Does President Trump’s Success Prove the Irrelevance of Congress?
Eric Lendrum, Politics Contributor
Opinion -- If you were to follow only the mainstream media, and believe most of what they say, you would think that the last six months have been a wild roller-coaster of theatrics with very little substance. The media will tell you that President Trump has been “failing” to get anything of substance done. For the longest time, the media has focused almost exclusively on the false “Russia” conspiracy theory, although that story is finally just about gone as its credibility has all but collapsed. Otherwise, most critics would point to the massive debacle over the Republican efforts to fail Obamacare, where numerous debates, revisions, failed votes, and betrayals have ultimately resulted in that disastrous law remaining intact, while the Republican Congress fails to keep even just a small number of members in line.
And yet, after taking just a few steps back and looking at the big picture from a more objective standpoint, it is actually quite clear that President Trump’s first six months have seen overwhelming success in a lot of key areas; and many of those same areas are controlled almost entirely by the executive branch.
ISIS is on its last legs in Iraq. This is in conjunction with President Trump’s excellent handling of the Middle East in general (from negotiations that led to the diplomatic strangling of Qatar, to the calculated missile strike in Syria that reestablished American credibility).
American energy production and exports are skyrocketing, primarily as a result of President Trump’s and EPA Secretary Pruitt’s numerous slashing of executive regulations on natural gas production such as coal and oil. This has already produced tangible results, from the approval of both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, to the opening of a brand new coal mine in Pennsylvania, and American coal exports rising more than 60% since he took office.
On immigration, the President has taken the initiative already by repealing DAPA and letting DACA die in court, as well as increasing deportations and allocating more funding for border security and the wall, which just recently passed through the House of Representatives. This has culminated in illegal immigration dropping over 70% since he took office.
And all the while, the economy continues to roar back into prosperity. Over one million new jobs have been created since the President took office, with each month adding no less than 200,000 jobs. Several months have even surpassed job growth expectations, as July did by adding 209,000 jobs instead of the expected 183,000. The unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest point in 16 years, and a record number of Americans - over 153 million - are currently employed. Although the President has acknowledged that there are still millions of Americans outside of the labor force, the rate of Americans participating in the labor force has been slowly rising nonetheless. The stock market has already hit four milestones since Trump was elected (19,000, 20,000, 21,000, and 22,000), adding well over $3 trillion to the economy. All of this is based almost entirely on the President’s pro-business rhetoric, regulation reduction, and promises of tax cuts.
With all these successes in mind, it is clear to see why the Obamacare ordeal is a blight on the President’s record, in scale and in its implications for his future relationship with Congress.
But perhaps, with the President’s past record of success without the help of Congress, as well as his latest moves since the healthcare debacle, it is possible that the President does not need Congress to be successful.
Roughly a week after the last Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare fell flat with the shocking betrayal of John McCain, two major policy milestones were announced. The first is that the President is now ordering Attorney General Jeff Sessions to redirect the Justice Department’s civil rights resources towards various Affirmative Action programs all over the country, for the purpose of potentially prosecuting schools that are found guilty of discriminating based on race. This, of course, could potentially mark the end of the controversial program and a massive conservative victory for the American education system. The second major announcement was a handful of major technological reforms in the Veterans Affairs department, which the President has emphasized as one of his goals. Along with VA Secretary David Shulkin, the President unveiled a number of technological advancements that will greatly increase the efficiency of the department’s medical services, including the “Telehealth” service and the “VA Video Connect” service. Just like that, two other big campaign promises have been fulfilled - without Congress.
And the success of President Trump’s Congress-less approach could not be more evident. Despite his seemingly low approval ratings (mostly the result of the nonstop negative media coverage), Gallup records that President Trump is still historically popular among Republican voters, polling in the mid- and high-80’s in his first six months. This makes Donald Trump the most popular president in modern history among Republican voters - yes, even more so than Ronald Reagan.
However, for those who are (understandably) skeptical of polling in the aftermath of 2016, there is even more tangible evidence of the President’s success among his base: fundraising. Not only has the Republican National Committee been setting fundraising records, but it has far surpassed its Democratic counterpart both in the present and in the Obama era. In the first quarter of 2017, the joint fundraising efforts between the RNC and Trump’s reelection campaign raised $55 million - over three times what the DNC and Obama’s reelection campaign raised in the first quarter of 2009 ($16 million). By the end of Trump’s first six months, the RNC had raised over $75 million - over double the amount raised by the DNC in Obama’s first six months. There is little doubt that these historic figures are almost entirely due to his aforementioned popularity with the base. In short, the donations are skyrocketing because the people love Trump, regardless of - and even despite - the shortcomings of Congress. By these metrics, he is even more popular among Republican voters than Barack Obama was among Democratic voters.
By contrast, the DNC has been failing even harder in the Trump era than it did in the Obama era. Their fundraising numbers for the year of 2017 have fallen well below the RNC’s, culminating in a total of just $5.5 million raised in the month of May - this was not only well below the RNC’s record-setting $13.5 million in the same month, but also left the DNC in debt by $3.3 million.
President Trump’s clear record of success - from policy achievements, to popular support via polling and fundraising - almost entirely without Congress’s help is just another one of the many unique approaches he has brought to government with his unprecedented presidency. He is utilizing executive power very effectively, in manner that is not as polarizing, or easily-reversible, as executive orders - something his predecessor learned the hard way. When Congress fails him, as it did on health care, he galvanizes his base not only through shifts to more successful policies, but with more of the same populist rhetoric that won him the White House; not too long after the Obamacare repeal failed, the President Tweeted about the possibility of ending the Obamacare exemptions, and other similar health care bailouts, for all members of Congress regardless of party.
This combination of populist rhetoric, and effective - but smart - executive actions to achieve the policies Congress won’t pass, but this has made President Trump the most popular Republican President in modern history. As the fundraising records indicate, his popular appeal and executive success just might be the saving grace that can help the Republican Party recover from its Congressional failures, and hold on - if not make gains - through the 2018 midterms before his reelection.
You can follow the author on Twitter: @EricLendrum26.
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