After 6 chaotic months, can Trump save presidency?

Donald Trump’s first six months in the White House have been a riot of scandal, chaos and outrage that could spell doom for his entire administration.
All US presidents face crises that seem to sweep the White House from its moorings.
Abraham Lincoln struggled through a bloody Civil War. Bill Clinton was humiliated by muck-raking investigations. Barack Obama took five months to plug a devastating oil spill and even longer to right the economy.
But few presidents have caused such outrage or faced such a multitude of crises as Donald Trump has in his first six months.
“To be consumed by scandal from day one is not good, no major legislation is not good, to have approval ratings that are so low and the potential for Republican defections, all of this is not what you expect,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history at Princeton University.
Trump swaggered into office on January 20 declaring Washington was broke and only a killer businessman such as himself could fix it.
The White House remains understaffed, under-skilled and struggling to attract new talent. Existing staff there admit to being exhausted and demoralised.
Trump’s political agenda has been blown to smithereens: The border “wall” has not been built, NAFTA has not been torn up, the Iran deal is still in place and Obamacare remains the law of the land.
Even with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, the influential and nominally supportive Drudge Report declared this the “Most Unproductive Congress in 164 years.”
Oratorically, Trump has continued where his campaign left off, picking fights with the press, judges, his own party, Democrats and FBI director James Comey, whom he fired.
All the while, a drip of evidence has amplified allegations that his family and aides sought help from Russia to tip the election against Hillary Clinton.
There have been bright spots. The IS group has been virtually defeated in Mosul and in Raqa, the capital of the so-called caliphate, is besieged. Trump has fulfilled his promise to scrap a trans-pacific trade deal, and successfully appointed conservative judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
But Trump wins have been few and far between. “I don’t see these six months as a success and it’s hard for me to see the argument that it was,” said Zelizer.
“History is full of examples of presidents who learn from their mistakes and go on to have major legislative successes,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist at Firehouse Strategies who served in George W. Bush’s administration.
“Presidents are ultimately judged on what they get done and he’s only six months in. There is still plenty of time for them to do a lot. He could still end up being a highly successful president.”
But changes would be needed, Conant admits. Even Republicans have criticised Trump’s recent failed efforts to push his own healthcare reforms over the line.
But Trump’s character could equally prove his administration’s worst enemy.
“A lot of the problems he faces are him, and he’s not going to change his personality,” said Zelizer.
Michael Signer, the Democratic Mayor of Charlottesville and a lecturer at the University of Virginia said “the path to legitimacy” for Trump “would be to signal his embrace of our traditional norms and our checks and balances”.
If nothing changes, Trump’s approval ratings — already historically low at 40 per cent — could portend a shellacking in the 2018 midterm elections.
“If Democrats strengthen their size or gain power in one or both chambers then the president is in for a ride,” said Zelizer, predicting impeachment hearings and wholesale pushback.
— AFP

Andrew Beatty