WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 28:   US President Donald Trump makes remarks as he hosts a listening session with the Fraternal Order of Police in the Roosevelt Room of the  White House on March 28, 2017  in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Ron Sach-Pool/Getty Images)
Can Trump turn political chaos into victory?
01:17 - Source: CNN

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Trump is either unwilling or incapable of anything approaching the sort of discipline that the presidency demands

Of Trump's first 72 days in office, only two could reasonably be declared clear victories for him

CNN  — 

Way back in December 2015, Jeb Bush said something incredibly prescient about Donald Trump.

“Donald, you know, is great at the one-liners,” said Bush at the final GOP debate of the year. “But, he’s a chaos candidate. And he’d be a chaos president.”

No one paid much attention at the time. Voters were a month away from, you know, voting. Trump was riding high and Jeb(!) was, um, not. But, on the 73rd full day of the Trump presidency, it’s clear that Jeb’s prediction was spot on.

Trump’s tendency toward chaos – creating it if it didn’t exist or reveling in it when it did – served him well as a candidate. It kept his opponents – in both the Republican primary and the general election – off balance. Hillary Clinton learned the hard way how challenging it is to run against someone whose only guiding light is unpredictability. Because Trump never did anything by the book, it was incredibly tough for Clinton to ever get her feet under her; she was forever second- and third-guessing what to do and when to do it.

And, because the American public tends not to pay terribly close attention to the nitty-gritty of a campaign, Trump’s one-liner confectionaries were a perfect fit. People ate them up because, well, it was more fun than what the other candidates were saying. Would you rather watch Trump attack “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz or “Little” Marco Rubio or spectate a dry policy discussion about tax reform? Be honest.

The problem for Trump is that while his embrace of chaos fit a campaign perfectly, it’s turned out to be far less beneficial for him since he’s entered the White House. The presidency tends to reward discipline and strategic planning. For the first few years, you are really running a race against yourself: How much can you get done of your agenda before the concerns of Congress turn toward their awaiting fate in the midterm elections?

To prosper as president, you need to have both a short-term (daily/weekly) strategy of what you want to talk about and how you want to talk about it and a long-term strategy blueprint aimed at getting re-elected in four years. Then – and this is the most important thing for any president – you have to stick to the plan. You have to avoid being sidetracked by every daily molehill. Turn too many of those into mountains and even the best strategy fails.

Trump is either unwilling or – and this idea should terrify Republicans looking to hold their congressional majorities in 2018 – incapable of anything approaching that sort of discipline. At public events he often spends 10 minutes (or more) making off-the-cuff remarks before finally delivering the speech his staff has written for him. Those off-the-cuff remarks – wait for it – often lead the news and blot out his chosen message of the day. Then there is the Twitter feed which the President uses as part flag-waving for his most loyal supporters and part score-settling tool for his enemies – real and imagined.

Add it up and you get chaos – a disorganized jumble of messages, policies and actions that have had Trump and Republicans on the defensive for the lion’s share of his time in the White House. In fact, in thinking back on Trump’s first 72 days as President, I can think of only two that could reasonably be declared clear victories for him:

1. His nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court

2. His speech before a joint session of Congress.

A quick bit of math yields this: Less than 3 percent of the total days he has spent in the White House have been good ones for Trump. (It’s 2.7 percent, to be exact.) That’s horrible in a vacuum. It’s even worse when you consider that Trump is now three-quarters of the way through his first 100 days, the period that new presidents view as their best chance to get major things done legislatively.

A course correction is clearly needed. But, this is Donald Trump we’re talking about. To make a course correction, you would first have to admit a mistake in navigation has been made. And he doesn’t admit to making mistakes. Not ever.

For Republicans, that means one very simple thing: Buckle up, because the ride is going to get even bumpier.