- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2019

President Trump campaigned as the redeemer for what ails Washington, proclaiming he alone could disrupt the Beltway crowd and mend the messes that have accumulated over decades.

“Nobody knows the system better than me,” he told the GOP convention in Cleveland. “That’s why I alone can fix it.”

Turns out, it’s harder than it looks.

With trade deficits exploding against Mr. Trump’s wishes, North Korea now eyeing a nuclear restart and Congress refusing to repeal Obamacare, fund his full border wall or speed through his NAFTA replacement, he’s facing the limits of what can get done through tough Twitter talk.

“As a businessman, he could negotiate his deals. He could walk away from his deals,” said Bill Hoagland, who spent a quarter-century on Capitol Hill and is senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Now, “he has to work with the Congress. It is a democratic process with a small ‘d.’ “

Mr. Trump got a reality check early in his term, declaring that “nobody knew” health care reform was so complicated, as the GOP failed to deliver on its core promise to replace Obamacare with something better.

He regrouped by passing a major tax overhaul in late 2017, setting the stage for Mr. Trump to take credit for a robust jobs market.

He also signed a historic change in sentencing laws, appointed a record number of appeals-court judges and oversaw a new round of anti-opioid measures.

But he led Congress into a record-shattering partial government shutdown to ring in 2019, and now confronts a series of challenges at home and abroad, testing alliances and his powers of persuasion.

Some say he sowed the seeds of his limits in the campaign. Excoriating the other side to shore up his red-state base made it harder to cut deals, and his bold pledges, such as getting Mexico to pay for the border wall, boxed him in or left him vulnerable to legal attacks, such as his vow to end sanctuary cities.

“He’s underperformed because his campaign promises were so outlandish. Also, many the problems he pledged to fix require qualities that he lacks, namely patience, unsung efforts and a competent staff,” said Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University.

White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere on Thursday said Mr. Trump “has accomplished more at this point in his first term than any president in history,” and that his policies are building “a safer, stronger, and more secure America.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s 2020 campaign team said it welcomes a debate on the president’s ability to get things done, saying there’s plenty he can point to that he alone has fixed.

“Thanks to President Trump, wages are growing at the fastest pace they have in 10 years,” campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said. “There are now more jobs than people looking for work, and manufacturing jobs are growing at a rate 714 percent faster than under the previous administration.”

The campaign said Mr. Trump also freed North Korean hostages, has taken a tough stance on Venezuela and is about to “boldly move forward” on constructing his border wall under a declaration of an emergency.

But not without suffering an embarrassing defeat in a Senate vote next week.

Rebellious Republicans are expected to join with Democrats to pass a resolution disapproving of his emergency declaration. Mr. Trump will prevail, though, because opponents in Congress lack the votes to override his promised veto.

His negotiating tactics haven’t done much better internationally.

He’s berated NATO allies into promising to spend more, but has not won the trade concessions he’s sought from China, nor has his sweet talk prevailed on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to give up his nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Trump headed to a summit in Vietnam saying the two had “fallen in love” amid an exchange of letters. He left without a deal, though he claimed the situation is better than it might have been.

“The idea that he alone is going to be a master dealmaker and fix this intractable problem has proven to be wrong,” said Matt Dallek, professor of political management at George Washington University. “North Korea is not giving up its nuclear weapons.”

Mr. Trump does have a chance to score a bigger negotiating victory on trade — though this week’s news that the country reported a $620 billion deficit in 2018 didn’t help.

The administration says its use of tariffs and get-tough policies will even things up, especially with China.

He’s also got the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal, the replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement, in the can.

But he’ll need to woo congressional Democrats if he wants to get it approved, and he’s shown little ability to do that.

“I don’t think there’s anything that I can think of at the moment that would change his governing style,” said G. Terry Madonna, a politics professor at Franklin and Marshall College. “And he’s certainly not going to change his personality.”

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