Politics April 27, 2017: Trump sees lowest 100-day marks in recent history, but is the milestone that important?

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POLITICS

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

President Donald Trump is planning a big rally to celebrate his first 100-days in office, as polls indicate that the new president has the worst 100-day mark approval rating in recent history. President Trump announced on Saturday, April 22, 2017, via Twitter a “big rally” in Pennsylvania on April 29, the same day as his presidency becomes 100- days old. Meanwhile, Three polls released this week, two on Sunday, April 23, ABC News/Washington Postand NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll indicated Trump had a 42 and 41 percent approval rating. Days later, on Wednesday, April 26, CNN/ORC pollgave Trump a higher approval rating of 44 percent. Still, these polls show that Trump has the lowest approval rating of all elected post-World War II presidents at the 100-day mark, but does that benchmark really translate into presidential success.

The rally on Trump’s 100th day of his presidency will be held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and is sponsored by his reelection campaign. The rally will also be on the same night as the annual White House correspondents’ dinner, which Trump has long said he will not attend because of his feud with the mainstream media over their coverage of him from the campaign through his presidency. On Saturday, April 22, the president tweeted his followers, announcing the event, “Next Saturday night I will be holding a BIG rally in Pennsylvania. Look forward to it.”

Neither Trump nor is campaign is billing the event as honoring the president’s 100-days. As Trump is approaching his 100-day mark, he is downing playing the importance of the milestone. The previous day, on April 21, Trump called the 100-days a “ridiculous standard.” The President tweeted, “No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, & it has been a lot (including S.C.), media will kill!” A White House official commented the milestone is about the voters, not the news media. The official explained, “The media is trying to make this about them when — respectively it has nothing to do with you guys. It’s about focusing on the people.”

Three polls released this past week, gave the public a chance to grade the president. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Sunday, April 23, saw Trump with only a 42 percent approval rating, with 53 percent of American disapproving of his job so far. People who voted for Trump, however, are not feeling buyer’s remorse, 96 percent say it was “the right thing to do,” while only two percent have any regrets.

Trump’s numbers are better when it comes to how Americans view specific actions in his presidency. An overwhelming 73 percent of Americans seem to approve of Trump’s America first policy that has “pressured companies: into keeping jobs in the country. A majority of 53 percent sees Trump as a strong leader. Concerning foreign policy, Trump is getting middling grades with dealing with an aggressive North Korea, with 46 percent approving of his tactics. Despite some good numbers, no other president elected in the post-World War II has had such low approval rating at this point in their presidency.

Another poll from NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Sunday also does not give Trump good grades. The poll found that 46 percent of Americans say the Trump presidency is “off to a poor start,” only 35 percent say it has had a “good or great start,” while 19 percent are in between saying it is a “fair start.” The NBC/WSJ poll also gave Trump a worse approval rating than the ABC News / Washington Post poll with only 40 percent. Trump’s disapproval rating is almost the same at 54 percent. Trump does get some high marks for his foreign policy, 62 percent of Americans approve of his decisive military strikes against Syria after a chemical attack on their citizens, with 50 percent approving of his course against civil-war ridden country.

The CNN/ORC poll released another poll on Wednesday evening, April 26, which found that nearly the 100-day mark, Trump had a 44 percent approval rating and a 54 percent disapproval rating. Trump’s favorability numbers are around the same as his approval rating, with the American public having a 45 percent favorable view of the president and a 53 percent unfavorable view. The numbers are very much partisan, Republicans overwhelmingly approve of the president with 85 percent saying so, while only 8 percent of Democrats say the same.

The poll was mostly negative, with a majority dissatisfied with Trump’s approach to the presidency in almost every facet. His approval ratings on some issues are as low as the 20s and 30s percent, and they have fallen since his election in November. Even his ability to change the country is now negative with only 48 percent believing he can versus 51 percent of Americans saying he cannot. The president, however, is even losing ground within his party with less satisfied with his actions and abilities on different fronts. CNN’s bleak poll indicates the honeymoon is over with Trump and the GOP and that there barely was one with the president and the majority of Americans.

