Donald Trump’s 5 Biggest Mistakes as President – Donald J. Trump was one of the most unconventional presidential candidates in modern American history.
His victory in 2016 stunned political opponents and allies alike. Trump completely rejiggered America’s political map and skewered the ideological spectrum that had defined modern American politics.
Trump was a uniquely heterodox political figure.
He was a former moderate Democrat from Manhattan who had run as a Republican against not one, but two of the most powerful political families in existence—the Bushes and the Clintons. Trump was able to best these two families, thanks to his heterodox political views. Trump engaged in the same kind of triangulation policies that catapulted Bill Clinton to political success in the 1990s.
In effect, Trump took the best parts of the Republican agenda and fused it with the most popular aspects of the Democratic Party’s platform—using his celebrity status to push his unlikely candidacy over the finish line in 2016.
Trump defied the Republican Party’s orthodoxy by raging against free trade and endless Mideast wars while embracing the Democratic Party’s commitment to preserving Social Security. Yet, Trump also wanted to cut taxes as Ronald Reagan did to stimulate economic growth and to overturn Obamacare.
What’s more, Trump positioned himself as the tribune of America’s forgotten working-class and the besieged middle-class. His presidency was beyond promising. Ultimately, however, his first term was mired in controversy (not all of it his making).
In fact, the recent Durham Report that investigated whether the Democratic Party-led investigation into suspicions that the Trump Campaign in 2016 was somehow influenced by Russian intelligence has concluded that the FBI was wrong to open the investigation because there was no evidence supporting the suspicion.
Donald Trump: Here’s a list of his top five failures
Nevertheless, Donald Trump’s failure to secure a second term; his low popularity numbers—even among fellow Republicans—cannot all be ascribed to the vicious smears that Trump’s enemies in the Democratic Party, the mainstream media, and among establishment Republicans spread about him. Trump himself caused much of his failures as president.
#5 – Failure to Overturn Obamacare
This was the galvanizing force behind the Tea Party movement in 2010, which put the Republicans back on the political map after having been trounced by Barack Obama and the Democrats in the 2008 Presidential Election. It was the issue that drove the GOP from 2010 all the way to the moment that Donald Trump was elected.
In fact, Trump was able to channel the energy of the Tea Party activist wing of the GOP and use that to win the Republican nomination in 2016.
Trump had spent much of the preceding years as a public figure hitting Obama over his deeply unpopular Affordable Care Act (ACA) and basically promising Republicans that, if elected, he’d overturn the divisive bill. After all, while Obamacare did confer affordable health insurance onto millions of Americans who, until the passage of the ACA, went uncovered due to the high cost of personal health insurance, it made health insurance unaffordable to millions of other middle-class people.
Trump had vowed to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. And while he rarely offered a detailed outline of what that’d look like, the few times he did touch on any semblance of a plan, he often spoke about free market solutions to the problem.
Whereas Obama wanted to have the state increase control over one-sixth of the American economy—the healthcare sector—Trump spoke often about allowing Americans to purchase health insurance beyond state lines.
Once elected, Trump was given Republican majorities in Congress to coincide with his election. The American people were giving him their approval to do that which he said he would. Yet, Trump found himself up against a divided GOP.
The House Republicans were led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who loathed Trump and secretly vowed to resist the forty-fifth president whenever it suited him. Despite the antipathy, though, Ryan was able to work with Trump in pushing through a repeal plan for Obamacare in the House.
The moment the Obamacare repeal got to the Senate, however, it was killed—not by the Democrats but by a small group of Republicans.
Specifically, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who himself had campaigned as the GOP presidential nominee in 2008 to stop any state takeover of the private health insurance market. After losing the race in 2008, McCain resisted what became known as Obamacare.
While many argue McCain was a liar, I disagree.
McCain certainly had an ego. And he routinely enjoyed bucking the GOP base. But Trump had rubbed McCain the wrong way in the 2016 campaign when he needlessly attacked McCain’s legacy as a heroic Vietnam War prisoner of war and made fun of him.
