Donald Trump wants to have it both ways: He has had the most successful first 100 days as president in the history of the republic (or at least since FDR, depending on which day he makes the claim); or the 100-day standard is more media-concocted fake news, and we shouldn't even be looking at it.
In fact, the 100-day test is mostly meaningless, but that doesn't mean that we don't have some sense at this point about the way President Trump governs, and on that score, the results are decidedly mixed.
Trump made a ridiculous number of specific promises during the campaign about what he'd do on "Day One," most of which didn't happen -- thankfully. He didn't withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (though he has given notice that he wants to renegotiate the terms of the 23-year-old treaty). He didn't label China a currency manipulator -- and given his need for China's help in reining in Kim Jong Un, he's not likely to anytime soon. He also promised to repeal every one of Barack Obama's executive orders, repeal Obamacare and start building the wall on our southern border. He's repealed some Obama-era regulations, but many are still in place, and he's still working on health care and the wall. President Trump has already admitted health care is a lot more complicated than he imagined, and even hard-line Republicans show little appetite for building a wall that could cost upward of $20 billion.
So how should we score Trump's record? I'd give him a gentleman's C for effort but a D-minus overall. He's thrown a lot of balls up in the air, but some have come back to smash the administration in the face. His executive orders for a travel ban from certain countries were not only poorly written (especially the first attempt) but also will never survive the bigoted remarks made by the president and some of his surrogates in the campaign. No matter what words Trump puts into the executive order, everyone -- including the judges who must weigh whether the orders violate the constitutional prohibition against religious tests -- know that the intent was to ban Muslims, because he said so repeatedly.
But the bigger problem is that the president has tried to do too much, with too little focus and with inexperienced and, in some cases, insufficient staff. Watching this administration is like trying to keep your eyes on the dime hidden beneath the walnut shell as the manipulator moves it around the table faster than you can follow. From one day to the next, you never know what the administration's priorities are and what will occupy its time in the coming weeks. First, it's a travel ban; then it's health care; then it's trade, energy and tax reform. And that isn't even counting defense objectives or foreign policy, which aren't necessarily under the president's total control, given that characters such as Bashar Assad and Kim Jong Un are in the mix.
I'd like to give the president credit for bombing ISIS in Afghanistan and sending cruise missiles to a Syrian base used to launch chemical attacks on innocent civilians, but I'd feel better if I thought this were part of some grand strategy meant to demonstrate U.S. strength, resolve and commitment to leadership in the world. Maybe it is, but the president's own words suggest he wants America less involved in the world and more focused on what goes on at home. Frankly, we just don't know what he believes, beyond the anodyne "Make America Great Again" slogans. He's asked for a massive buildup in our defenses -- a good thing, in my opinion -- but we have no clear sense of how and when he'll use force. He can't simply make it up as he goes along, though that seems to be what he's done so far.
Perhaps the most troublesome parts of the president's rocky start, however, have been matters of incompetency and mismanagement. In electing a billionaire businessman, most Americans believed they were getting someone who knew how to get things done. But the White House is a mess of dysfunctional infighting among individuals who, in some important instances, have no experience in the fields they oversee. The president picked some (though by no means all) impressive Cabinet members, but the administration has been painfully slow in filling thousands of political jobs at the agency level where things actually get done.
If the president wants a better grade by the end of his first year, he could start by picking two or three priorities, and then focus all his and the administration's attention on getting them done. Health care and taxes are clearly the top two. Frankly, if he accomplished either one this year, he'd make the honor roll. But like a kid with ADHD, Donald Trump seems incapable of setting priorities and sticking to them, and until he does, he'll struggle in his role.