CNN broke down their marks for Trump also by area; some Trump did better while others he lost ground since entering the office. The president has lost points in his handling of immigration and health care, because of his travel bans and his failed first attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare. On those issues, 60 percent of Americans disapprove of the president’s actions. Trump’s numbers are “steady” when it comes to “foreign affairs, national security and the role of commander-in-chief.” Trump is excelling with his handling of the military issues 52 percent approving, the way the country is going 54 percent and the economy at 54 percent approving.

Gallup Poll’s first quarter assessment of Trump’s presidency determined that the president’s average approval is 41 percent, while 46 percent of Americans voted for him. Trump’s approval rating is also approximately 20 percent lower than when other presidents completed their first 100-days, where the average since 1945 is 63 percent. Looking at each post-war president, the numbers show an even larger contrast. The highest showing was John F. Kennedy, who had almost double Trump’s approval rating with 81 percent in April 1961. The lowest numbers were still 17 points higher than Trump, when in April 1989; George H. W. Bush had a 58 percent approval rating.

According to Gallup, here is a rundown of the 100-day approval ratings of all elected presidents since World War II:

Barack Obama 63 Apr 2009
George W. Bush 61 Apr 2001
Bill Clinton 55 Apr 1993
George H.W. Bush 58 Apr 1989
Ronald Reagan 67 Apr 1981
Jimmy Carter 64 Apr 1977
Richard Nixon 62 Apr 1969
John Kennedy 81 Apr 1961
Dwight Eisenhower 74 Apr 1953

President Trump thinks his presidency is successful despite what polls and the press says. Trump has signed up to now 34 executive orders, more than any other president in recent history during their first 100-days. The president has had a Supreme Court Justice confirmed with Neil Gorsuch; on the world stage, he has met with many of the major leaders and asserted his military might in Syria and Afghanistan. Still, the president has not yet had any real legislative success with his major campaign promises, including repealing and replacing Obamacare, tax reform, travel and immigration ban, infrastructure plan or border wall with Mexico.

The White House boasts President Trump signed 28 new laws in first three months but most have minor, including repealing Obama-era rules, personal appointments, veterans’ recognitions, modifying programs, encouraging innovations in government agencies and one extension of an Obama era program. President Trump only saw one major bill extending health care choice for veterans, the tip of the iceberg to Trump’s lofty agenda.

Despite his protests, President Trump is planning a mad dash in the upcoming week before he reaches his 100th day. Congress failed to put the American Health Care Act to a vote in March, and but they plan to introduce the bill with amendments again this week this time with the Freedom Caucus’ endorsement. Trump also outlined his tax reform plan this week, and the White House announced that the president’s infrastructure plan has a summer deadline.

Trump’s major failure has been with his travel ban, which the administration will argue for the second time in Federal Appeals Court after an earlier ban and the present one saw injunctions halting their implementation. The president was also dealt a setback right before his 100-day when a federal judge struck down his attempt to defund sanctuary cities harboring illegal immigrants. The president’s greatest test has an April 29 deadline. President Trump will have a chance to prove his deal making skills and avert a government shutdown, the first budget showdown of his presidency.

The 100-day mark to gauge the early success or failures of the new president started with President Franklin Roosevelt (1933–1945). Roosevelt was elected in the midst of the Great Depression, with almost total economic and bank collapse and15 million or 20 percent of the American public unemployed. In this crisis, Roosevelt set the benchmark having signed 15 bills into law. Roosevelt marked his 100th day with a fireside chat, updating the American public recounted what he has accomplished in 3000 words. In his address Roosevelt explained, “I think that we all wanted the opportunity of a little quiet thought to examine and assimilate in a mental picture the crowding events of the hundred days which had been devoted to the starting of the wheels of the New Deal…We have built a granite foundation in a period of confusion.”

