The Ordinary Presidency of Donald J. Trump

Jon Herbert, Trevor McCrisken, Andrew Wroe

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The Ordinary Presidency of Donald J. Trump

Palgrave Studies in Political Leadership

ISBN 978-3-030-04942-3 ISBN 978-3-030-04943-0 (eBook)
Library of Congress Control Number: 2018965228
© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2019


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 978-3-030-04943-0 (eBook)
 The Editor(s) (if applicable) 
 and The Author(s) 2019

Many people contribute to the writing of a book, not just the authors.
The book’s central thesis received a particularly strong grilling at the UK
Political Studies Association American Politics Group’s annual conference
at the University of Oxford in January 2018. The “peace through
strength” argument of the foreign policy chapter received helpful comments
and suggestions when presented at the BISA US Foreign Policy
Working Group conference at Liverpool John Moores University and at
a joint workshop in Oxford between the Miller Center of Public Affairs
at the University of Virginia and the Rothermere American Institute,
both in September 2018. The book is much stronger as a result of those interrogations.

We would like to thank all those that have read parts or the whole of
the manuscript and/or listened to us discussing Mr. Trump ad nauseam
for the past two years. These include Ivan Wroe, Tom Watts, Rubrick
Biegon, Edward Ashbee, Tom Wraight, Ben Gannon, Jon Parker,
Michael Tappin, the anonymous Palgrave reviewer and other colleagues
in our departments at Keele, Warwick and Kent. We would also like to
thank Rob Singh who was instrumental in getting this project off the
ground. Amanda Gosling requires special thanks, not only for reading
the manuscript several times, but also for contributing to the statistical
analysis in Chapter 4.

Coauthoring with two other people brings with it various challenges,
including how to make sure you’re not undoing the good work that
one of your colleagues has just spent hours drafting. We have genuinely
enjoyed working with each other, however, and each of us believes this
book is stronger throughout for our combined energy, dedication and,
hopefully, insights.

The staff at Palgrave Macmillan have done a sterling job in guiding
this book to publication. Ambra Finotello, Palgrave’s editor on our side
of the pond, was extremely enthusiastic about the project and picked it
up. Michelle Chen then took control on the American side and has displayed
exquisite professionalism in the face of our sometime tardiness.
John Stegner has guided the manuscript through the production process
with equal professionalism. Thank you for answering our many queries
with good grace and for your steady hand on the production tiller.
Each of our families deserves a special mention, not least for their
patience as we spent many hours away from them watching Trump’s
presidency unfold, scratching our heads as we tried to figure out what it
all meant, and writing and rewriting the chapters of our book. Rebecca
Elliott, Jackie Clarke and Amanda Gosling can have us back now, as can
all our children to whom we have dedicated this book.
While everyone above has helped make the book better than it
would otherwise have been, we alone, of course, are responsible for its limitations.
October 2018 Jon Herbert
Trevor McCrisken

Andrew Wroe

The Ordinary Presidency of the Extraordinary Donald J. Trump

“Today, I stand before the United Nations General Assembly to share the
extraordinary progress we’ve made. In less than two years, my administration
has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history
of our country…. So true.” Donald J. Trump address at 73rd Session
of the United Nations General Assembly Annual General Debate in New
York City, September 25, 2018.

Donald J. Trump has a very high opinion of himself and elicits the most
extreme opinions in others. Almost no one is coolly objective on the
man or his presidency. Some regard him as a disruptor and outsider
who has challenged the cozy status quo of entrenched special interests
and a corrupt political system that served the elites not the masses. In
this view, he speaks truth to power on behalf of the millions of forgotten,
downtrodden and economically insecure Americans whose
jobs disappeared or are being threatened by a globalized marketplace
in goods, services and the means of production. Trump has also rallied
these “left-behinds” in the face of an alleged immigrant tide that
is submerging traditional American values and culture, proliferating
crime and threatening national security. He has, his cheerleaders argue,
broken the mold of American politics by constructing a new winning
election coalition of God-fearing, culturally conservative, white working-
class voters and by remaking the Republican Party in his image. The
rock-solid backing of party supporters, and especially its activists, instils
fear, respect and discipline in the Republican congressional caucus,
which has been harnessed to achieve a string of ground-breaking policy
triumphs on the economy, tax cuts, deregulation, immigration, security
and more. His challenge to the established order extends beyond
America’s shores and includes his attacks on globalist international
organizations such as the United Nations, NATO and the International
Criminal Court as well as hated multinational environmental and trade
agreements including the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the
Trans-Pacific Partnership. According to his admirers, he has succeeded
in his pledge to Make America Great Again at home and abroad.
To Trump’s supporters, his outsiderness, populism, nationalism,
America First patriotism and rebellious disruption are celebrated in
themselves and held up as reasons for his many extraordinary accomplishments.
To his detractors, however, these characteristics are precisely
what they fear. They see a deeply flawed character wholly unsuited to
the job of president—mendacious, narcissistic, quickly bored and
distracted, misogynistic and ethnocentric, thin skinned and easily
provoked, stunningly ill-informed yet utterly convinced of his own brilliance
and intelligence. They believe he is incapable of remedying his
ignorance in part because he does not recognize it and further because
he cannot assimilate new information into his long-fixed worldview.
His character flaws interact with his politics in most unappealing ways:
An unapologetic racist playing on the base fears of vulnerable citizens,
offering simplistic yet dangerous solutions to inordinately complex public
policy problems; a bombastic, undiplomatic ignoramus lumbering
across the world-stage upending decades-old and even centuries-old alliances
and the international organizations that America built and which
have sustained its dominance, all while cozying up to dictators and
demagogues and affronting supposed friends and allies.
Perhaps even worse, according to critics, is Trump’s complete disdain
for democratic institutions, structures and processes. At stake, they
argue, is nothing less than America’s constitutional democracy itself.

