Donald Trump will either be the most successful president of all time, or he will break more promises than any presidential candidate ever.
One of the many quirks of Trump's campaign was that he promised voters the world. And it wasn't subtle or couched; he was going to get it all done. In fact, he literally promised “to make possible every dream you've ever dreamed.” He repeated that pledge on Monday.
The Washington Post's Sean Sullivan and Dana Priest have a good, thorough piece today running through the practicality of many of his biggest legislative and executive goals — including repealing the Affordable Care Act, undoing President Obama's immigration executive actions, building a border wall, renegotiating free trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement and instituting the largest tax cut since Ronald Reagan (while, at the same time, ballooning things such as infrastructure spending).
But many of his promises were much bigger and more abstract than that. They were aspirational. They were things Trump would do by force of will and/or with his superior negotiating strength. For instance:
- He said he would have a "100 percent chance” of getting rid of the Islamic State — that his plan was “foolproof.”
- He promised dozens of times to somehow make Mexico pay for the border wall.
- He has said that “the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon — and I mean very soon — come to an end.”
- He has promised, in varying ways, to deport hundreds of thousands of criminal illegal immigrants almost instantly. He has also said that no Americans will be victimized by illegal immigrant crime when he's president.
- He promised to “be the greatest jobs president that God ever created,” repeatedly.
Trump's odds of accomplishing his legislative goals have certainly been improved by the GOP holding both the House and the Senate. That will make doing things like repealing the Affordable Care Act much easier. But the things above are much more complicated than passing laws. They involve many things that are outside a president's control, and they would be exceedingly difficult for even a great president to accomplish.
The question from there is whether he'll be judged accordingly — especially by his most ardent supporters.
One of the other quirks of Trump's campaign was that, while the media took most everything he said at face value, many of his supporters didn't seem to. They seemed to like the way he was talking and thinking big, even if they didn't think he necessarily meant much of it.
The wall is a telling example of how supporters interpreted Trump's promises. While polling showed 66 percent of Trump supporters thought he would succeed in building the wall, another poll showed just 48 percent thought he could actually get Mexico to pay for it.
And still another poll showed only 18 percent of Trump supporters thought it “very likely” that he would succeed on that count. And yet, they cheered.
So do Trump supporters really think he will end crime and violence? Do they really think criminal illegal immigrants will instantly be gone? Do they really expect his jobs record to be unprecedented? Perhaps not literally.
But there are things Trump promised that the base will likely expect him to deliver on. Chief among them is repealing the Affordable Care Act, certainly, but also renegotiating trade agreements and possibly even putting Hillary Clinton in jail (or at least appointing a special prosecutor). That last one seems a particularly unlikely way for Trump to actually begin his presidency, but if he doesn't follow through, he risks alienating tens of millions of people who loved it as a rallying cry.
Similarly, if the Islamic State and terrorism continue to loom as a threat — or even, God forbid, succeed in striking the United States — that would be a major broken promise that would be very real to Americans who believed (or even just hoped) Trump would end the threat.
Broken promises, of course, are the domain of pretty much any presidency. Obama has certainly broken some high-profile ones, including closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba and ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars quickly. He also previously pledged not to put boots on the ground in the battle to fight the Islamic State, and now he has — albeit not “combat troops.” PolitiFact has tracked more than 500 Obama promises and found that he has broken 22 percent of them and only completely kept 45 percent.
But Trump's promises far outstrip anything that basically any other serious presidential candidate has ever promised. His braggadocio demanded that he make big promises about being the best at everything and making everyone's dreams come true.
At the time, to be honest, we all thought that he would lose and that he would never be put in the position of actually delivering on them. But now it's time to see if he can cash the checks his mouth has written.