McCain certainly didn’t act honorably in response to Trump throughout 2016 (even having a hand in forging the outright lie that was the Christopher Steele memo that undermined and plagued Trump throughout his first term).
Still, Trump’s mistreatment and insults of McCain would come back to haunt the forty-fifth president.
At the eleventh hour, when it seemed as though the GOP would eke out a repeal of Obamacare, McCain decided to give the effort his thumbs down, squelching it in the Senate, and killing it for the duration of Trump’s presidency. It could have gone the other way had Trump just learned to deal with hostile people, like McCain, more diplomatically.
The failure to overturn Obamacare was widely viewed as a serious blow to Trump’s presidency. It had been a centerpiece of his campaign in 2016.
Failure to achieve this goal which had been part of Republican Party orthodoxy for six years before Trump even won the White House, was perceived as Trump not being forceful enough or skilled enough to negotiate with even recalcitrant members of his own party. This failure would dog Trump the remainder of his presidency.
#4 – Couldn’t Build the Wall
The most iconic part of Trump’s 2016 campaign, likely the real reason that he won the nomination from more known conservative names in the 2016 GOP Primary, was that Trump made illegal immigration and border security the crux of his campaign.
According to Trump, Mexico and the other Latin American nations where so many of the illegal immigrants were coming from were not “sending their best.” They were, in Trump’s formulation, “sending people that had lots of problems and they were [bringing] drugs, bringing crime, they’re rapists.”
This resonated deeply with the Republican base, which since 2005 had been irate about the state of America’s southwestern border. The party of law-and-order, the Republicans did not want to see the kind of instability and lawlessness that decades of unchecked illegal immigration into the United States had caused.
They wanted the illegal flow of migration to stop; Americans generally wanted to secure the border to slow the spread of illicit narcotics and firearms, as well as to stop criminals (and possibly terrorists) from entering the country undetected by authorities.
The wall was a symbol of Trump’s commitment. Most people didn’t care how Trump got it done. They just wanted it done. Like repealing Obamacare, had Trump visibly managed to achieve this herculean task, he’d have been unstoppable politically.
Nothing breeds success in politics like achieving one’s fundamental policies while in office. If you want to lose in politics, make a big show of what you plan to accomplish and then fail to accomplish those policies.
Sure, Trump got a little bit of the wall built. But let’s get real. He failed to build the wall. Everyone fundamentally knew it. This weakened him and negated any claims he made about being the great negotiator president.
What was needed was for Trump to sit down with the opposing Democrats and work out a deal that would have allowed for the wall to be built without enraging the Democrats in Washington.
Trump also needed to sit down and deal with Mexico, to devise a way to make them pay for the wall. This is what he ultimately did with the successful United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement on Trade (USMCA).
Trump’s failures on immigration stunted his presidency immeasurably.
He looked weak and incompetent. That he ran around lying about how successful he was in building the wall only weakened his image further among the American people, because everyone could see that the wall was not built.
To be fair, though, Trump did preside over other successful border security programs. But, the powerful image Trump’s wall standing defiantly along the border, channeling the unwanted flows of illegal immigrants into the waiting arms of the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) never came to fruition. It was highly damaging to Trump (and to America).
#3 – Refusal to Fully Implement Protectionism
Trump’s biggest break from Republican Party orthodoxy was avowed opposition to free trade. The belief that if goods and services flowed across borders freely armies would not was a key tenet of the GOP in the modern era. Trump threw that playbook out immediately.
In Trump’s view, the GOP’s obsession with free trade had gotten the United States into many bad deals that had seriously damaging, long-term impacts on the United States.
As Trump saw it, the free trade mania of the mid-twentieth century is what gutted America’s once vibrant manufacturing sector, created a nation of dependents and drug addicts, and helped incubate the threat China poses us today.
After all, it was the decision by Wall Street fat cats to send good, working-and-middle-class manufacturing jobs from the American Midwest to China that inevitably created China’s massive economy and their war machine that now threatens America’s world dominance today.
