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WHAT KIND OF PRESIDENT WILL TRUMP BE?
We certainly know what kind of man Donald Trump is by now, but one month into his administration, we still don’t know what kind of president he will be.
That’s partly because he hasn’t figured out the basics of administration just yet and so his approach to governance is still unclear amid the clang and clatter of his buildout.
Clang and clatter can themselves be definitional for a president, but it's way too soon to say whether or not Trump can figure out the mechanics of the office. The main reason, though, that we can't say what kind of president Trump will be is because we have no idea what history has in store for him.
Among his 44 predecessors are supremely qualified, capable men who found themselves ruined by unforeseen events as well as lucky dopes who happened to walk into office at just the right moment.
But generally speaking, we can sort our presidents into four broad categories: Agents of change, captives, stewards and figureheads.
We can't categorize George Washington, because he defined the job. Our first president was mostly a steward, seeking to define the presidency in terms of its restraint and remove from the hurly-burly of politics – most of all when he, the American Cincinnatus, relinquished power after two terms. But Washington most certainly was willing to set controversial precedents. You would have only needed to ask the whiskey rebels dangling from the end of a hangman's rope.
And neither can we sort poor William Henry Harrison, who should have dressed for the weather.
Also, some presidents switched categories over the course of their term or terms. Woodrow Wilson, notably, was by turns a captive, a change agent and a figurehead. Richard Nixon also knew about changing lanes in an evolving presidency. And to be fair, each presidency includes some elements from each category.
But we're talking about the overall verdict of history, even at the risk of imprecision by dealing in generalities.
Mind you that these are not rankings, and all presidential rankings end up being ideologically slanted. You may love an activist president like Woodrow Wilson and think him a progressive dreamboat. Or, “Silent Cal” Coolidge may be your kind of limited government guy. That’s up to you.
We’re only talking here about what kind of president Trump will be – not whether he will be a good one or a bad one. All the categories, save one, have produced successful administrations.
With that in mind, let’s take a test drive.
AGENTS OF CHANGE
Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, Abraham Lincoln, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan
Most presidents aspire to this category, especially since they tend to be the ones with the largest legacies. Trump certainly aspires to join these ranks, having very explicitly chosen political revolutionary Jackson as his role model.
The undisputed greatest of this category, Lincoln, is something of an anomaly since he sought to be a steward of the founders’ vision but threw himself into a remaking of the office – and the republic – when the Civil War began.
Trump certainly seems to have the energy and love of battle to join these ranks. He also has consistent ideological crusades – clamping down on immigration and trade – that could propel him into the history books as one who remakes the office in a lasting way.
John Adams, John Quincy Adams, John Tyler, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and Barack Obama
Many of the captives are frustrated agents of change who, like Hoover or Obama, came to office looking to do big things and enact sweeping reforms but found themselves unequal to the moment.
A president can be held captive by events – an unforeseen war, a financial panic, etc. – by the political atmosphere – recalcitrant Congress, upheaval in the electorate, etc. – or simply by their own incompetent administration.
It’s not always a bad thing when presidents fail to achieve their lofty aims, either.
If Trump tries to reinvent Washington and fails, it could turn out in several different ways. But captivity is certainly one of them. Essentially, Congress, the courts and, to some degree, his own administration, would simply tie him down and smother his ambitions.
James Madison, Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, William Taft, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton
Historians tend to be more dismissive of this category since they tend to see themselves more as custodians of the office and the public trust rather than forces of upheaval. But in many cases, it’s hard to argue with the results.
Such presidencies are usually only possible during periods of relative peace and prosperity, like the one we are in now.
But we needn’t spend too much time on this category since Trump has set astonishingly lofty goals for himself. As would befit a master self-promoter, Trump is swinging for the fences. It seems unlikely that he would suddenly change to Coolidgian restraint.
Zachary Taylor, Ulysses Grant, William McKinley and Warren Harding
You don’t necessarily have to be good at being president to have a good presidency and several of Trump’s forebears point the way.
These men are cousins to both the captives and the stewards in the sense that they are not agents of change. What makes them different is they aren’t really trying – or able – to bring change. Ohioans Grant, McKinley and Harding all ended up being, by varying degrees, front men for their more ambitious or savvy associates.
One hallmark of these administrations tends to be considerable corruption since the boss may not be watching too closely. A president who wants to act like the ceremonial leader of the administrative state should choose his associates wisely.
As Grant and Harding could both attest, the stench of scandal will follow a president even in times of peace and prosperity.
THE RULEBOOK: TBD
“Is it true that force and right are necessarily on the same side in republican governments? ” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 43
TIME OUT: CAN STIREWALT STUMP YOU?
Dana Perino has certainly stumped Chris Stirewalt in trivia on “I’ll Tell You What,” but can Stirewalt stump you? In honor of President’s Day we present you with a trivia challenge of presidential facts expertly crafted by Jason Bonewald who does the questions for your favorite podcast. See how many you can get and check the bottom of the note for the answers!
1) Other than James Buchanan, which five people have served as secretary of state before becoming president?
2) Prior to Bill Clinton’s 13-point victory in 1992, the GOP won nine out of the previous 10 contests. Which one did they lose?
3) Richard Nixon handily defeated George McGovern in the 1972 election. From which state did McGovern hail?
4) The number of electors topped 500 in 1912 for the first time. Since then, which three candidates have topped 500 electoral votes and in what year?
5) This future president was born in Omaha, Neb., on July 14, 1913 and remains the only president born in Nebraska.
6) Who was the last president to wear the traditional stovepipe hat to his inauguration?
7) After Vice President Mike Pence, who are the next three people in the line of succession?
8) Who are the only two presidents to be sworn into office by a former president?
