The mainstream media scorecard is in: Donald Trump’s presidency is stuck in a giant sand trap.
I don’t use the golfing metaphor out of the blue. The cover of the Economist depicts Trump buried in a massive hole on the greens. And the New Yorker’s cover has him swinging on the White House lawn, having smashed out many of the building’s windows.
Many journalists and commentators aren’t bothering to wait for the end of the first 100 days. They are practically writing off Trump after 10 weeks. And many are doing so with a certain relish, having covered his campaign with such skepticism or hostility that they can barely hide their sense of vindication. There is an I-told-you-so flavor to what they say and write every time he ticks downward in another poll.
Obviously, a president new to politics has made mistakes and missteps. But to make sweeping judgments this early is myopic.
Jack Kennedy had the disastrous Bay of Pigs military failure at around this time in his tenure. Bill Clinton had a rocky first six months and spent nearly two years on the Hillary health care bill, which never passed. Presidents often bounce back from their initial stumbles.
That, of course, requires the Oval Office occupant to learn from early misfires and make course corrections—something the Trump team is strategizing about after the failure of the ObamaCare replacement bill.
It was that loss that seemed to open the punditry floodgates, along with the intelligence probes about Russia and surveillance that have put the White House on the defensive.
A few examples: Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, a former Bush White House staffer and NeverTrumper, has a piece titled “Trump’s Failing Presidency Has the GOP in a Free Fall.”
“So a party at the peak of its political fortunes is utterly paralyzed. A caucus in control of everything is itself uncontrollable,” Gerson writes.
From the left, Salon weighs in with “Chaos in the West Wing: Donald Trump’s management style is a terrible fit for the White House.”
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, on “Morning Joe,” says Trump is floundering:
“I don’t think he’s taken control of the agenda in any way. He’s lost control of the bully pulpit.”
To be sure, Trump has improved economic confidence, launched the Keystone pipeline, ended the Pacific trade deal and issued a spate of executive orders. It may take a while, but Neil Gorsuch is virtually certain to wind up on the Supreme Court.
Still, with Republicans controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, there was a tendency to believe that the president would push through an ambitious agenda.
But the GOP is a deeply divided party, with strains that were less apparent when it was in the minority.
Kellyanne Conway told me the other day that this is the price of success. With the Republicans winning more elections in blue states, she says, it’s become a big, geographically diverse party with big differences among its members. This ranges from the strongly held views of the Freedom Caucus to the moderate Tuesday Group.
Trump’s challenge is to pull those factions together into a working majority, with or without Democratic help.
And on that score, he is only on the first hole.