In many instances, Vermeule’s prediction was right. Political actors and commentators supportive of Barack Obama’s “pen and phone” strategy—his aggressive use of executive orders, law-stretching interpretations of delegated power, and broad conception of his discretion to enforce (or not) the law—quickly switched their view when the Trump administration started making similar arguments in support of their quite different policies (related to immigration restrictions, environmental protection, and the like). And many conservative politicians and commentators flipped or shaded their views in the other direction as well.
This dynamic is one of the underappreciated reasons real executive authority has increased over decades, in spite of a rhetoric of constraint coming from whichever party has been out of power. On this score, in many ways, the Trump era was business as usual that will likely continue under Biden.
But, at the same time, under Trump new dynamics emerged that are not consonant with the standard pattern, and once-marginal understandings of the proper role of executive power approached the mainstream. This was not a merely partisan switching of sides only to continue the same dance, but a whole new song, perhaps even a new party—what Austen called in Sense and Sensibility “an unpremeditated dance.”
Sometimes Trumpian horrors provoked rage that has reshaped the presidency. At other times, he intended the reorientation. Occasionally, he was uninvolved, and the task fell to those around him. In the end, executive war making has emerged on the other side of the Trump years with both new constraints and new powers, while in the realms of economics and trade the presidency has seen once-marginal positions move to the center, leaving room for new possibilities.
Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes: The disintegration of the American presidency
The shift on war making stems from a remarkable mainstreaming in recent years of rhetorical opposition to “endless wars.” Trump railed against such wars during his presidency and both presidential campaigns. In office he clashed with the national-security bureaucracy and the military—with some public support—about drawing down troops in Afghanistan and Syria. Trump lost or was outwitted in many of these battles. But by the end of his presidency he could claim with some justification that “unlike previous administrations I have kept America out of new wars, and our troops are coming home.” There are fewer troops in Afghanistan and Iraq today than at any time since 2001.
Trump by no means supported a shift in executive power toward Congress, and he called for more military spending even as he questioned excessive foreign intervention. But during his tenure, from right and left alike, calls for reform of war powers dwarfed prior right-left opposition to American wars, in a remarkable mainstreaming of positions marginalized for many decades. The rhetoric of opposition to ending endless war took on a life of its own not just among activists but also among members of Congress, in an unprecedented reactivation of the defunct War Powers Resolution (in the case of the Yemen proxy war, supported by both Bernie Sanders and the conservative Mike Lee). Trump vetoed it, but a new consensus became visible.