Early success does not mean a successful presidency and neither does early failure doom the presidency. Everywhere you look, journalists and academics are giving Trump grades for this milestone period, and many are unkind as has been the case with coverage and analysis of Trump’s campaign, transition and now presidency.

Some historians do not see the 100-day mark as important. Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University recently told the Atlantic that grading a president at this early stage could be counterproductive. Zelizer analyzed, “Asking how presidents did in the first 100 days, usually tells us little about what is to come and might even create the exact political incentives we need to avoid.”

Meanwhile, Morton Keller, a professor emeritus of history at Brandeis University, who wrote the article with Zelizer, concurs, and does not believe historians should rush to early judgments on a Trump presidency. Keller explained, “This is no time to attempt a conclusive assessment of what the Trump presidency is up to, and where it is heading. The media savants who explain politics to the masses appear to be quite certain of their positions, varied though they are. As historians, we are duty-bound to withhold judgment when the available evidence is as varied and conflicting as, just now, it is.”

Another historian that agrees the milestone is not indicative is Fredrik Logevall, “a presidential historian and an international affairs professor at Harvard University” Logevall spoke to the Washington Post telling them, “I think what history tells us is that it’s an arbitrary benchmark. It hasn’t correlated very much with subsequent success or failure. Whether an administration has success or not really depends on the four years, or eight years if you have two terms.”

Other historians are being harsher in their assessments. Presidential historian Robert Dallek told USA Today, “At this point, I’d give him essentially a failing grade.” Dallek pointed out, “There are no legislative accomplishments, zero,” the plan to repeal and replace the Obamacare “seems to be in suspended animation.” Dallek is probably making an extreme assessment than most. Even the mainstream media Trump calls fake news are running articles that share the view that 100-day s do not indicate the successes or failures of an entire presidency neither do they foreshadow what is to come.

While Roosevelt’s legislative accomplishments were unique, other presidents have passed lasting legislation in their first 100 days. Lyndon Johnson (1963–1969), Barack Obama (2009–2017), and George W. Bush (2001–2009). John son and Obama had the best legislative success, because their party, the Democrats concurrently controlled both Houses of Congress, and were popular with their party. Circumstances surrounding their entry to the presidency also made passing their agenda more urgent.

Johnson, who had been Senate Majority Leader when Kennedy tapped him for Vice President, was known as the Master of Senate. Johnson was the first of the two post-war presidents who were not elected; he came into power after Kennedy’s assassination. In his first 100-days, Johnson was able to ride the wave of pursuing Kennedy’s agenda and had legislative victories with most notably the Civil Rights Act. In his first 100 days after he was elected with a landslide victory in 1964, that saw Democratic control of Congress, Johnson continued to have legislative success with the bulk of his Great Society program, including, “the Voting Rights Act, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, immigration reform, and Medicare and Medicaid.” After the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, Johnson became mired in Vietnam, which ended his legislative strike and any more expansion of his Great Society.

Obama was also able to catch the legislative magic in his first 100-days after his historic election becoming the first African-American president. After the 2008 election, Congress remained controlled by the Democrats, leading to a string of victories for the new president, including, “the Recovery Act, U.S. auto industry bailout, the Dodd-Frank financial reforms, and then a year later in 2010, his legacy making legislation the Affordable Care Act. Obama never had more legislative success after Democrats lost the House of Representatives in the 2010-midterm elections. Obama like Roosevelt inherited a country in economic turmoil, this time a Great Recession where Democrats gave him a blank check to pursue his agenda.

When the same party controls the White House, Congress a president can more easily pursue his legislative agenda, that was not the case with Carter, and neither is turning out to be with Trump. The reason, both were outsiders elected against the Washington establishment and then found resistance from within their party in Congress. In 1976, Carter was an outsider with an ambitious agenda that failed in his first 100-days, planned legislation included “tax reform, infrastructure, and energy independence.” Carter did not have the relationship with Congress, the Washington insiders he needed to make his campaign promises a reality. Trump is facing the same problem with the plan to repeal and replace Obamacare; he is facing resistance from not only Democrats but also different factions of the GOP, including the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus.

