The Trump Presidency: A Success Story

 Liz Mair
  26th-Dec-2017

On one level, it sounds crazy. The president has spent year one mired in controversy over crazy tweets involving alleged face-lifts of TV stars, horrifically ignorant and ill-advised comments about white nationalists, alleged personal profiting off the presidency, supposed interference in criminal investigations and the connections of multiple members of his campaign and administration team to Russia – and more.

But when it comes to actual policy accomplishments tied to pledges he made on the campaign trail, Trump is actually doing pretty well – whether you like the results or not.

This week, the House and Senate passed a tax bill that arguably makes the most sweeping changes to the tax code since Ronald Reagan. The bill will slash corporate taxes by more than either of Trump's last two Republican predecessors could. It will cut taxes dramatically for a wide swath of small businesses, namely those who file on a pass-through basis. It will double the child tax credit. The left-leaning Tax Policy Center estimated at the beginning of the week that should the bill be signed into law, 80 percent of taxpayers would see a tax cut, while less than 5 percent would see a tax increase of more than $10. It is an imperfect bill, and one that perhaps should not be dubbed "tax reform," but still a significant one that more or less adheres to what Trump promised on the campaign trail – and which will have notable effects on the budgets of many families and businesses across the country. And Trump will sign it into law before he even celebrates the first anniversary of his inauguration.

The tax bill also repeals the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, arguably the most noxious portion of Obamacare viewed through a limited government, classical liberal perspective. Just two weeks ago, this was viewed as an iffy prospect at best, because the mandate is viewed as so integral to the ACA succeeding, to the extent that is even theoretically possible, long-term, given other components of the law. With the signing of the tax bill, the individual mandate will be history. So are ACA cost-sharing reductions, or subsidies, which Trump already nixed. While that does not amount to Obamacare repeal – not even close – it's still significant movement to dismantle the ACA, even if it ultimately forces American health care in the direction of European counterparts by making single-payer health care more appealing long-term.

Trump has rolled back loads of government regulations, partly thanks to his "two out, one in" policy by which every new regulation can only come into effect if two existing regulations are repealed. He appears likely to succeed in sending Office of Management and Budget Chief Mick Mulvaney to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a longer-term fixture, a crippling blow to its ex-head, Richard Cordray, and ideological parent, Elizabeth Warren.

He has pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord. He has pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. He has put the North American Free Trade Agreement seriously under the gun, with the likelihood higher than ever that Canada and Mexico will simply walk away from it due to American demands. He has made good on promises to vastly increase deportations of unlawful immigrants and curtail legal immigration. While the original iteration of his Middle East travel ban did not pass judicial muster, the revised version is sticking. He has gone beyond rhetorical commitments to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognize the city as Israel's capital.

Perhaps most significantly, in his first year, Trump has gotten numerous conservative judges confirmed and in place. Neil Gorsuch is the most obvious example – his position on the Supreme Court could affect American law and jurisprudence for decades or more to come. But Trump has also put 12 circuit court judges on the bench, as The Washington Post notes, "the most during a president's first year in office in more than 100 years."

Yet there is one last thing that Trump could do, before he reaches the anniversary of his inauguration, to cement his legacy as one of the most successful – if not the most successful – first-year president ever: Get Congress to pass legislation that protects DACA recipients, and avoid scuttling a deal to do so by attaching too many anti-immigration, restrictionist measures to a DACA bill.

Trump has repeatedly promised to protect DREAMers, calling them "people that were brought here, people that have done a good job and were not brought here of their own volition." According to a Morning Consult survey conducted earlier this year, 72 percent of Republicans want DREAMers allowed to stay in the U.S., with 48 percent favoring an outright pathway to citizenship for them. As Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has noted, Trump is probably the one guy who can easily get a deal done to protect DREAMers should he throw real weight behind it, as he did the tax bill.

The question is simply whether Trump will actually do it; make too many demands, particularly with regard to mandatory, nationwide e-Verify, or eliminating all chain migration save for minor children and spouses, and he may fail on what could otherwise be a signature achievement, bleeding civil libertarians on the left and right over e-Verify, and both potential Democratic and Republican votes on the family migration front. But cut a deal that steps up border security while codifying DACA, and Trump could add multiple cherries, whipped cream and sprinkles to what already looks like a pretty sizeable, if incomplete, banana split.

Given Trump's fervent belief that he is the best deal-maker, the most successful when it comes to delivering real results, why would he forsake this opportunity, given how well it polls and how easily it could enable him to set the stage for other Trump priorities to be pursued in year two – namely, infrastructure, and most likely dealing more concertedly with North Korea?

The reality is that Trump, and Republicans, may not wind up getting credit for the tax reductions they just passed into law that will affect many Americans – and not just fabled GOP donors. Businesses, who pay taxes quarterly, will notice reductions quickly. But a lot of individual taxpayers will only come to realize what benefits lie in the tax bill after they've voted in the 2018 midterm elections, and when they file their tax returns in April 2019 – and right now, fair or not, the tax bill does not appear popular.

It would make sense for Trump to finish out his first year by giving voters, especially those DREAMer-protecting-favorable ones who could swing against him and live primarily in suburbs, something else they like that is tangible before walking into next November – and not holding a negotiating position that means his administration is wiping an easy victory off the table with demands that a lot of Republicans, as well as Democrats, will regard as unreasonable.

This is Trump's challenge as Christmas approaches. Can he use the last 20-some days of his first year in office to put those last few points on the board, and solidify his record even more? Or will he leave good press – and votes – on the table unnecessarily?

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