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PORTLAND, Ore. /Troy Media/ – Donald Trump continues to shake up Washington. His hurry-up offence – a spate of new initiatives – has left his opposition energized but bewildered.
Presidential executive orders have been the driver three weeks into Trump’s administration. As of Feb. 10, his White House has issued 22 executive actions, including nine executive orders. No doubt more are coming.
Presidents can authorize three types of executive actions. The first, and most prestigious, are executive orders. These are similar to laws passed by Congress and concern matters where the president has the authority to act without congressional approval.
The second type of executive action is a presidential memorandum. Typically, such actions direct a department of the executive branch to follow through on a congressionally- or presidentially-mandated action.
Finally, there are official proclamations. These can vary in importance from Abraham Lincoln’s historic Emancipation Proclamation – technically both a proclamation and an executive order, which in 1863 freed the slaves in the Confederate States of America – to the designation of July 15 as National Ice Cream Day by President Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Every president has issued executive orders. George Washington issued eight, Franklin Roosevelt issued 3,700. The last three presidents – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – issued between 250 and 300 executive orders during their eight-year tenures in office.
Those presidents issued an average of 14 executive orders during their first 100 days in office. Clinton signed 13, Bush 11 and Obama 19.
Three weeks into his administration, Trump has signed nine. These have ranged from a temporary suspension on immigration from seven countries to rewriting regulations for the financial industry.
The Trump administration’s executive actions have occurred against a backdrop of White House activism focused on encouraging business investment and job creation. That has brought together business executives and union leaders for meetings with Trump and his cabinet.
The Democrats in Congress have tried to slow down the process of confirming Trump’s cabinet nominees, while encouraging supporters to protest the actions of the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress. In the meantime, state administrations controlled predominantly by Democrats, most notably California, and interest groups opposed to Trump say they’ll look to the courts to block White House plans.
The flurry of activity from the White House reflects, in part, Trump’s style. It also reflects the goal of reversing many Obama policies while Republicans still have control of Congress. It’s unlikely the Republicans will lose control of either chamber in the 2018 mid-term elections but it can’t be completely ruled out. Given how slow Congress can move, and that the more controversial actions will precipitate legal challenges, two years is not a lot of time to roll back eight years of Obama-inspired policies.
The flurry of activity also shores up Trump’s political base. A swing of 100,000 votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan would have produced a very different outcome. Trump won because he gained the support of two very unlikely groups: Christian conservatives and blue-collar workers.
Christian conservatives typically lean Republican but their turnout can be undependable. They strongly supported George W. Bush, especially in 2004, but were lukewarm to John McCain and Mitt Romney. Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to serve on the Supreme Court, along with executive orders suspending funding for international organizations that encourage abortions and a promise to ease prohibitions on the political activity of Christian ministers, all plays very well to this constituency.
Likewise, Trump’s determination to boost job creation, especially in industrial, blue-collar jobs, plays well to what has become an important swing group for the Republicans. Increases in economic growth and job creation will go a long way to solidifying this Republican support and turn dependably Democractic states into important swing states.
Regulatory reform in the financial sector also makes it easier for consumers to tap the equity in their homes, as well as being an important driver of new home construction. The latter is the single largest source of new blue-collar jobs in the country. To date, union leaders have appeared more times with Trump than they have with the Democrat Congressional leadership. That lesson isn’t lost on their rank and file.
In football, the hurry-up offence keeps the defence unbalanced. Trump’s blitz of activity is doing the same thing to the Democrats, even if it at times is sloppily executed. The White House is largely controlling the narrative, forcing Democrats to respond. Stories that the Democrats wanted to exploit further, like the role of the Russians in supporting Trump, have been quickly superseded by new issues.
The Democratic response has been to mobilize its base in an impressive series of demonstrations. That has limits, however. Eventually protest fatigue sets in. The first big demonstration is newsworthy, subsequent ones less so. After a while, they’re not news. The party has mobilized the young and those on its left wing, but this voting bloc is less dependable. In 2016, they turned out in fewer numbers to support Hillary Clinton than they had for Obama.
Significantly, the Democrats have been far less successful in mobilizing those groups that defected to Trump, such as blue-collar workers, Caucasian ethnic minorities or traditionally Democrat-supporting religious groups like Catholics. Indeed, the tenor of the demonstrations is more likely to further alienate these groups than to bring them back.
Trump has emerged as America’s economic booster in chief and the Democrats have been unable to formulate a response or an alternative. If Trump proves successful in this new role, it will leave the Democrats with little more than a reputation for obstructionism.
Using the courts to block or slow Trump initiatives may be the best tactic for the Democrats. While effective from a policy standpoint, such an approach ultimately won’t, in the short term, bring back Democratic defectors. It will only serve to enshrine the party’s bicoastal minority status in Congress.
The White House’s hurry-up offence is underscoring the fact that Trump will be an unconventional president. It’s shoring up Trump’s political base, leaving the Democratic party without a coherent response.
Troy Media columnist Joseph Micallef is an historian, best-selling author and, at times, sardonic commentator on world politics. Joe is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.
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