1. Trump’s mounting falsehoods
- Trump’s false or misleading claims more than tripled during his second year in office, from 2,140 in his first year to 7,546 through his first 700 days. And while few Americans believe Trump’s false statements, one-fourth of respondents in The Washington Post’s first Fact Checker poll still believe the president’s repeated — and debunked — falsehoods.
2. The ever-growing investigations into Trump and his associates
- Nearly every Trump-led organization was under investigation by the end of his second year in office, and new revelations in the 17 known investigations surrounding Trump brought a flurry of reactions from judges, lawyers and of course, Trump himself. Trump also intensified his PR campaign to discredit the investigations, which may intensify in 2019 with reports that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III could be nearing the end of his investigation into Russian election interference.
3. Trump’s shifting rhetoric
- After the killing of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October, Trump initially warned of “severe punishment.” But by the time the CIA concluded Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was probably involved, Trump had pivoted to openly questioning his own intelligence officials. The Khashoggi shifts fit into a pattern of Trump changing his story as facts became clearer, from hush-money payments to his alleged former lovers during the 2016 campaign to continuing to question Russian election interference to ever-shifting price tags for a wall (or “steel slats”) on the southern border.
4. Congressional (in)action
- From appropriations to criminal justice to opioids to a farm bill, Congress showed it could pass bipartisan legislation despite continued near-record low approval ratings. But Congress also reflected an increasingly divided country in 2018, failing to act on the growing number of deaths from gun violence, fostering an ever-divisive nominating process, conducting partisan investigations and finishing the year with a partial government shutdown, the third of 2018.
5. The Trump show
- Even as Trump’s White House at times went weeks without a news conference in 2018, Trump himself relied on interviews and television much more during his second year. In the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections, Trump had near-daily interviews, held multiple rallies per week and unleashed a flurry of tweets. And Trump relied on TV networks to broadcast his fights with congressional leaders and the media, at times to distract from other news.
6. The Trump economy
- For months, regardless of the day’s news, Trump always had a reliable pivot: the economy. U.S. stock markets hit records in September, second-quarter GDP growth topped 4 percent and unemployment continued to drop. But as Trump ramped up his trade wars, touted nonexistent economic policies and leveled frequent attacks on the Federal Reserve, markets became increasingly spooked and key stock benchmarks entered bear market territory by the end of 2018. These metrics, combined with rising deficits, spurred in part by underwhelming economic growth and revenue from Trump’s tax cuts, all point to an increasingly likely recession ahead of the 2020 elections.
7. What 2018 means for 2020
- Record Democratic gains in the 2018 midterm elections may have opened new electoral college advantages for Democrats in 2020, but those advantages may ultimately come down to the party’s presidential nominee. While Trump continued to double down on his base — betting his voters won’t care what Mueller finds — it is unclear whether Trump’s base alone will be enough to win reelection in 2020.
8. Political (in)civility
- In 2018, Republicans and Democrats moved further away from former first lady Michelle Obama’s 2016 mantra: “When they go low, we go high.” Former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. told Democrats to fight back, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) called for the harassment of political opponents and Hillary Clinton all but advocated for incivility. Then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke took a shot at a congressman’s struggle with alcoholism, Republicans ran candidates with ties to white nationalists and Trump mocked a woman who accused then-Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexual assault. According to an October PBS NewsHour-NPR-Marist poll, nearly 80 percent of Americans think this incivility will lead to violence.
9. Trump’s unpredictable foreign policy
- Even as Trump’s “hawkish isolationism” continued in 2018, clamping down on immigration while ramping up protectionist trade policies, his foreign policy doctrine was often defined by its unpredictability: An on-then-off-then-on North Korea summit; dismissing, then accepting U.S. intelligence on Russian election interference; accepting, then dismissing U.S. intelligence on Khashoggi’s killing; and decreasing, then increasing, then decreasing troop levels abroad, losing multiple foreign policy officials in the process.
10. Trump’s “hot” White House
- Trump’s unprecedented White House turnover continued in 2018, even as he said everyone wants to work in his “hot” White House. Trump is set to enter year three on his third chief of staff and without replacements confirmed to head the Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Interior and Defense departments.
11. The tweets continue
- Trump continued to suck the oxygen out of the year on Twitter with spelling errors, new nicknames, new insults, assertions about his intelligence, complaining about his loneliness, tweets about his nuclear button size, tweets about steel slats, asking for apologies from network heads, touting Michael Jordan, potentially violating an HBO trademark, calling himself “Tariff Man,” referring to himself in the third person and of course, “WITCH HUNT!”