It’s not just that Donald Trump ran for president with a lack of interest in the details of policy or legislating, though both of those things were apparent from the outset of his campaign. Standing next to his helicopter near the Iowa State Fairgrounds in August 2015, Trump dismissed policy statements as something the press cared more about than voters. When asked how he would get legislation passed in Congress, a much different task than running a company, he waved away such pedestrian concerns. He’d twist their arms the way he forced permits through the New York City Council.
But, again, it wasn’t just that he was uninterested in the traditional systems by which laws were passed in Washington. It was that he embraced that disinterest as a solution. He was an Outsider, coming to D.C. without the encumbrances of having done this before. This was framed by his supporters as though he was the new sheriff in town, prepared to think outside the box. Others framed it less generously, as though a tourist had wandered onto an aircraft carrier and decided he was going to shoot down some MiGs.
Trump’s central pitch, redistilled and redistributed on a near-daily basis over the course of 2016, was a simple one: I am a dealmaker, and I will make deals. It was a simple premise and his core campaign argument, simpler and more important than “make America great again.” Once you bought into the idea that Trump’s business acumen would translate into handshake agreements solidifying the future of our country, you were bought into the idea that he could do anything. Which is what he promised. He made sweeping assertions of what he could do, powered — not inhibited — by the objections of realists.
“#Health care that covers everyone for less cost and with better options!” Trump would promise. But that’s impossible!, the realists would respond. “That’s because you don’t know how to make deals,” Trump would reply. If you bought into the idea that Trump could close the deal, you bought into the idea that the naysayers simply didn’t get it.
Trump can’t close the deals.
What deals has he made? He got a conservative appointment confirmed for the Supreme Court — after having Neil M. Gorsuch recommended to him by outside groups and after the #Senate changed its rules to assure the confirmation. He’s signed a lot of executive orders, but those aren’t deals and some of those were blocked by the courts. He discussed a cease-fire in Syria during his sit-down with Vladimir Putin, which seems to be holding.
But legislation? No.