The world was taking advantage of America. It was time that the United States had a leader who’d end the carnage that free trade had created for all but the most well-connected business and political leaders in the United States. In so doing, Trump hoped to create a renaissance in job creation for the ailing American middle-and-working-class.
Naturally, the Washington elite fought Trump at every turn. Both they and their corporate backers were threatened by this. Who wants to pay decent, livable wages to American workers when they can pay slave wages to workers in the Developing World?
But free trade was sapping America’s vitality.
Should a major war erupt, the United States would lack the kind of latent industrial capacity it enjoyed in the Second World War (that helped it win that conflict), meaning that America might lose to a more industrial nation, such as China.
The biggest impetus, however, was the COVID-19 pandemic. Global supply chains were already brittle and overextended when COVID-19 erupted from Wuhan, China.
Once the world began national lockdowns, the fundamental weaknesses of the globalized economy became apparent. No one could get the things they needed to survive in the pandemic. Prices soared. Resources were constrained. Economies of scale contracted.
COVID-19 was an opportunity for Trump to have forced on-shoring of American companies and to keep them locked up in the United States. Yet, Trump refused to even call for this. Democrats love to tell their people to “never let a crisis go to waste.”
Trump should have been wily enough to do the same. Only unlike the Democrats, had Trump adequately exploited the pandemic to achieve his most controversial MAGA policies—ending free trade—he’d have not only made America better but he’d also have set the United States on a firmer footing for long-term economic revitalization.
It’s no surprise that income inequality and stagnant GDP growth coincided with the loss of manufacturing jobs that provided so many Americans a reliable shot out of poverty.
These jobs were the basis of America’s postwar economic miracle. Washington needlessly murdered the miracle and made Americans more dependent on foreign sources of goods and labor.
Trump’s inability to bring an on-shoring revolution that ultimately killed globalization at least in critical industries in the United States was a supreme failure.
#2 – His COVID-19 Policies
Speaking of COVID-19, President Trump completely dropped the policy ball when it came to the pandemic itself.
He initially praised China’s President Xi Jinping’s handling of the outbreak of the disease—even though he knew fully that the Chinese had fumbled the containment of the disease.
In fact, there was ample enough evidence suggesting that the disease was the creation of a Chinese biosafety level four lab in Wuhan, China, as I exclusively reported during the pandemic.
Sure, Trump joked in public about the “WuFlu” or the “Chinese Virus,” but that was hardly sufficient for the kind of chaos that was being visited upon the American people and economy, thanks to China.
Plus, Americans had a right to definitively know whether the novel coronavirus was a naturally forming illness (unlikely) or if it was leaked—either accidentally or purposely—from a lab in China. Even so, Trump was never really willing to fully press China publicly.
Because Trump never properly identified China as the official culprit behind the disease, the ire of the American people became fixated on the next, most obvious target: Donald Trump.
The forty-fifth president did not win the popular vote in 2016. And by the time COVID had hit American shores, he had already lost the 2018 Midterms. There was a significant reaction against his presidency. The only thing that Trump had going for himself was the fact the economy was going gangbusters during his presidency.
Sadly, Trump’s embrace of the most draconian COVID-19 containment policies destroyed the economy, meaning all his negatives became the only thing that voters saw.
Trump was a germophobe and was naturally frightened of the disease when it first reared its ugly head in America. He also wanted to protect people. Yet, Trump’s decision to trust Dr. Anthony Fauci and the government’s medical team was problematic.
For starters, Fauci and the rest of the government doctors at first insisted that there was no need to lockdown the country in response to the pandemic.
They also insisted that the disease was so little of a threat to America that banning travel and having citizens purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) were unnecessary and an overreaction. A few short weeks later, though, they were insisting Trump “follow the science” and reverse the course they had dictated.
Trump listened. Once he did that, the economy was killed, people were divided, and the government doctors refused to “follow the science” and reopen the country. Trump deferred to these bureaucrats far longer than he should have and ultimately paid the price.
And with each contradictory public pronouncement he made (almost daily during the height of the pandemic), he lost the confidence of the people, did grave damage to the country, and ultimately lost his reelection.
