White House

Trump's Mad Rush for 100-Day Accomplishments

This frenzy of activity will solidify the idea that he can't do serious work.

Pedal to the metal.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

"This is like watching kids make mud pies." That's Kevin Drum on the Trump administration scramble to get legislative accomplishments in the first 100 days. Yup. Trump is apparently obsessed with getting good report cards this week, and so he's sparked a frenzy of activity on taxes, health care, budgeting, and perhaps infrastructure, not to mention increasingly superfluous executive actions.

One doesn't have to be a student of the presidency to realize how easy it can be for a desperate desire for accomplishments to degenerate into policy and political mistakes that have lasting repercussions for the White House. See, for example, the House plan to exempt members of Congress from the latest health care proposal -- exactly the kind of otherwise inexplicable public relations nightmare that happens when politicians rush to meet a deadline.

Or consider taxes. The president last week decided today would be the day for rolling out a tax plan. The stakes, obviously, are enormous for the economy and the average American. A tax plan isn't just an abstract statement of preferences; support for anything even marginally specific means choosing sides in favor of one set of organized interests -- and against others, who naturally aren't going to just give the administration a mulligan because it was working against a (phony) deadline. Perhaps choosing against interest groups won't necessarily lock them into opposition to the president forever, but it will certainly undermine any relationship of trust -- if one was developing in the first place.

Even worse: Rushing things out the door threatens to (further) damage the president's professional reputation -- and Trump's is already in poor enough shape after, among other things, the health care bill. Rolling out a solid tax plan could help revive his reputation, even among those who oppose its substance. However, making a big fuss about something that's not ready for prime time will solidify the idea that this administration can't do serious work. Even worse, if the plan would harm groups which have been administration allies, not only will those groups be angered but all of those who must deal with the president will learn (again) that he can't be counted on to reward his friends. And given how complex the tax code is, the chances of accidentally including some provision that angers a Trump-allied group are not all that low. 

Which groups will this proposal offend? What are the consequences of changing that provision? The executive branch bureaucracy is a potentially terrific resource for presidents; they've seen it all before, and they can help guide a president through murky policy waters. However, if they see that White House proposals are only for show, bureaucrats will simply stop trying to be helpful. 

And for what? Sure, Trump is apt to get blasted in 100-days articles and TV news programs. 1

But as Barack Obama knew, most voters don't live by the daily news cycle, especially when the next election isn't any time soon. The truth is that the media storm about Trump's first 100 days will be forgotten long before the second 100 days are over. Most swing voters would never even be aware of them. And that's not even to mention that Republican-aligned news media would probably give Trump solid ratings regardless of what he does -- and that dedicated partisans on both sides are apt to hear what they want anyway.  

Short-term media coverage, positive or negative, just doesn't matter very much to the course of a presidency. Sure, there's no harm in putting the best spin on things; the White House has budget authority for a communications and press staff, so they might as well use it. But making short-term media coverage a top priority, one that is worth changing policy and process to accommodate, is asking for trouble.

Granted, in this case, maybe the Trump administration couldn't do better even if they were taking their time. And sometimes setting artificial deadlines to force action can be a useful tactic.

But I suspect the departments and agencies which are normally best-suited to filling in the details on the president's unusually vague platform would do all of this better once they are fully staffed, and without the artificial deadline bearing down on them. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

  1. In fact, many of the 100-days pieces are either already published or already pre-written or recorded, so this late flurry to meet the 100-days deadline is coming two weeks too late, even if it was a good idea.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Mike Nizza at mnizza3@bloomberg.net

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