Both Clinton and George W. Bush had successes and failures early in their presidencies. In 1993, Clinton raised taxes with the help of a Democratic-controlled Congress but faced a backlash for his “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for gays in the military. In 2001, Bush cut taxes as Reagan did 20 years before and laid out the groundwork for his education legislation, the No Child Left Behind Act. Bush, however, was later blamed for the 9/11 terrorist attacks for not heeding the signs of a major terrorist attack on the nation. In 1981, Reagan successfully cut taxes, but his 100-days were rocked with an attempted assassination attempt two months after taking office, earning him goodwill with Congress, but cutting his accomplishments in that milestone period.

Foreign policy has been the cause of two post-war presidents stumbling in their first 100-days. Kennedy and George H. W. Bush faced tests too early in their presidencies that were failures. In 1961, Kennedy continued with his predecessor Dwight D. Eisenhower’s planned coup in Communist Cuba to get rid of its leader Fidel Castro. Kennedy’s Administration altered the original invasion plan and the “Bay of Pigs” became Kennedy’s biggest blunder of his new presidency coming just days before his 100th day. In 1989, Bush also was confronted with Cold War crises and his administration blundered. Bush had to deal with the Tiananmen Square massacre and then later in the year after a failed coup as Kennedy did, but this time, it was in Panama.

In 1993, Clinton probably faced the greatest national security threat in his first 100 days than any other post-World War II president. Just barely a month after Clinton assumed the presidency; terrorists bombed the garage in the World Trade Center in New York. The attack that killed six and injured 1000 saw the perpetrators face the criminal justice system. Clinton never wanted to acknowledge the attack as terrorism, which allowed al-Qaeda to ramp up their attacks on the US. Afterward, there were bombings in 1998 of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and then in 2000 on the USS Cole. Clinton responded with targeted missile attacks but never did more to solve the increasing problem and danger. Clinton’s actions after the attack might not have seemed like a failure at the time, but in retrospect, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Clinton’s inaction was the greatest 100-days failure because it led to the greatest terrorist attack on American soil.

In the post-World War period, only Ford fared worse in the polls than Trump at the 100-day mark, mostly because he pardoned Nixon after he resigned from the presidency in August 1974, which led to Ford assuming the office. While the other presidents’ had higher approval ratings than Trump does at the 100-day mark, most had some failures or setbacks in that early period and their major legislative successes and the policy that defined their presidencies came later, for other they never could recapture that early success. Periods of crises have led to the most productive first 100-days out of necessity, like Roosevelt, Johnson, and Obama.

The problem is the benchmark Roosevelt created has pressured many of his successors, including Johnson, Nixon and even Trump. Despite his successes, Johnson wanted to pass the most legislation as possible; Nixon created the Hundred Days Group and during the campaign, Trump made his “Contract With the American Voter” in a speech at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The contract was “a 100-day action plan to Make America Great Again.”

Trump promised in his contract, “On November 8th, Americans will be voting for this 100-day plan to restore prosperity to our economy, security to our communities and honesty to our government. This is my pledge to you.” Among those pledges were 10 bills including repealing and replacing Obamacare on his first day in office. The president’s goals were too lofty. Kennedy, although the youngest elected in the post-war period, he was also the wisest when it came to the presidential milestone. In his inaugural address, he expressed, “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration … but let us begin.”

The 100-day mark is too early in a presidency to determine success or failure. Neither is looking at Roosevelt’s accomplishments a fair standard. Each presidency and their time are different. Trump was the only president in history to be elected without a political or military background. The first weeks were chaos not only from within the White House but the negative response from the press and public that made governing difficult. Now, cooler heads are prevailing and despite some negativity and bias, Trump is being treated, as a president should from the press, Democrats, and dissenters within the Republican Party. With that in mind, Trump’s next 100-days could be more worthy of watching and marking than his first.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

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