This Is What Happens When a President Is All Talking Points and No Substance

In case you weren’t paying attention, last week was one of the most erratic in Donald Trump’s presidency.

Trump moved from one topic to the next with all the nuance and precision of a drunken gorilla with a sledgehammer and an eye-patch. He began the week talking about arming teachers, then decided to do away with due process for gun owners with mental issues, then ended his week imposing reckless tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.


Any one of these stances is controversial enough, but to be so publicly bold on all of them within days of each other sends a clear message to the rest of the country: I’m just winging it, you guys.

Lawmakers from both parties do not seem to be enjoying this ride, either.

Heading into a new week, lawmakers still have no sense of what Trump truly wants on guns and other key agenda items — a pattern that leaders of both parties say has hindered their ability to move forward on knotty issues that could benefit from presidential leadership.

After more than a year of the Trump presidency, members of Congress have learned to brace themselves for unpredictable, confusing and often contradictory positions from the commander in chief on issues ranging from health care to immigration to gun rights.

What substantive issue has Trump brought before Congress? He’s talked of a wall that Mexico will pay for, but anything remotely close to a legislative proposal would put American taxpayers on the hook for the project, not Mexican.

The instability of his legislative agenda is matched only by the instability of his White House staff. He has struggled to keep many long-term hires in place, and even the most loyal are forced to deal with his erratic behavior. The good guys, the ones that you at one point could look up to, eventually end up either quitting or corrupted (see: John Kelly and the Rob Porter situation).


When Trump isn’t confusing the hell out of the people working for or with him, he is alienating them via early-morning tweets. God help you if you publicly disagree with him on something because he doesn’t mind pointing the entire twitterverse at you in retaliation.

Trump’s problem is that he is all talking points and little substance. He lives and, some might argue, thrives on having someone he can portray as the villain. To the delight of his fans, he makes up a silly name for someone he doesn’t like and insults them in a tweet, as though he legitimately thinks “That’ll show ’em, yesiree.”

There isn’t, as the linked story above indicates, a single legislative victory for Trump that wasn’t already a major goal of Congressional Republicans. The best solo victory you could give Trump is the successful naming of Neil Gorsuch to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, but Trump could have put virtually anyone forward and Republicans would have given him that victory.

The GOP tax reform legislation was more Paul Ryan’s victory than anyone else’s, and Trump was as much a hindrance there as a help. He has no major policy proposals before the legislative branch in any official format. Sure, he’s called for plenty, but he has not had the presence of mind to continue pushing for it and leading his party to pass anything.


For Trump to be taken seriously, and for him to be considered successful, he will need to actually focus on one issue at a time. If he wants to do something about guns one way or the other, he will need to have real, substantive discussions that don’t involve him repeating the last talking point he heard someone else put out there.

Trump is in a unique place in that he, for better or worse, has full control over the GOP and the popular support behind him to get some things done, but it is impossible for that to happen if he can’t first settle down and focus.


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