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Trump's first 100 days are a crash course in Politics 101

  • Many of President Trump's priorities — repealing Obamacare, fair trade, lower taxes — have succumbed to political reality during his first hundred days in office.
  • Trump has appeared frustrated that the tough talk on trade that helped him connect with blue-collar voters in the Rust Belt has run into a political logjam on Capitol Hill.
  • Despite reports that a unilateral withdrawal from NAFTA was possibly coming this week, Trump agreed to not terminate the deal in a phone call with Mexico and Canada.
President Donald Trump arrives aboard Air Force One at the Philadelphia International Airport, January 26, 2017.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
President Donald Trump arrives aboard Air Force One at the Philadelphia International Airport, January 26, 2017.

As a real estate developer, Donald Trump made his name by mastering the art of the deal. But as president, he is still learning to navigate the art of the possible.

Trump entered the White House with bold promises to move swiftly on the aggressive agenda laid out during his unorthodox and free-wheeling campaign: Repeal and replace Obamacare. Cut taxes for households and businesses. Renegotiate long-standing free-trade agreements — or simply rip them up. But his administration has found that despite the president's hard-line rhetoric, many of his priorities have succumbed to political reality during his first 100 days in office.

"All presidents have to make the transition from campaigning to governing," said Lanhee Chen, head of domestic policy studies at Stanford University and a top advisor to Mitt Romney during his 2012 presidential campaign. "To a certain degree, one can and should expect growing pains in the process — some of that can be alleviated with a solid policy structure during the campaign and in the transition — but the process will never be perfectly seamless."

The president himself has acknowledged the steep learning curve at critical moments during his young term. During the debate last month over the House GOP plan to unwind Obamacare, for example, the White House demanded that the bill get a vote, an attempt to sway conservatives who remained skeptical of the deal.

But Republican leadership was ultimately forced to withdraw the legislation rather than risk an even more embarrassing defeat.

Trump offered a brief reflection on the events shortly after the vote was canceled. Though he pointed the finger at Democrats, he also suggested that his administration had not been entirely clear on the rules of the game.

"It certainly was an interesting period of time. We all learned a lot. We learned a lot about loyalty," he told reporters in the Oval Office. "We learned a lot about the vote-getting process. We learned a lot about some very arcane rules in, obviously, both the Senate and in the House."

More recently, Trump has appeared frustrated that the tough talk on trade that helped him connect with blue-collar voters in the Rust Belt has run into a political logjam on Capitol Hill. Trump's contract with voters unveiled during the election listed renegotiating NAFTA as his first priority in protecting American workers. He vowed to begin within the first 100 days of his term, but his administration has not officially started.

"We have all sorts of rules and regulations that are horrendous," Trump said during a speech earlier this month at a factory in Wisconsin. "Like, we wanted to start to negotiate with Mexico immediately, and we have these provisions where you have to wait long periods of time. You have to notify Congress. And after you notify Congress, you have to get certified. And then you can't speak to them for 100 days."

To reopen a trade deal, the White House must meet with lawmakers in both the House and Senate and then submit a formal notice of intent. But several senators said they will not meet with the administration until Robert Lighthizer, the nominee for U.S. trade representative, is confirmed. That is not expected to happen until next month at the earliest.

On Wednesday, reports that some White House officials were drafting an executive order that may have signaled a unilateral withdrawal from the long-standing treaty sent the Mexican peso plunging 1.7 percent. Despite having called NAFTA a "disaster," Trump quickly moved to tamp down that speculation. In a phone call with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he agreed not to terminate the deal.

"It is my privilege to bring NAFTA up to date through renegotiation," Trump said, according to a White House readout of the call. "I believe that the end result will make all three countries stronger and better."

Still, Trump often veers off script. Hours after issuing the statement, he tweeted that withdrawal was still an option if negotiations turned sour.

The mixed message mirrored the White House's attempt to insist on funding for the president's signature wall along the Mexican border in a spending bill to keep the government running — a request that Democrats had labeled a "poison pill."

The demand threw a wrench into weeks of delicate negotiations on Capitol Hill between top lawmakers from both parties. The administration eventually agreed to hold off on its request until the fall.

As lawmakers worked toward a final compromise Thursday, Trump once again turned to Twitter to pick up the fight.

"Democrats used to support border security — now they want illegals to pour through our borders," he wrote.

The first 100 days are an arbitrary barometer of success, but it is a milestone the president considers a milestone as well. And political analysts said the narrative set in motion during an administration's earliest days can shape the rest of a president's term.

"This is definitely a preview of the next 3.5 years," said Tim Miller, a Republican strategist who ran former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's campaign and has been a vocal Trump critic. "Trump's style is frenetic, and it's hard to imagine it changing much in office."