50 days in, Trump wrestles with turning grand promises into coherent policy

A hectic pace at the White House has brought distinctly mixed results: ‘These guys are finding it’s a lot harder to do it than talk about it,’ says a former official

By  David Smith in Washington / The Guardian / Friday 10 March 2017 10.00 EST


Is there method in the madness?

No one doubts that Donald Trump’s first 50 days as US president have busted norms, paradigms and taboos every bit as surely as his insurgent election campaign. On day 44, for example, he used Twitter to accuse his presidential predecessor, Barack Obama, of criminal wiretapping, then in the next moment mocked his reality-TV successor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, over poor ratings.

But Trump has also been both praised and criticised for doing more than many politicians to keep his election promises. There have been fleeting moments when a blurry picture of policy sharpens into focus. From the botched travel bans to the wrangling over healthcare reform, there are signs of how difficult it will be to translate policy into coherent action.

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“There is no ideology around the policies we see so far,” said Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee. “There are particular impressions on issues. A lot of it is campaign-related rhetoric.”

To be in Washington these days is to dwell inside a washing machine, a daily churn of intelligence leaks, congressional demands for blood – attorney general Jeff Sessions has survived but the former national security adviser Michael Flynn did not – and pre-dawn presidential tweet storms (President Trump has topped more than 540 tweets at the last count).

Yet the architect of the chaos has also twice attempted to step back and explain his vision for America.

First, on day one, there was his dark inaugural address, with its ringing phrase “American carnage” and unabashed nationalism. Second, on day 40, there was an address to a joint session of Congress which struck a less harsh tone and promised a “new chapter of American greatness”, offering an olive branch for bipartisan cooperation.

But perhaps it was day 35 that offered a peek behind the curtains to the whirring cogs and wheels of White House machinery. It was not so much “Trumpism” a