No policy during Trump’s four years was more damaging than his shambolic COVID-19 response.
#1 Firing Mike Flynn & James Comey (Personnel is Policy)
US Army General Mike Flynn was Barack Obama’s director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
A highly respected intelligence practitioner, he soon turned on Obama over the forty-fourth president’s drone program, his handling of the threat that the terrorist group known as ISIS posed to the United States, and Obama’s naïve nuclear deal with Iran.
Because Flynn opposed President Obama, he soon found himself run out of government service.
But Flynn’s opposition to these misguided policies was not political; they were sincere. After all, Flynn came from a long line of Democrats.
Rather than go quietly into that good night, though, Flynn found himself supporting the unconventional Republican Party presidential candidate in 2016, Donald J. Trump. He endeared himself to the soon-to-be forty-fifth president but, in so doing, intensified the Obama camp’s animosity toward him.
As a former intelligence chief with the kind of experience and access he had enjoyed most of his career, Flynn knew where all the intelligence community’s bodies were buried. When Trump was elected, he urged Trump to not make Flynn the next national security adviser.
Trump, naturally, blew off Obama’s bizarre fixation on Flynn.
The explosive conclusion of the Durham Report clearly show that the US intelligence community (IC) had no basis for launching the caustic investigation into suspicions that Trump had illicit ties to Russian intelligence.
Yet, this did not stop the IC from being weaponized by the outgoing Obama Administration to stymie Trump’s attempts to undo the sordid legacy of his predecessor. In order for the IC to crush the Trump presidency in its infancy, it needed Mike Flynn out of the way.
So, they arranged for Flynn’s removal—and got Vice-President Mike Pence to do it for them. Flynn had been keeping things close-to-the-vest, as all career intelligence officers do, and Pence claimed that Flynn had lied about mundane conversation Flynn had had with the Russian ambassador during the transition from the presidency of Barack Obama to that of Donald Trump.
By publicly accusing Flynn of having lied to him, as the vice-president, Trump felt compelled to fire Flynn.
Had Trump not done that, though, and told Pence to butt out, Flynn would have been able to more effectively shape U.S. national security policy while at the same time keeping Trump’s enemies within the politicized IC away from the Trump White House.
Once Flynn was removed, it became open season on President Trump.
Related to that firing was the eventual firing of FBI Director James Comey. Comey was by no means an ally of Donald Trump’s. But Trump should have fired the man the moment he became president.
He didn’t do that because Trump was naïve and believed that Comey was somehow a friend because Comey had reopened the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton at the end of the 2016 election. But Comey was doggedly pursuing Trump for the phantom connections to Russian intelligence.
Trump claimed to have fired Comey for his obsession with the Russian investigation. What Trump failed to realize was that, in firing Comey—who was readying to wrap up his investigation into purported Russia collusion with a finding that Trump had done nothing wrong—Trump created the very pretext that the Democrats needed to drown Trump’s first two years in investigations.
That was precisely what happened.
The firing of Flynn and Comey, for different though related reasons, proved the abject failure of Trump’s presidency as it related to personnel choices. Flynn’s removal was like the breaking of a dam which allowed for the intelligence to flood Trump with investigations and leaks.
Then, Comey’s firing was the smoke that the Congressional Democrats needed to go looking for fire. Though they never found it (because Trump was not a Russian spy), Democrats muddied the political waters enough to give them the momentum needed to defeat the GOP in the 2018 Midterms and weaken Trump politically.
Donald Trump was a dynamic figure in American politics. Despite what his critics say, he did many things to change American politics—for the better. Trump introduced badly needed new ideas and concepts into the stodgy orthodox of the Republican Party.
He also, thankfully, squelched Hillary Clinton’s political ambitions once-and-for-all. Beyond that, however, Trump proved to be unreliable as a political leader and his presidency, because of the five failures listed above, ended in a defeat that has empowered the very elements Trump was elected to keep back from power.
Thus, Trump’s presidency, sadly, was a failure.
A 19FortyFive Senior Editor, Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (May 16), and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (July 23). Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.
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