As we approach the holiday season there will be much debate on how President Trump has performed for his first calendar year. As a populist president, I think the best way to judge his performance is by focusing on the issues voters say are their top priorities. Pew Research polled voters to determine their political priorities for 2017. Let’s see how President Trump is doing so far on the top ten priorities according to the public.
Terrorism (76% rated top priority)
ISIS is on the run, thanks in part to President Trump’s loosening of the rules of military engagement, as well as pivoting from a Whack-a-Mole strategy to a total annihilation strategy with no withdrawal date. Both moves are good persuasion. And while President Trump’s “extreme vetting” is unpopular with many citizens, it has probably reduced risk to the homeland. And General Mattis is widely considered to be a strong hire.
Economy (73% rated top priority)
I’ll give President Obama 75% credit for the strong economy. But I think consumer confidence and the stock market tell us there is optimism about the current administration. That confidence is buoyed by Trump’s reduction in regulations via executive orders, his tough talk on trade, and his persuasion toward a higher GDP that is already becoming self-fulfilling. If people believe the economy will be better next year than this year, they invest this year, thus making next year better. We might see something good come out of tax reform, but I don’t think it will matter as much as people assume.
Education (69% rated top priority)
I’m not aware of any federal changes in this area that would be big enough to make a difference. But it is also unclear how much the federal government can do on an issue that is managed by the states. Unfortunately for the Trump administration, the mental anchor in our minds for education is Bernie Sanders’ idea of free college. If that’s the standard, the Trump administration is not even in the game.
Jobs (68% rated top priority)
Unemployment is low. Illegal immigration is down by half. Corporations are bringing manufacturing jobs back to America, at least in part because of Trump’s direct persuasion on this point. A cut in business tax rates could improve things further.
Health care costs (66% rated top priority)
President Trump offered to sign any health care bill the Republican congress could pass. They tried twice and failed twice. The public sees this as more of a problem with Congress than the presidency, and the public is right. But it is also true that the President did not fully engage his persuasion game on this topic, allowing Republicans to fail miserably. Is that bad? It depends.
I have been saying for months that the only way to get a good health care bill is by letting the Republican Congress fail a few times so they become flexible (more bipartisan) later. President Trump’s potential influence over health care will grow over time as both sides look at a failing Obamacare system and don’t want to explain their failure to voters in 2018. I’m predicting we will have health care legislation before summer, but the only way to get there is by letting both the current system and Congress continue to fail. That is happening.
President Trump did sign an executive order allowing groups to organize to purchase health care insurance. That could help, but we see nothing useful from it yet.
Grade: Incomplete (with a progress grade of D- so far)
Social Security (60% rated top priority)
Social Security is a Congressional budget issue. But President Trump promises to keep it strong. Not much happening on this topic. But a strong economy is a good foundation for having a solid safety net, and we have that going for us.
Medicare (59% rated top priority)
Medicare is a Congressional budget issue. I’ve seen nothing significant from President Trump on this topic. But again, a strong economy helps here too.
Poor and needy (56% rated top priority)
A growing economy is the most effective way to help the poor and needy in the long run, and things are going well on that front. But expect Republican budgets to look “mean” to this demographic.
Race relations (56% rated top priority)
President Trump is an “America First” president, and that includes treating all legal citizens the same under the law. But the optics of that approach create the impression that the administration is racist for ignoring identity politics and playing hardball with illegal immigrants. In my opinion, the Trump administration has mostly fumbled this issue from the start of the campaign until now. The anti-Trump media is probably at least 60% of the problem in terms of how people feel about this topic, but you can’t blame them for hitting lots of targets in a target-rich environment.
Reducing Crime (56% rated top priority)
I haven’t noticed any improvement in this area that would be related to the federal government except for a decrease in immigration and an improvement in the economy (which I assume reduces crime, but maybe not).
You might be wondering about climate change. That issue, to my surprise, is not in the top ten. Likewise, judicial nominations and several other topics I expected to be important are not in the top ten. But those omissions from the top ten probably don’t matter for this exercise because partisans would disagree on what success looks like in most of those areas. Is it a success to nominate qualified conservatives to the courts? It depends on your political affiliations. Is it a success to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord? Again, it depends on your political perspective. And that might account for why the harder-to-score issues rank outside the top ten priorities. We all know what a good economy looks like, but we would disagree on, for example, the optimal size for the military.
I submit my scorecard here as a work in progress, with probable revisions coming based on your critiques.
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