This weekend marked the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump assuming the presidency.
On Inauguration Day a year ago, it was far from certain that Trump would govern as a conservative. We created Committed Conservative as a means of maintaining the integrity of conservatism itself in the wake of the election to the presidency of a nominal Republican who purported to be a conservative but had no history of actually being one or even of understanding what conservatism is.
Trump had never been a Republican until he decided to run for president, and he had a history of supporting abortion and socialized medicine. We realized that there was little we could do to prevent him from advancing non-conservative policies, but we were determined to not let him redefine what conservatism is.
In terms of his policies, Trump turned out to be a pleasant surprise in that he did, in fact, govern not only as a conservative, but arguably as the most conservative president since Calvin Coolidge nearly a century ago. At the same time, however, Trump’s personal conduct severely impeded his effectiveness and often did dishonor to his office, party, and country.
What follows is my report card for Donald Trump’s first year in office. My assessment of him is not from the typical left-wing perspective of academic historians and the “news” media but rather from the perspective of a committed conservative.
When I evaluate Trump, whether positively or negatively, I usually elicit very strong reactions. It seems that many believe that everyone must pick a team, either Cult 45 or #NeverTrump, and never deviate from the line of that group.
I am neither a Trump cultist nor a Trump hater. I see in Trump a complex man who has worked hard and done a lot of good but who routinely acts badly. My assessment of him reflects this dichotomy. Since this assessment both praises and criticizes Trump, there is something here for everyone in both Trump extremes to hate.
National Defense: A-
National defense is listed first because it’s the most important job of any president, and Trump has done a terrific job at it. He has dramatically increased the defense budget while also making meaningful efforts to reduce waste. He implemented policies that led to the defeat of ISIS after his predecessor treated them as being intractable and terrorist attacks as being “part of the new era that we’re in.” He bombed Syria for using chemical weapons after his predecessor set a “red line” and backed down from it, and, by so doing, Trump restored America’s credibility as a world superpower. And, of course, he pursued the construction of a wall along our southern border as he promised to do in his campaign. The reason he gets a “minus” is that he failed to get funding for the wall largely because of his personal behavior, as discussed below.
Foreign Policy: A
Trump’s has pursued a foreign policy agenda that is America-centric but not isolationist, and this approach has been strong and effective. He withdrew the U.S. from the ridiculous Paris Accords, an “agreement” (not a treaty, which would have required ratification by a U.S. Senate that had previously voted down a similar treaty by a vote of 99-0) entered into by the Obama administration that would have imposed draconian handicaps on the U.S. economy in the name of fighting the socialist myth of “man-made global warming.” Trump cut funding to the United Nations and demanded significant reforms in that corrupt organization. He recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and refused to buckle under pressure from the Palestinian terrorist regime or the morally corrupt UN and European Union. Trump is also working to renegotiate trade agreements that benefit other countries at our expense.
Trump has put reasonable restrictions on immigration from countries that the Obama administration and his both identified as being hotbeds of terrorism. He stuck to his guns in the face of strong opposition from the Democrats, their lapdog “news” media, some #NeverTrump Republicans, and, worst of all, several activist judges exceeding their constitutional powers. And he has won that battle at every turn and kept our country safe as a result. He announced the end of the unconstitutional DACA executive order but gave Congress time to come up with a policy through the legislature on this subject. And, again, he is fighting to build the border wall, but, again, unsuccessfully due to his alienating people he needs as allies in this fight. His combination of taking meaningful measures to stop illegal immigration while also implementing reasonable laws to allow legal immigration are the most responsible policies on immigration in 50 years. He just needs to stop impeding his own progress on these policies.
The Economy: A+
Just the mere fact of Trump, a successful businessman, being elected on a pro-capitalism platform turned Obama’s moribund economy around even before Trump took office. The market responded enthusiastically to the end of eight years of anticapitalist policies and showed their enormous relief that they would not be subjected to four more such years. Trump has attacked the regulatory state with more vigor than any other president in history, and at the end of last year won passage of the best tax reform plan in over 30 years. Trump is the most pro-business, pro-capitalist president in nearly a century, and the result is a stock market rising faster than at any other point in history, unemployment at historic lows, black and Hispanic employment at record highs, and consumer confidence off the charts.
Limited Government: A+
Trump is doing everything in his power to shrink the size and scope of the federal government. He has implemented a regulatory moratorium and is repealing anticapitalist regulations at a record pace. He shepherded a massive tax-cut bill into law. He has fought to repeal Obamacare and has, in fact, succeeded in gutting it by eliminating the individual mandate as part of the tx bill. It is truly amazing that a man who became a billionaire largely by participating in crony capitalism has ended up being the most effective president in limiting the size and scope of government since Ronald Reagan, and maybe Calvin Coolidge.
Health Care: C-
Trump has expressed opposition to Obamacare and, as discussed above, has managed to weaken it considerably. However, Trump has shown little leadership in developing better policies to replace Obamacare with market-based ideas that would reduce health care costs and cut the health care bureaucracy without sacrificing quality. And during the debate on the unsuccessful effort to repeal Obamacare, he advocated for ideas that would have done little more than water down the existing catastrophe of a health care system and that would not have come close to fixing it.
Trump moved quickly to reimplement the “Mexico City” policy of prohibiting the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortions. He has appointed constitutionalist judges that are likely to make rulings in abortion cases based on the Constitution as it is and not as activist judges would prefer it to be. And this year he became the first sitting president ever to address the March For Life.
The Judiciary: A+
The shining star of Trump’s first year in office has been his judicial appointments. Starting with his nomination of Neil Gorsuch, a strong principled constitutionalist, to the Supreme Court, Trump has appointed a series of smart, young constitutionalists to federal district and appellate courts across the country and has gotten them confirmed at a record pace. Whatever else Trump does in the course of his presidency, his judicial appointments will serve as a safeguard against leftist excess by future administrations for decades to come.
