What these things share is that they are all doable by executive fiat, without the involvement of Congress. Trump doesn’t have to negotiate with leaders in Congress, try to strong-arm legislators (a task which he has approached with everything from indifference to incompetence), or wait for action. The judicial nominations are similar, in that although they require Senate consent, Trump has not faced any major battles over nominees thus far. (However, of 50 Trump nominees to courts, only seven have been confirmed so far.) The problem is that Trump has not found ways to use executive orders to achieve proactive measures. It is much easier for a liberal president to enact new things with executive orders, as Barack Obama did, than it is for Trump to achieve his goals through the same means. And when he has tried, as with his travel ban, he has often been slapped down by the courts.
Even when Congress is not a factor, however, the Trump administration appears to struggle to work constructively. On October 9, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, announced he would move to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era carbon-regulation rule. While the Trump administration, with its obsession with coal jobs, seems to lean toward scrapping the rule entirely, many figures in the energy industry actually favored not total elimination but a softer rule, because they fear courts will otherwise step in and require stricter rules. The EPA says it’s going to write a new rule, eventually, but no one seems to expect that to happen any time soon.
The political ramifications of Trump’s destructive approach are difficult to read. The funny thing about much-maligned campaign promises is that politicians usually intend to keep them, and usually succeed. If Trump continues to fail to actually get things done, will that hurt him?
One test case might be tax cuts. It’s the last, best chance for the Republican Party to achieve a major legislative victory, having struck out on health care and everything else so far. Senator Lindsey Graham said of reform on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, “If we don't, we're dead.” That may be true for the GOP in Congress, but it’s unclear if it applies to Trump. The president’s Gallup rating over the eventful last six weeks has bounced between 37 and 38 percent—miserable, but apparently in a stasis impervious to most outside forces.
Why has his support proven so resilient? For one thing, many Trump voters harbored ambivalence about him in the first place. They didn’t necessarily think he had the temperament to be president, exit polls showed; they thought he was not qualified. But their level of pessimism, and anger at the way the government was working, meant that they didn’t care—when Democrats warned that Trump would blow up the system, they nodded in agreement, and figured that was a good thing. Whether or not Trump is managing to fix health care or negotiate better deals, he’s destroying the status quo quite effectively. He’s helped out by slavish defenders like Newt Gingrich, who argues that anyone who takes issue with Trump is simply bitter: “Donald Trump really is draining the swamp, and the alligators are really unhappy.”