Government & Politics

Trump's Agenda Is All the Things

The president has accomplished a lot in his first 100 days, but if everything becomes a priority, then nothing is.

Lewis Morris · May 3, 2017

When you are president, the media will gladly and reflexively report everything you say. If you are a president who loves to talk a lot, sooner or later, those words are going to get you in trouble. For Donald Trump, whose battles with the press have already begun to define his presidency, this is not good.

Trump sounds off frequently about any number of issues that might be vexing him at the time. His Twitter feed is used more to engage in taunting and insults than as a tool to share policy ideas or his agenda. Some would argue that Trump has no agenda, and that he is operating at will with no cohesive direction.

It’s difficult to dispute this when one considers even the short list of issues Trump has told reporters in recent weeks that he is looking into: break up big banks, increase the gas tax, break up the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, withdraw from NAFTA, strengthen NAFTA, bomb North Korea, meet directly with Kim Jung Un, and so on. As is evident from that list, sometimes his agenda items are at odds with themselves.

In fact, when challenged on any issue, even when his administration has not yet considered, Trump says, “we’re looking into that.”

It may be a trait in Trump’s personality that won’t allow him to be caught unaware in public. Unfortunately, this means that Trump’s team must be ready at a moment’s notice to unravel any foolish statements he’s made. Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who clearly has the toughest job in Washington, has already had to walk back the comment about raising the gas tax. The back and forth on North Korea has required more than one clarification from the White House. Is the president going to attack North Korea or is he going to meet with Kim? Why, yes, he is.

By trying to look like he has an answer for everything, Trump has allowed himself to be led by the press rather than using the press to communicate his agenda. The Washington media establishment has no love for Trump, so they will do pretty much anything that makes him look foolish — unfortunately with his assistance. Reporters know they can easily feed Trump questions about policy and get the same answer — “We’re looking into that” — and spin it in whatever manner that suits the general anti-Trump narrative.

Notwithstanding his actual successes, Trump runs the risk of making himself irrelevant by continuing to play into this. If everything is a top priority, then in reality nothing is a top priority and everything suffers by comparison.

Even the recently averted shutdown has everyone wondering just what Trump’s stance is on the federal budget. He campaigned on draining the swamp and getting spending under control. Yet, he and congressional Republicans caved on just about every item, including the border wall and ObamaCare entitlements, to avert a shutdown. First Trump said, “We’re very happy with it” and promised to sign it. Then Trump tweeted that he will accept a shutdown if September’s budget numbers don’t meet his standards.

If the budget bill was no good, then why not block it now? Democrats already believe they have the upper hand by getting Trump to cave on the shutdown. If Republicans in Congress don’t trust that Trump has the GOP’s best interests at heart, then they won’t stand by him in a budget showdown come September. You don’t instill fear in the hearts of your enemies by giving them what they want now while warning you’ll be tough on them later.

Lack of credibility will be a big problem for Trump, who faced a difficult presidency already due to his nature as a Washington outsider cleaning up catastrophic messes everywhere Barack Obama went. Trump’s off-the-cuff remark to break up big banks earlier this week did not make any waves on Wall Street because they know that his remarks are not always to be trusted.

Which President Trump do we listen to? When will we know when he words are genuine or when he is just trying to fill dead air and demonstrate that he is on top of things? The public may have to focus more on what the president does than what he says — which come to think of it is how we should follow all politicians.

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