Trump holds himself out as a federalist, but in practice, he has shown himself not to understand the concept. He holds the status quo establishment view that policy is best set at the federal level. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his policies regarding states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana. Three weeks ago, his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, increased the authority of states attorneys to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states that have legalized it. No, the president and attorney general should not pick and choose which laws to enforce based on their agreement or disagreement with them. But an attorney general should prioritize how to use limited prosecutorial resources. Using them to enforce anti-marijuana laws in states where the people have decided to legalize it would be at the bottom of the list of any administration that valued federalist principles.
Executive Effectiveness: A
Trump is doing an excellent job of using his executive powers to advance a surprisingly conservative agenda. From his moratorium on new regulations to his increased restrictions on entry to our country from terrorist-saturated countries to recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he doesn’t hesitate to do those things he can do on his own to enact a conservative agenda. Trump has spent his entire adult life as a chief executive, and he wields such power boldly. But…
Legislative Effectiveness: D
Trump has never previously been in a situation where in order to get things done, he had to deal with a co-equal legislative body that is not under his direction and control. And that inexperience shows. In order for policies to survive a president’s tenure, they need to be passed into law through the legislative process. Otherwise they can be just as easily undone by the next president – like Trump has done to Obama. Once a policy is passed into law, it can’t be reversed other than by that same legislative process. Trump accomplished two – and only two – significant things through the legislative process in his first year: He got almost all of his executive and judicial nominees confirmed, and he got major tax reform. The confirmation of his appointments happened because he made good appointments that were easy for the Republicans in Congress to pass under new rules that enable them to do so by simple majority votes. This required very little legislative skill by the president. The tax reform bill, by contrast, did require a great deal of skill to pass, and Trump deserves great credit for this legislative accomplishment. That said, Trump was unable to get Obamacare repealed because he could not get congressional Republicans unified on the subject. He made matters much worse by publicly attacking those who would not do his bidding. He also made it difficult for other elected Republicans to be seen as supporting him because he was out making an ass of himself on Twitter. The result is that he had only one real legislative victory and a year of nothing else of significance getting done to advance conservative policies into law.
Inspiring the American People: D-
Trump does not have any understanding of the fact that the American people want to look up to their president. We want to be able to hold him up as a role model for our children. We want him to show us the better angels of our nature and to reassure us that our country is in strong shape and consists of good people whose goodness is reflected in our president. Trump fails utterly in this regard. He makes juvenile and crude attacks on people with whom he disagrees. He lies on a daily basis about his record. He embarrasses our country and diminishes his office with his public displays of asininity. His one saving grace is that on rare occasion he is, in fact, able to be inspirational – when he is given a good script and sticks to it. His initial address to Congress and his speech to the United Nations are good examples of his ability to be inspirational when it’s scripted for him. If he could be a fraction as statesmanlike and inspirational when he’s off-script, he could be a great president, but in his first year, he made no effort to be one.
Representing America to the World: B
Trump does a good job of dealing with foreign leaders, and he has accomplished a lot. His most impressive results have been in his ability to get China to stop supporting and coddling the evil Kim regime of North Korea. Once the North’s strongest benefactor, over the past year, at Trump’s urging, China has supported strict sanctions on this dangerous regime and has sharply cut back trade with them. Trump has also restored the friendship that always existed between Israel and the United States until Barack Obama, and he has been holding Iran accountable for its pursuit of nuclear weapons and sponsorship of international terrorism. Many western leaders, particularly in Old Europe, are openly contemptuous of Trump, but that’s because Trump, unlike his predecessor, is putting American interests first and insisting that our purported allies carry their fair load in various collective defense pacts. All of that said, as president, Trump is the face of our country to the rest of the world. When, on almost a daily basis, he sends out tweets and makes other statements that are embarrassing to our country, he makes fools out of all of us in the eyes of the world.
A grade of B ordinarily would imply moderation, but in Trump it is the result of two extremes in his character operating simultaneously: immaturity and determination. My colleague Rich often describes Trump as “maddening,” and that is as good a word as any to describe a president who is working hard to implement a surprisingly conservative agenda but who also is often his own worst enemy.
Author: Ken Falkenstein
Ken Falkenstein is the Managing Editor of Committed Conservative and brings a wealth of experience and expertise in public affairs to the job. Ken served in the U.S. Army in the last years of the Cold War as a Russian linguist for military intelligence and the NSA. After leaving the Army, he earned his degree in Secondary Education from Old Dominion University, where he also wrote a popular column in the student newspaper.
Upon graduation, Ken worked as a Legislative Aide to two Republican members of the Virginia House of Delegates. Ken also served as Corresponding Secretary of the Young Republican Federation of Virginia, managed several successful political campaigns, and managed governmental affairs operations for a local Realtor association.
In 1995, Ken moved to Washington, DC to serve as a Legislative Assistant to Sen. John Warner (R-VA). While working for Sen. Warner, Ken attended law school at night, earning his J.D. with honors from the George Mason University School of Law (n/k/a The Antonin Scalia Law School). Since that time, Ken has practiced as a civil litigation attorney, including serving for three years as an Associate City Attorney for the City of Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Ken previously was a contributor to the highly-regarded political blog Bearing Drift and was a weekly co-host of The Steve Batton Radio Program. In 2016, Ken ran unsuccessfully for the Virginia Beach School Board. Ken is also a former President of the Down Syndrome Association of Hampton Roads.
Ken now lives outside of Denver, Colorado with his wife, Kim, and three sons, Adam, Dylan, and Joshua, who has Down syndrome. Ken’s writing is motivated and informed primarily by his concern for his kids’ future.