by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Donald Trump’s political inexperience turned out to be a political strength in the 2016 election. Unlike so many of his competitors, he had not been trying to discipline himself into the role of president since adolescence. For good and ill, he had fewer inhibitions about what he’d say. His verbal incontinence leads him to lie and mislead. But it also led him to be candid in a way that some voters clearly enjoyed. The campaign playbook can be rewritten every election cycle by the winners. Barack Obama’s digital outreach was hailed as genius, because he won. Trump’s ability to command free media and his repetitive sloganeering from the podium at his rallies were credited for his success.
American governance is less amenable to this kind of revision. And in office, Trump’s inexperience is more and more exposed. Was anyone surprised that in a battle of political will with Nancy Pelosi, a political lifer and the daughter of a Baltimore mayor, Trump got the short end? You shouldn’t be. This inexperience, combined with unusual and disruptive staff turnover at the White House and slow hiring throughout the executive branch, means that Trump has had trouble imposing his will on the political process. He’s had trouble even grasping the political dynamics at work.
Some Republicans should be grateful for Trump’s inability to impose his will. He’s depended on the Federalist Society to help him choose and vet judicial picks that keep his electoral coalition intact. In his first years in office, the Republican-led Congress worked on its own preexisting agenda.