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Why Trump's Poor Start Matters

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter
Image: Protesters take part in the \"Tax March\" to in Washington, DC.
Protesters take part in the "Tax March" to in Washington, DC.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter

Why Trump’s poor start matters

We are 12 days away from Donald Trump’s 100th as president, but it isn’t too early to proclaim his start as the poorest in the modern era. Consider:

  • Trump’s approval rating stands at 41%, according to Gallup’s latest tracking, which is lower than Barack Obama’s 62%, George W. Bush’s 59%, and Bill Clinton’s 52% at this same point in time of their presidencies.
  • Trump’s first substantial policy change — his travel ban — remains tied up in the courts.
  • His biggest early legislative priority — repealing and replacing Obamacare — couldn’t get off the ground in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, even as Trump and Republicans have tried to revive it.
  • Republicans are divided on how to proceed on his second-biggest legislative priority — comprehensive tax reform.
  • And the GOP’s performance in the first special congressional election of the Trump Era was underwhelming, with an even higher-profile special election taking place tomorrow.

This isn’t to say that Trump’s first 100 days have lacked successes or have failed to follow through on campaign promises — see his immigration policies or the rolling back of Obama’s regulations. But here’s why Trump’s poor start matters: A president’s first three months in office are the EASIEST time to rack up legislative wins that can’t be simply erased by the next president. The honeymoon phase, traditionally, has been when a president’s power with his own party, with the opposition, and with independents is at its highest. But there’s been no honeymoon at all for the nation’s 45th president. And that’s arguably been the major storyline of Trump’s first 100 days in office.

And why Trump’s poor start doesn’t matter as much

All of that said, the first 100 days don’t make or break a presidency. It was after George W. Bush’s first three months in office when the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Iraq war took place. It was after the 100-day mark when Barack Obama’s health-care law was signed into law. And it was well into Bill Clinton’s, Bush 43, and Obama’s second terms when they experienced the lows of their presidencies (the Lewinsky affair, the crash of Lehman Brothers, and the HealthCare.Gov woes). So it’s entirely possible that Trump’s trajectory will be different than his predecessors’. After all, we have another 1,300 days (!!!) to go until Election Day 2020. But if you can’t make things work during the honeymoon phase, you’re not going to have an easier time as the marriage — with all of its inevitable ups and downs — ages.

The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia

Tomorrow is the special congressional election in Georgia to fill HHS Secretary Tom Price’s old seat, and here are the recent developments in that highly watched contest: “Republicans and Democrats have spent $14 million on a nonstop ad blitz to sway Georgia’s special election. But the outcome of Tuesday’s vote may come down to a more personal touch… On Saturday alone, campaigns and staffers for outside groups knocked on thousands of doors and made tens of thousands of phone calls. At a Republican get-out-the-vote rally in Marietta, Republicans tried to unite behind a ‘Stop [Democrat Jon] Ossoff” movement,’” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes… Samuel L. Jackson is giving Dems a boost in a new radio ad... The latest analysis from 538: “Even if Ossoff finishes in the low 40s, it will be hard to rule him out in the second round provided that he still finishes in first place by a comfortable margin. But even if Ossoff finishes just a point or two shy of 50 percent, and Democrats finish with more votes than Republicans overall, he won’t have any guarantees in the runoff given that it’s a Republican-leaning district and that the GOP will have a chance to regroup.”

Tensions rising with North Korea

“The era of strategic patience is over,” Pence says: Here are all of the different moving parts regarding the escalating tensions between the United States and North Korea: In remarks from South Korea, “Vice President Mike Pence warned North Korea not to test the strength of America's military might, underlining a message that the Trump administration sought to bring peace through strength... ‘On behalf of President Trump, my message to South Korea is this — we are with you 100 percent,’ he said, adding the ‘era of strategic patience is over,’” per NBC News… When asked on CNN what "the era of strategic patience is over," Pence responded, "It was the policy of the United States of America during the prior administrations to practice what they called strategic patience. And that was to hope to marshal international support to bring an end to the nuclear ambition and the ballistic missile program of North Korea. That clearly has failed."… On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Sen. John McCain called North Korea “the first test, real test, of the Trump presidency.”… And one analyst tells the New York Times that the entire situation is “the Cuban missile crisis in slow motion.”

Turkey votes, by narrow margin, to fundamentally reshape that country’s democracy

Meanwhile, voters in Turkey — by a narrow 51%-49% margin on Sunday — gave President Erdogan broad new powers that fundamentally reshape that government’s democracy. “The outcome is expected to have a huge effect on Turkey's long-term political future and its international relations. Although the result, if officially confirmed, would fall short of the sweeping victory Erdogan had sought, but nevertheless cements his hold on the country's governance,” the AP writes. The New York Times has more: “The constitutional change will allow the winner of the 2019 presidential election to assume full control of the government, ending the current parliamentary political system… The new system will, among other changes:

  • Abolish the post of prime minister and transfer executive power to the president.
  • Allow the newly empowered president to issue decrees and appoint many judges and officials responsible for scrutinizing his decisions.
  • Limit the president to two five-year terms, but give the option of running for a third term if Parliament truncates the second one by calling for early elections.
  • Allow the president to order disciplinary inquiries into any of Turkey’s 3.5 million civil servants, according to an analysis by the head of the Turkish Bar Association.”

Reminder: Trump not releasing his tax returns breaks precedent with every modern American president

Tax Day 2017 is officially tomorrow (due to April 15 falling on a Saturday and due to holidays), but President Trump fired off these tweets Sunday in response to the anti-Trump tax rallies from over the weekend:

  • “I did what was an almost an impossible thing to do for a Republican-easily won the Electoral College! Now Tax Returns are brought up again?”
  • “Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday. The election is over!”

But here’s a reminder: The reason that tax returns are being brought up is that every modern American president has released theirs during tax-filing time (Trump has said he isn’t releasing his because he’s under audit):

April 15, 2009: “U.S. President Barack Obama made nearly $2.5 million in 2008 from the sales of his two best-selling memoirs, according to tax information released by the White House on Wednesday. Obama jointly filed his 2008 federal income tax return with his wife Michelle, reporting an adjusted gross income of $2,656,902 and paying $855,323 in federal income tax and $77,883 in state income taxes, the White House said,” per Reuters.

April 14, 2001: “President Bush, who has touted tax cutting as a top priority of his new administration, paid $240,342 in federal taxes last year on an adjusted gross income of $894,880, according to documents released Friday. But Bush's income and taxes were dwarfed by Vice President Dick Cheney, the former oil executive, who reported making $36 million and paying $14.3 million in taxes in 2000," per the Houston Chronicle.

April 15, 1993: “Like lots of other taxpayers, Bill and Hillary Clinton wrote a check to the Internal Revenue Service... Their federal income taxes totaled $70,228 - 24 percent of an adjusted gross income of $290,697, according to copies of the return released by the White House,” per the Washington Post.

Indeed, here are the tax filings for every modern president going back to Jimmy Carter, according to the Tax History Project. (Gerald Ford didn’t release his returns, but did release summary data.)

Trump’s Day

President Trump participates in the annual White House Easter Egg Roll at 10:30 am ET, and then he meets with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at 1:30 pm ET; White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer holds his press briefing at 2:00 pm ET.

What were other presidents doing on April 17?