After only a few weeks, it is far too early to judge the eventual outcome of the Trump Administration. Nevertheless, there are disturbing signs that, in some ways, President Trump is following in the footsteps of none other than Barack Obama and may be repeating some of his predecessor’s worst mistakes.
One of the most obvious parallels between Presidents Trump and Obama is their tendency to go it alone. President Trump started his administration with a flurry of Executive Orders, some rolling back Obama’s executive actions and some starting his own initiatives. Some of this was to be expected since Trump promised to end several of Obama’s executive actions. More disturbing to those who support the rule of law, during the campaign Donald Trump said that President Obama “led the way” on Executive Orders, hinting that he may use them to bypass Congress as Obama did.
When President Trump’s Executive Order on immigration lost several prominent court cases, the president’s reaction was similar to what one might expect from President Obama. Trump attacked the judges who ruled against him on Twitter.
Trump’s attacks hearken back to President Obama’s own antagonism against judges. In 2010, Obama attacked the Supreme Court, not on Twitter, but in his formal State of the Union Address. The remark in the wake of the Citizens United decision was Obama’s most famous attack on the bench, but it was only the tip of the iceberg. Obama frequently criticized the Court and tried to influence its decisions on cases, including the challenges to the Affordable Care Act. The fact that Obama’s challenges to the independence of the judicial branch were not delivered via Twitter does not make them any less problematic.
Even after losing in court, President Trump’s response is to craft a new Executive Order rather than work with Congress in an attempt to find a bipartisan solution to the immigration problem. This echoes President Obama’s strategy of circumventing Congress after Republicans won control of the House. Reports from Republicans indicate that Mr. Trump has been uninvolved in the process of crafting a replacement for Obamacare even though his own party controls both houses of Congress. Voters have indicated that their preference was for both presidents to work with Congress, rather than go it alone.
The two presidents also tend to personalize any criticism of their administrations or their policies. President Obama typically refused to consider that his opponents were patriotic Americans who had genuine disagreements on policy. According to Obama, his Republican opponents were anti-science, warmongers, and prejudiced against minorities and immigrants. He called Republicans “hostage takers,” saboteurs and “deadbeats” to name a few insults. Largely forgotten now, President Obama even had problems with the press and was accused of trying to censor the media.
President Trump has done nothing to elevate the level of political discourse. President Trump’s numerous insults to anyone who criticizes him, from Khizr Khan to Ted Cruz, are numerous and well known. Even after taking office, Mr. Trump’s penchant for insulting his critics has continued and even gone international as he engaged in tiffs with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia. Trump also frequently attacks the press and, of course, a wide variety of Democrats.
The insults form a part of the strategy of division and victimhood of both presidents. President Obama marshaled his supporters against the “bitter clingers,” the wealthy and any hint of racism. For his part, President Trump focuses his supporters against the establishment, the press and foreign influences of trade and immigration. In both cases, the strategy is one of unifying the base against ideological bogeymen, rather than attempting to unify the country as a whole. Rather than bringing people together, both presidents stir up factions against each other.
Further, the two presidents share an affinity for campaigning, even after the campaign is over. President Obama was often criticized for his frequent fundraising and political rallies. This weekend, a month into President Trump’s term, he returns to the campaign trail with a political rally in Florida. The coordinator of the rally told Fox News that the event was Trump’s “first re-election rally.” The election is 44 months away.
The love of partisan audiences may reflect the need of both men for adulation and affirmation. It is much easier and more rewarding to deliver a stump speech to throngs of admirers than to engage in the gritty work of legislative “sausage making.” It is this work of governing that determines the success or failure of a president, however.
All this leads to the most serious mistakes that President Obama made for his party: Overconfidence and overreach. In January 2009, President Obama told congressional Republicans, “Elections have consequences, and at the end of the day, I won.” By that he meant, I get what I want. Obama quickly poisoned the well and made future cooperation with Republicans difficult, if not impossible.
Donald Trump is heading down that road as well. Like Barack Obama, President Trump currently has majorities in both houses of Congress. It is easy to imagine that the Trump Administration has a blank check to enact whatever initiatives President Trump deems appropriate. However, the president and the Republicans must realize that, unless Mitch McConnell eliminates the filibuster, bipartisan cooperation is going to be needed to advance any bill past a cloture vote in the Senate. The withdrawal of Andrew Puzder should serve as a warning that the president does not get everything he wants.
President Obama’s eight years are over. His legacy is being erased and he will be judged a failure, largely because he was unable to build a consensus and compromise. After Republicans took control of the House in 2011, President Obama never passed any significant legislation. All of his landmark laws were passed with Democratic majorities in both houses.
The question is whether President Trump will repeat his mistakes or will use the historic opportunity that he has been given to make America great again. To do so, the new president will have to drop the role of the victim and look beyond his base to build a majority. To be successful and build a lasting legacy, President Trump must win over at least some of the voters who didn’t vote for him. He must work with Congress to pass legislation that is more durable than an Executive Order. President Trump needs to stop preaching to the choir and start working on converting the masses.
Originally published on The Resurgent