9) How many presidents were elected under the Whig banner?
10) James Garfield was the seventh and final president to be born in one of these types of buildings.
Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with
your tips, comments or questions.
BREAKING: TRUMP NAMES NEW NSA ADVISER
NYT: “President Trump picked Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, a widely respected military strategist, as his new national security adviser on Monday, calling him ‘a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience.’ Mr. Trump made the announcement at his Mar-a-Lago getaway in Palm Beach, Fla., where he has been interviewing candidates to replace Michael T. Flynn, who was forced out after withholding information from Vice President Mike Pence about a call with Russia’s ambassador.”
REVISED REFUGEE BAN EXPECTED SOON
Fox News: “President Trump’s revised travel ban targets the same seven countries listed in his original executive order and exempts travelers who already have a visa to travel to the U.S., even if they haven’t used it yet. A senior White House official said the order will target only those same seven Muslim-majority nations, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan and Libya…The official said the order could come sometime this week. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the order before its made public, said that green-card holders and dual citizens of the U.S. and any of those countries are exempt. The new draft also no longer directs authorities to single out – and reject – Syrian refugees when processing new visa applications.”
“When I say top-level people, I mean top-level people” – White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace” arguing that there was no contact between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials during the election.
ACU dumps celebrity internet troll Milo Yiannopoulos - WashEx
Senior Trump appointee at NSA fired after making critical comments of Trump in private speech - AP
Mattis rolls back Trump’s comments saying U.S. not in Iraq to ‘take anybody’s oil’ - WashEx
Trump clarifies Swedish terror incident remark saying he saw it on television - The Hill
Trump admin aide Stephen Miller called Brooklyn U.S. attorneys at home to tell them how to defend travel ban - NYDN
DeVos has a rough first week, spars with D.C. school heads - NYT
Christie tells staff he’s taking a White House job, but only if he answers directly to Trump - NY Post
Japanese interpreters struggle with how to interpret Trump - The Japan Times
Sen. Rand Paul blasts McCain saying America would be in ‘perpetual war’ if he was in charge -ABC News
Dems try to quell calls for impeachment - Politico
British lawmakers debate whether to withdraw Trump’s invitation for a state visit - WaPo
GOP loses top candidates for 2018 Senate bids - The Hill
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“With all of the crap in the news these days it is a daily pleasure to read your piece of homespun humor and captured humor of others to spoon feed us poor retches the news. There is damn little to laugh about these days and that is probably why your daily piece is such a success. Keep it light baby!” – David G Zlotnick, Santa Fe, N.M.
[Ed. note: As we have talked about before, there is an old saying that sums up my view on journalism: “You can take your job seriously without taking yourself seriously.” Thanks for the appreciation.]
“Like you said in early December ‘It’s bad to be hated. It’s awful to be wrong. But the worst is to be irrelevant’ How many times does mainstream media ‘have to be knocked over the head with the proverbial anvil’ before they get it?! I look forward to the Halftime Report every weekday. Your mix of political news, and real circumstances with sarcastic humor is often needed and greatly appreciated.” – Denise Styka, Yorkville, Ill.
[Ed. note: Every profession has a tendency to think too much of itself, but only in the news business can you tell the rest of the country all about it. Thanks for your kind words!]
“…Contrary to the tired, over-used claim, journalists are NOT the only profession with a line item in the Bill of Rights. I also would point out that the military - Army, Navy, Marines, etc. - are specifically discussed in the main portion of the original U.S. Constitution. Thus, the military professions have their own specific claim to Constitutional authority, an authority that precedes the Press, et al. Perhaps journalists should abandon the title ‘journalist’ and go back to being called reporters. After all, what is a journalist? A reporter? An editor? A commentator? Using one term to cover all of these journalistic functions creates confusion for both the readers and the press themselves” – Jonathan Kahnoski, Meridian, Idaho
[Ed. note: You certainly have a point Mr. Kahnoski, but of course, the founders would’ve never imagined the United States having a standing military of this size rather than relying on militias and citizen soldiers. As for military authority, the founders went the other way on that one, making sure that the military is subordinate to civilian rule. You are right about the overuse of the word “journalist” but it is an easy trap with which to fall because it does, as you point out, cover so much real estate. The better words for all of us in the profession are probably “newsman” or “newswoman.”]
Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
NOW, WE’LL TELL YOU WHAT
As promised, here’s your answer key to the presidential trivia stumpers posed above. Enjoy the rest of your Presidents Day!
1) Being secretary of state is a top job, but for Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Quincy Adams, Van Buren it was only a precursor to the presidency.
2) Being heir to Kennedy’s reign had its perks for Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964, making him the only Democrat to claim victory in the Golden State from 1952 until Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory.
3) George McGovern’s native land is the wide-open plain of South Dakota.
4) Winning 270 electoral votes is hard enough these days for presidential candidates, but these guys ran away with the thing getting over 500 electoral votes: Reagan in 1984, Nixon in 1972 and FDR in 1936
5) He claimed allegiance to the Wolverines in his adulthood, but Gerald Ford was born a Cornhusker like every good Nebraskan.
6) John F. Kennedy was the last to wear a stovepipe hat at his inauguration, though by removing it during his actual inaugural address he set a new fashion trend.
7) Calling for backup! In the event that something happens to the president and vice president, House Speaker Paul Ryan, President pro tempore of the Senate Orrin Hatch and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would be the next three up for the job, in that order.
8) Former President William Howard Taft’s role as chief justice gave him the privilege of swearing in both Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.
9) Onward! The Whig Party elected two presidents: William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor.
10) Garfield was the last to claim that mark of homespun authenticity, being born in a log cabin.
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.