Anyone or anything that threatens, even minimally, Trump’s status and
power is roundly attacked in the most vicious terms. His assaults on an
inquisitive and robust media holding power to account are emblematic
of the way Trump deals with any democratic opposition: They are belittled
and delegitimized. He will trash anything and anyone that stands
in his way. He puts his own ends before the democratic health of the
United States. This is not an America First presidency, but a Trump
First presidency. The media is thus labeled the “enemy of the American
people” and the journalists who staff it are “horrible, horrendous people”
promulgating “fake and disgusting news” based on “fictional”
anonymous sources. Investigating the internal deliberations of government
is “unpatriotic” and puts people’s lives at risk. The freedom of the
press to write whatever it wants is “disgusting…and someone should
look into it” and libel laws need “opening up” to allow Trump and others
to sue more easily. No institution or individual, save his immediate
family, seems safe from Trump’s democracy-threatening invective.
While these two views of Trump are polar opposites, they share a
common assumption: that Trump’s presidency is extraordinary. In the
one view, it is extraordinarily good; in the other, extraordinarily bad; in
both, extraordinarily different from any previous presidency. This book
challenges these assumptions. The argument here and in the following
pages is that Trump may well be an extraordinary individual, but that
his is nonetheless an ordinary presidency. Before setting out what this
seemingly counter-intuitive claim means, it is important to be clear
about what it does not mean. This book does not claim that Trump is
an ordinary president, but rather that his presidency is ordinary. Indeed,
in the history of the United States, it is unlikely that there has been a
more unusual, unorthodox, unconventional, unordinary president.
On practically every criterion, Trump is an extraordinary man and an
extraordinary president. It would be futile to argue otherwise, and readers
will not find that argument made here.
To understand how and why Trump’s presidency is ordinary it is useful
to think about the way he approaches and executes this most difficult
of jobs—what we call the methodology of the president—and to
contrast this with the outcomes or accomplishments of his presidency.
It is common and useful in many walks of life to contrast style and
substance, process and policy, words and deeds, rhetoric and action, and
promises made and promises kept. It is useful here, too. In each of these
binary pairs, it is the former that speaks to Trump’s methodology and
underpins his extraordinariness. In style, process, words, rhetoric and
promises made, Trump is a most extraordinary president. But in substance,
policy, deeds, action and promises kept, Trump’s presidency is
not extraordinary. Indeed, it is ordinary—largely conventional, orthodox
and conservative, rather than revolutionary or radical. Consider
this assessment by Peter Baker, the New York Times White House correspondent
and respected Trump watcher, at the end of the president’s
first year in office:
[Trump] has spent much of his first year in office defying the conventions
and norms established by the previous 44 [presidents], and transforming
the presidency in ways that were once unimaginable. Under Mr Trump,
it has become a blunt instrument to advance personal, policy and political
goals. He has revolutionized the way presidents deal with the world
beyond 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, dispensing with the carefully modulated
messaging of past chief executives in favor of no-holds-barred, crystal-
breaking, us-against-them, damn-the-consequences blasts borne out of
gut and grievance. (Baker 2017)

Table of Contents

1 Introduction: The Ordinary Presidency
of the Extraordinary Donald J. Trump 1

2 A Trump Revolution? 13

3 Trump’s Electoral Politics 49

4 Trump the Ordinary Republican 71

5 Trump, the Media and the Public 103

6 Trump in the White House 135

7 Trump and Congress 157

8 Trump’s Ordinary Foreign Policy 185

9 Conclusion: Extraordinary President, Ordinary
Presidency 215
Appendix 223
Bibliography 225
Index 237

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