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When assessing the quality of a candidate, history can be a useful guide. Not only the history of the particular candidate, but the history of previous successful candidates. So when looking at all of the candidates for the Republican nomination – not just Trump – it is useful to look at whether President Trump kept candidate Trump’s campaign promises, and if not, why not.
But which promises? It is in the nature of candidates for office – especially perhaps underdogs – to promise all sorts of things. And, unlike tightly-scripted campaigns of the ‘pros’, Trump just said so much. So my methodology is this: what did Trump promise in order to gain the Republican nomination? And, in particular, what did his ideological enemies say he promised, at the time? This should keep the focus on what type of Republican Trump promised to be, should avoid hindsight, and should be neutral between pro- and anti-Trump Republicans.
So here is a list of 10 promises Trump made to gain the 2016 nomination, according to Politifact (in July 2016).
1 ‘Build a wall’ — and make Mexico pay for it
I’m going to put this down as a Fail. And it was a fail because President Trump couldn’t get his own party to support him on his signature, and signally popular, policy.
2 Temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States
I’m going to put this down as a Fail. But I’m going to say it was because of unprecedented political action taken by the federal judiciary, backed up at crucial times by typical Roberts’ court pusillanimity. (I know there was ‘learned’ commentary here, as elsewhere, from folks who had never read, let alone written, an Executive Order, that the decisions staying the action for ‘racism’ were perfectly foreseeable. I still think this is nonsense.)
3 ‘Bring manufacturing (jobs) back’
4 Impose tariffs on goods made in China and Mexico
5 Renegotiate or withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement and Trans-Pacific Partnership
6 ‘Full repeal of Obamacare’ and replace it with a market-based alternative
Fail. Again because he couldn’t make his own party keep the promises they had been making year after year.
7 Renegotiate the Iran deal
I’m going to put this down as ‘Kept’ in spirit.
8 Leave Social Security as is
9 Cut taxes
10 ‘Bomb’ and/or ‘take the oil’ from ISIS
Again, I’m going to put this down as ‘Kept’.
(Now, you may think some of these Kept promises were the wrong things to do, and on some I wouldn’t argue. But this is about whether a candidate followed through.)
What can we learn from this list?
- By and large, President Trump kept the campaign promises he made to gain the Republican nomination.
- In one case (the temporary ban on travel from countries with unsatisfactory traveler vetting procedures) he was stymied by the willingness of his ideological enemies to abandon the rule of law, and of the unwillingness of a goodly proportion of his ideological friends to call this out.
- In one case (Obamacare) I think the blame must firmly sit with the Republican Party – Trump and non-Trump – as a whole. They showed that their opposition to the most incoherent medical funding system in the known universe was, at core, more about fundraising than about improving people’s lives.
- In the final case (the Wall), it is incontrovertible that Trump was taken for a ride by Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus, together with a whole host of folks he credulously appointed on the advice of the Republican apparatus.
- Therefore, any candidate wanting to keep promises popular with conservative/grass-roots voters must square the circle of (a) NEVER appointing (or, at least, trusting) anyone with any sort of positive reputation in Washington (or political circles generally), while (b) convincing enough legislators to depart from their normal practices and actually pass legislation that supports such promises.
- Similarly, any CANDIDATE with a political track record (which is usually all of them) should be facing a strong presumption that they are part of the problem, not part of the solution. This presumption can be rebutted, but not by hiring the usual political consultants, appointing the usual campaign chairpeople, and making the usual rhetorical moves.