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National Politics|By Charlie Cook, April 27, 2017

This story was originally published on nationaljournal.com on April 24, 2017

It is ab­so­lutely true that there is noth­ing spe­cial about a new pres­id­ent’s first 100 days. It is an ar­bit­rary and ar­ti­fi­cial con­struct, a met­ric set up long ago that is now co­di­fied, like mara­thons be­ing 26.2 miles. Just as Kim Kar­dashi­an is fam­ous for be­ing fam­ous, the first 100 days is im­port­ant be­cause it is im­port­ant. NPR seni­or ed­it­or and long­time polit­ic­al ob­serv­er Ron Elving says that the first-100-day mark­er “is now with us per­man­ently like a Hall­mark hol­i­day.”

In Amer­ic­an polit­ics, the first-100-day mark­er was set down by Frank­lin Roosevelt. It then took on great­er res­on­ance with John Kennedy’s line in his in­aug­ur­al ad­dress: “All this will not be fin­ished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be fin­ished in the first 1,000 days … nor even per­haps in our life­time on this plan­et. But let us be­gin.” The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Kristine Phil­lips offered more first-100-day his­tory, re­count­ing that Pres­id­ent Lyn­don John­son told his con­gres­sion­al li­ais­on chief Larry O’Bri­en to “jerk out every damn little bill you can and get them down here by the 12th” and that Pres­id­ent Nix­on even named a “Hun­dred Days Group” to get him “off the hook on quant­ity of le­gis­la­tion be­ing the first meas­ure of suc­cess of the first hun­dred days,” as he put it.

Roosevelt signed 76 bills in­to law and swore in his en­tire Cab­in­et at once dur­ing his first 100. The Post’s Fact Check­er, Glenn Kessler, cited one his­tor­i­an who rated nine of Roosevelt’s first-100-day pieces of le­gis­la­tion en­acted as “ma­jor” while an­oth­er said 15. Pres­id­ent Obama signed 55 bills in­to law, in­clud­ing his eco­nom­ic-stim­u­lus pack­age. Last week, as he closed in on 100 days in of­fice, Pres­id­ent Trump had signed 28 bills, none that could even re­motely be called ma­jor.

Ob­vi­ously it’s a chal­lenge for a new pres­id­ent to get much done when he faces a Con­gress con­trolled by the op­pos­i­tion party, as was the case with Richard Nix­on and Ger­ald Ford. If a pres­id­ent’s party holds just one cham­ber, it takes polit­ic­al dex­ter­ity to push through a White House agenda. Dwight Eis­en­hower’s Re­pub­lic­ans had a bare two-seat ma­jor­ity in the Sen­ate, but Demo­crats nar­rowly held the House. Ron­ald Re­agan had a Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate but a Demo­crat­ic House for his first six years in of­fice. George W. Bush had a Re­pub­lic­an House and a Sen­ate split 50-50. But when a new pres­id­ent en­joys ma­jor­it­ies in both cham­bers, a happy cir­cum­stance for Kennedy, John­son, Jimmy Carter, Obama, and now Trump, it’s harder to jus­ti­fy a mea­ger le­gis­lat­ive re­cord.

That said, it shouldn’t come as a shock that a pres­id­ent who has nev­er worked in gov­ern­ment be­fore might get off to a slower and rough­er start. Trump has an un­usu­ally large num­ber of ap­poin­ted po­s­i­tions that have yet to be filled, and a large pro­por­tion of aides who are in place either held much lower pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment po­s­i­tions or are polit­ic­al novices. Neither factor ex­cuses a slow start but it does ex­plain one.

The Trump team has drawn at­ten­tion to its fail­ures by set­ting un­real­ist­ic goals and timetables. The pres­id­ent would do well to fol­low the old ad­age that “it’s not about do­ing it fast but do­ing it right.” It would also be prudent to con­fer with Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell and House Speak­er Paul Ry­an be­fore an­noun­cing grand ini­ti­at­ives, just to make sure the bills won’t be dead on ar­rival.

From the polling it’s clear that many Amer­ic­ans nev­er liked Trump and will nev­er like or agree with him. But an ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post poll found that 94 per­cent of those who voted for him ap­prove of the job he is do­ing, and that 96 per­cent say they would cast their bal­lots for him again. As this column has noted, 30 states gave him plur­al­it­ies in Novem­ber, so the bull had an in­vit­a­tion to the china shop. Though Trump has learned a lot he didn’t know be­fore, and his po­s­i­tions have evolved on many is­sues, he is ap­proach­ing the job pretty much as he said he would.

But it will be a tall or­der to win reelec­tion after re­ceiv­ing just 46.1 per­cent in Novem­ber and then get­ting off to a stum­bling start. De­scrip­tions like “Key­stone Kops” and “the gang that couldn’t shoot straight” are flip­pant but not en­tirely wrong. To ex­pand his sup­port, Trump and his ad­min­is­tra­tion need to show the level of com­pet­ence ex­pec­ted of a pres­id­ent. With his le­gis­lat­ive belly flops and un­pre­ced­en­tedly low job ap­prov­al rat­ings, a gov­ern­ment shut­down would be highly dam­aging.

Pres­id­ents tend not to be humble people, and Trump is one of the least humble since the Found­ing. He would do well to turn off the cable news shows and seek ad­vice from Re­pub­lic­ans who have served in the White House and learned from their own mis­takes. If Trump stays on his know-it-all path, his second 100 days may yield as little as his first.