On the big-ticket items he vowed to force through—health-care and tax reform—he has found himself at the mercy of the usual slow-moving, politically balky congressional processes. And on economic policy, it is not at all clear the GOP will go along with Trump’s calls for building infrastructure and preserving entitlements, particularly if these priorities come at the cost of balanced budgets.
Meanwhile, much of Trump’s attention has been consumed with trash-talking tweets, complaints about his treatment by the press, and executive orders that do little to move policy. Beyond all that bluster, who’s really in charge? Here’s a breakdown of some major policy areas:
A Conservative-Pleasing Cabinet: The “deconstruction of the administrative state,” as Trump’s strategist, Steve Bannon, put it at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, is underway via Trump’s executive branch. Agency heads like Scott Pruitt, at the Environmental Protection Agency, and Betsy DeVos, at the Department of Education, seem inclined to dismantle the departments they’ve been tapped to lead. This leaves liberals aghast, but to conservatives, it is a feature, not a bug. They are glad to see Trump dialing back a federal bureaucracy that, in the Obama era, exceeded its legislative mandates to accomplish through regulation what it couldn’t get through Congress, like curtailing carbon emissions.
The Republican Establishment’s Dream Supreme Court Pick: To replace the late Antonin Scalia, Trump named Neil Gorsuch, a federal judge with impeccable credentials, an Ivy League pedigree, and membership in the Federalist Society. Gorsuch’s nomination gladdened the most Trump-skeptical conservatives, especially the evangelical Christians who held their noses and voted for Trump because the Supreme Court hung in the balance. And it vindicated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s strategy of refusing to consider Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.
No Real Shift in Trade Policy: Trump’s campaign-trail opposition to major trade deals was a significant departure from conservative dogma. One of his first actions was to pull the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But that was a purely symbolic action, as Congress had never ratified the deal and members of both parties had soured on it. Trump has not pulled the U.S. out of the North American Free Trade Agreement or imposed tariffs on imports. When he briefly floated a 20 percent Mexican-import tax, Republicans swiftly condemned it, and his administration quickly disowned the idea. Congressional Republicans have been working on a border-adjustment tax proposal that they say would accomplish something similar, but Trump has yet to get firmly behind it—and it, too, appears to be on the rocks due to opposition from business.
Immigration Actions Less Than Meets the Eye: Trump’s hard line against immigration broke with the GOP’s business wing. His administration has intimidated the undocumented with deportations and raids that have created a climate of fear. But the actual number of deportations is small. Meanwhile, Trump has yet to roll back Obama’s protections for the young immigrant “Dreamers,” frustrating some immigration hawks. He has ordered the Mexican border wall be built, but Congress has yet to fund it, and Mexico is still refusing to pay for it.