Since the Trump Presidency began back in January 2017, we have endeavored to maintain a comprehensive listing of all the administrations misdeeds in the Everything Awful The Trump Administration Has Done Omnibus (full list here), and have attempted to categorize and score them accordingly. Today is October 20th, which means that as of noon today we are now moving into month 33 of the Trump administration. To mark the occasion, we are releasing the Everything Terrible Trump Has Done 2019 3rd Qtr. Brief.
We already provided a thorough explanation of our methodology elsewhere, so we’ll just skip straight to the results. For anyone interested, an in-depth discussion on how we classified and scored actions can be found here. And excel version of the list can be found here.
The last 3 months in the Trump administration were marked by a certain sense of anticipation. There were a number of things that never quite reached the level of a full on disaster, but they pointed to a definite potential for one. The quarter started with a near war with Iran, then an escalation of the trade war with China led to fears that a recession was imminent, then the scandal with Ukraine pointed to impeachment. We always seem to be verge of some reckoning that refuses to materialize.
Yet in the here and now the damage is certainly severe enough, and the collective sense of deja vu shouldn’t obscure that there has been a certain escalation. The most recent quarter was consistently impactful due to a variety of events, and the last month was perhaps the most significant of the administration so far. The leading indicators for predicting a recession are as high today as they were before the Great Recession, and the moves towards impeachment are substantial. While it’s tempting to fall into the belief that the administration will simply be able to lurch on as it has through a combination of cynicism and systemic dysfunction, that should not obscure the fact that it still increasingly isolated and stymied, while at the same time its actions are becoming more erratic and dangerous.
Policy Area and Focus
In a pattern that’s become familiar over the last 3 years, the 3 month period between July 20th and October 20th 2019 saw the policy focus the administration shift on a monthly. The first month the saw the most significant developments in the realm of social policies, namely immigration. In the second month Economic policies were most prominent thanks to trade and environmental policies. Then in the third month the scandal over Ukraine made the administration’s impact on institutions the center of attention. A table with a full breakdown can be seen here.
Throughout the period the administration’s impact on people’s economic and material well being was felt through its environmental policies. One of the most important developments in this respect was the ongoing attempts by the administration to strong arm states, particularly California, into abandoning stringent fuel standards and other environmental regulations. There was also a brief, but acute panic over trade in August and September as it seemed Trump was driving the trade war with China to a dangerous new level, threatening to destabilize markets and set off a recession.
In the realm of institutions there were relatively few developments at the beginning of the quarter. This was largely due to the end of the Mueller investigation in the previous quarter, which generally did not result in much action. This reversed sharply starting in the final weeks of September as revelations regarding Trump’s attempts to force Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden came out.
Foreign policy saw a fairly consistent string of blunders on the administrations’ part. The quarter began at the end of a round of saber rattling against Iran over an alleged attack on oil tankers that had nearly escalated into war, which briefly flared up again in September when Trump tried to blame Iran for a drone attack on Saudi oil facilities. The most significant development came at the very end of the quarter though, with the administration’s decision to pull a deterrent force out of Northern Syria paved the way for a Turkish military incursion into Kurdish held Rojava.
Continuing the trend over the last 2 years, the most significant developments in the Trump administration were actions that should probably be considered either unique to Trump or aligned to a faction within the Republican party that aren’t necessarily representative of the Republican establishment. The trade war, the erratic foreign policy, the Ukraine scandal and the subsequent impeachment drama are things we can probably say are directly driven by Trump, while the deportation drive is reflective of the Republican shift towards closed borders that mainly occurred in the last decade. Much of the Trump administration’s policies are still in line with those of establishment Republicans, but he is very much acting on his own priorities.
The focus of the administration also continued to be very narrow. The deportation drive, scandals like the one involving Ukraine, the trade war and the administrations attempts to counteract climate control initiatives represented a substantial majority of the administration’s impact between. This is, in a lot of ways, a reflection of the previous point, as the administration becomes less characterized by a broad push to implement a Republican agenda at all levels and more defined by Trump’s own idiosyncrasies.
One can draw their own conclusions from this, but it does suggest an administration that’s become more independent, crass and petulant. This would certainly fit in with a certain narrative. The first two years saw the Trump administration try to play along with Republican efforts and getting nowhere for the trouble, while the third year began with a failed attempt to assert dominance over the Democratic house. On the other hand, Trump was able to avoid any serious consequences for various scandals, and however his administrative actions might be blocked in courts he could just as often get his way if he just kept at it. The result seems to be that the administration is not interested in playing ball with anyone, while at the same time recklessly hammering away at its own priorities without fear of consequences.
The Ukraine Scandal
The most explosive development from the last 3 months was undoubtedly the revelation that Trump had apparently attempted to pressure Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Much like the long running scandal over potential collusion with Russia, this represented a clear violation of the law, a dangerous political precedent and threat to national integrity which could serve as grounds for impeachment.
Indeed, the two cases offer an interesting comparison. On the one hand, the episode can be seen as a continuation of the Russian scandal whose scale and rapidity may damage the administration in a way the Russian scandal ultimately did not. On the other hand, there’s also the risk that it could ultimately suffer the same fate, blocked by political constraints and never able to get the firm footing needed to convince the public that serious action is needed. There seems to be some basis for both points of view.
On the one hand, the sheer intensity of scandal is far greater than anything that happened at any individual point in the Russian scandal. The Russian scandal saw a slow drip of revelations, sometimes serious and sometimes dubious, over the course of several months. By contrast, as we figure it the impact of the Ukraine scandal alone accounted for almost half the administration’s impact over the last month, and I do not believe that is overstating things too much. Moreover, both Congress and the public seem to be considering impeachment far more seriously, in large part because the accusations seem a lot more credible.
However, this could very well be ephemeral. After the scandal hit a fever pitch in late September and early October it was relatively quiet until Mick Mulvaney crassly acknowledge a quid pro quo, which was an unforced error. This might not be grind things to a halt, but in an era when scandals seem to break weekly it seriously might just run out of momentum. Public interest seems to have declined almost as rapidly as spiked, and while in the long term it may have seriously undermined confidence in the administration that still has yet to be seen. Overall, Trump’s approval ratings seem to have barely budged.