It’s pretty rare that the punditry gets an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of a new administration in a completely nonpartisan fashion.
That is, it’s not often that things go so overwhelmingly wrong or, alternatively, so overwhelmingly right that liberals and conservatives come to almost the exact same conclusion.
That’s why the first 100 days of the Trump administration stands out.
Now sure, Republicans and Democrats are going to vehemently disagree about the extent to which there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, but I know of no one on either side of the aisle (literally in the sense of lawmakers and figuratively in the sense of the liberal vs. the conservative media) who would contend that what we’ve seen since the inauguration hasn’t been pretty damn close to an outright debacle.
Again, that’s not a partisan assessment. And you needn’t take sides in the whole “Kremlin-gate” kerfluffle to come to the conclusion that this isn’t going well.
My contention continues to be that last week marked an epochal (and abrupt) shift in strategy for Trump. As a reminder, here’s what happened in the space of just 72 hours:
- Devin Nunes, who was supposed to be the linchpin in the effort to prove that the “real story” is not the Trump campaign’s ties to Moscow, but in fact the Obama administration’s improper surveillance: recuses himself from the investigation
- Steve Bannon, who was supposed to be the “man with the plan” in terms of shaking up the establishment and ushering in a new era for American politics: kicked off the Security Council, and now reportedly fighting for his job after making a series of ill-advised derogatory remarks about Trump’s son-in-law
- The conciliatory stance on Bashar al-Assad: reversed in dramatic fashion following a chemical attack in Idlib
- The Kremlin coddling: gone, as the Pentagon investigates whether Russia sought to destroy evidence in the gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun
If that doesn’t qualify as a “U-turn” then I don’t know what does.
Well on Monday, Politico is out with a new piece that cites at least a half-dozen White House officials as saying that the Trump team was well aware going into last Tuesday that they had “essentially two-and-a-half weeks to turn everything around.”
In an effort to devise a plan of action, some 30 staffers reportedly held a meeting that took place just under two days before all of the events bullet pointed above took place. Draw your own conclusions.
President Donald Trump has far more than three years left in his first term. But inside his pressure-cooker of a White House, aides and advisers are sweating the next three weeks.
The symbolic 100-day mark by which modern presidents are judged menaces for an image-obsessed chief executive whose opening sprint has been marred by legislative stumbles, legal setbacks, senior staff kneecapping one another, the resignation of his national security adviser and near-daily headlines and headaches about links to Russia.
The date, April 29, hangs over the West Wing like the sword of Damocles as the unofficial deadline to find their footing— or else.
But however real Trump’s frustrations are with the three rival power centers he has installed — chief of staff Reince Priebus, son-in-law Jared Kushner and chief strategist Stephen Bannon — top officials inside and around the White House don’t expect Trump to make any drastic changes until after 100 days, lest staff turmoil stories swamp a key stretch of media coverage.
That reprieve — unless Trump simply decides he’s had enough — has both bought his staff a little time and put them on edge.
“One hundred days is the marker, and we’ve got essentially two-and-a-half weeks to turn everything around,” said one White House official. “This is going to be a monumental task.”
For a president who often begins and ends his days imbibing cable news, the burden has fallen heavily on a press team that recognizes how well they sell Trump’s early tenure in the media will likely color the president’s appetite for an internal shake-up.
That was the backdrop for a tense planning session for the 100-day mark last week.
More than 30 Trump staffers piled into a conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjoining the White House, according to a half-dozen attendees who described the Tuesday meeting.
Mike Dubke, Trump’s communications director, and his deputy, Jessica Ditto, kicked off the discussion of how to package Trump’s tumultuous first 100 days by pitching the need for a “rebranding” to get Trump back on track.
“It was a brainstorming session and I really wish they had spoken up in the room so that we could have had an open and honest conversation,” he said. “It is unproductive adjudicating internal discussions through the media.”
As for the rebranding remark, Dubke said that had been misinterpreted. “There is not a need for a rebranding but there is a need to brand the first 100 days,” Dubke said. “Because if we don’t do it the media is going to do it. That’s what our job is.”
Trump aides are grappling with the reality that they will end this opening period with no significant legislative achievements other than rolling back Obama-era regulations. Even the White House’s most far-reaching success, the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, required the Senate rewriting its own rules to overcome Democratic opposition.
Though the White House continues to push for progress on stalled health care legislation, there are only five legislative days remaining once Congress returns from a two-week spring break. Plus, another deadline looms: Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress must still pass a bill before April 28 to keep the government running.
If they fail, a shutdown would begin on Trump’s 100th day in office.
But look on the bright side. There’s always war, right?