is no doubt that the vast majority of Trump supporters haven’t given up on him at this early stage of his presidency. But it is very clear that its first 100 days have been no better than many of his predecessors, and that’s not very good.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.