It’s time to close the books on the first chapter of the Donald Trump era in Washington as both Congress and the president head out for a couple of weeks of August vacation.
So how did things go? Well, not very good.
The president promised to repeal Obamacare as soon as he took office. He didn’t. He and the Republican Congress pledged to get corporate tax reform done by August. Nope. Trump also promised to deliver a booming economy and tons of new jobs. Also … no. At least not yet.
Trump leaves for his two weeks in New Jersey with another strong jobs report showing a gain of 209,000 and a small decline in unemployment to 4.3 percent. The stock market is also rocking, with the Dow over 22,000 for the first time.
Trump loves to brag about both things. He’s tweeted and talked about the market more than a dozen times over the last month. And he jumped on the “excellent jobs numbers” on Twitter Friday morning.
But facts are stubborn things. And the trend in job growth is almost exactly the same as it was last year under President Barack Obama. In fact, it’s just a touch slower. Wage gains aren’t picking up speed either. Economic growth is running along at the same 2 percent pace we’ve seen for years. And, of course, on the campaign trail Trump dismissed almost identical jobs numbers as “total fiction” and claimed the real unemployment rate was 40 percent or more. We don’t hear much of that talk these days.
Trump’s market performance is also slightly behind that of Barack Obama’s and Bill Clinton’s first six months and well off that of George H.W. Bush.
Trump has done virtually nothing on the economic policy front aside from rolling back some Obama-era environmental regulations while pledging to do the same for banks.
On the non-economic front, he left D.C. amid fresh news that the special counsel probing ties between his campaign and Russia had impaneled a grand jury to issue subpoenas and hear testimony. Congress is now considering a bipartisan law to stop Trump from firing the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
Republicans also ignored Trump’s complaints about their Russia sanctions bill and sent it to his desk where the president had no choice but to sign or force a humiliating veto override. The Senate also ignored Trump’s exhortations to try yet again to kill Obamacare.
The GOP is now clearly willing to ignore — or even box in — the president when they feel it is necessary. Part of the reason is that Trump has historically low approval ratings, just 33 percent in the latest Quinnipiac survey, while 61 percent in the poll disapproved of the job he’s done.
In just the last week, Trump got into fights with the Boy Scouts and Golf Magazine. His latest communications director lasted about a week. So far, he’s fired and forced out his chief of staff, national security advisor, FBI director and several other high-level staffers. He’s publicly attacked his own attorney general.
That all sounds pretty bad. And it is. But Trump also leaves town with at least the hope that his new chief of staff, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, may instill some desperately needed order on a raucous and leaky West Wing.
Prospects for a significant tax-reform bill remain fairly good, with the administration and congressional officials hoping to have legislation ready by early September. If Congress can fund the government past September, lift the debt limit by October and get a tax bill done by early next year, Trump has a chance to improve his fortunes by the time the 2018 midterms roll around.
But the Mueller probe is out of his hands. And if he fires Mueller he could finally ignite a total revolt by members of his own party. It remains a very open question whether Kelly, or anyone else, can temper Trump’s inclination toward a chaotic and undisciplined management style.
The second chapter of the Trump era, beginning next month, could see more winning and less chaos. But don’t bet on it.
— Ben White is Politico’s chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. He also authors the daily tip sheet Politico Morning Money. Follow him on Twitter @morningmoneyben.