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National Politics|By Charlie Cook, May 2, 2017
This story was originally published on nationaljournal.com on April 28, 2017

In Texas, when people talk loudly and prom­ise a lot but de­liv­er little, they are said to be “all hat and no cattle.” On the eve of Pres­id­ent Trump’s first 100 days, that’s a pretty apt de­scrip­tion of his first few months in of­fice. The first-100-day yard­stick may be ar­ti­fi­cial and ar­bit­rary, but his cor­ral is pretty empty, at least le­gis­lat­ively. Al­though a little over two dozen bills have been signed in­to law, none are of any real sig­ni­fic­ance, cer­tainly not on the or­der of mag­nitude that can­did­ate Don­ald Trump prom­ised dur­ing the cam­paign. It has of­ten been said that per­son­nel is policy, and with few­er than 10 per­cent of ap­pointees either not picked or await­ing Sen­ate con­firm­a­tion, that cliché seems on tar­get.

Aside from ex­ec­ut­ive or­ders, what we have seen is more theat­er than res­ults. Load­ing up sev­en buses with 100 sen­at­ors to come to the Old Ex­ec­ut­ive Of­fice Build­ing for a brief­ing that could have just as eas­ily been held in the Dirk­sen Sen­ate Of­fice Build­ing was noth­ing more than a pub­li­city stunt, made all the more egre­gious when sen­at­ors said that they learned noth­ing new.

Like­wise, the Pres­id­ent’s tax “plan” to over­haul both per­son­al and cor­por­ate taxes was merely a single page of bul­let points, not a com­pre­hens­ive or deeply con­sidered pro­pos­al. It was vari­ously de­scribed as a wish list, a col­lec­tion of con­cepts, or just mus­ings. The non­par­tis­an Com­mit­tee for a Re­spons­ible Fed­er­al Budget es­tim­ates that the tax out­line re­leased Wed­nes­day, if im­ple­men­ted, would res­ult in a fed­er­al-budget-rev­en­ue loss of between 3 and 7 tril­lion dol­lars. The com­mit­tee couldn’t of­fer a more pre­cise fore­cast be­cause of the paucity of de­tails. It was just an­oth­er first-100-day stunt.

But Trump doesn’t have to run for reelec­tion for an­oth­er three-and-a-half years, so he can af­ford to spend time on the­at­rics. The ques­tion is wheth­er the second, third, and fourth 100 days will be more pro­duct­ive. Part of that will be de­term­ined by wheth­er mem­bers of Con­gress see ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­pos­als to be taken ser­i­ously or just things to fold in­to pa­per air­planes for the cir­cu­lar file.

Polling and man-on-the-street in­ter­views show that Trump’s sup­port­ers are a loy­al lot, stick­ing with him des­pite the fact that so much was prom­ised and so little has been de­livered. The ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post poll that found that 96 per­cent of Trump voters would vote for him again—an im­press­ive num­ber. “He’s new, give him time,” seems to be the pre­vail­ing view.

But let’s throw an­oth­er factor in. Stock mar­kets are show­ing re­cord- or near-re­cord-high levels, far above what most tech­nic­al in­dic­at­ors sug­gest is sus­tain­able. The bull mar­ket seems based on in­vestor op­tim­ism that Trump and con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans can de­liv­er on their prom­ises: the re­peal and re­place­ment of Obama­care, the biggest tax cut in his­tory, a huge in­fra­struc­ture pro­gram, and a 10 per­cent in­crease in de­fense spend­ing—all without bust­ing the budget or in­creas­ing the na­tion­al debt. Based on what we have seen so far, is that op­tim­ism well placed? What will sus­tain that op­tim­ism if Trump and Re­pub­lic­ans can’t pass much of their agenda? What will hap­pen to the mar­kets then? Will Trump’s sup­port­ers stay pa­tient?

And what about the eco­nomy? On Fri­day morn­ing, the Com­merce De­part­ment will re­lease the Gross Do­mest­ic Product num­bers for the first quarter of this year. Giv­en the eco­nom­ic data that has come out in re­cent weeks, there’s a pretty good chance that the GDP will be closer to a half of 1 per­cent than the 2.1 per­cent growth rate in the last quarter of 2016. The cur­rent eco­nom­ic ex­pan­sion, which began in Ju­ly 2009, be­came in Feb­ru­ary the third-longest since gov­ern­ment star­ted keep­ing eco­nom­ic re­cords in 1850. Cur­rently 92 months old, this ex­pan­sion far ex­ceeds the 58.4-month av­er­age since World War II, yet by many meas­ures it is one of the weak­est dur­ing that peri­od.

Con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans are pretty much re­quired these days to show a stiff up­per lip, to pro­fess sat­is­fac­tion and op­tim­ism, but giv­en what we’ve seen so far, their up­beat at­ti­tude is based on hope and faith rather than facts and res­ults.