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You wouldn’t know it from the amount of attention President Trump seems to be paying to it, but the 100-day standard is not much of a guide to the future success of failure of a presidency. Ronald Reagan signed his signature tax cuts into law on his 206th day in office; President Obama signed what would be known as Obamacare on the 368th day of his first term; and JFK’s stellar performance in the Cuban Missile Crisis came after his 634th day in office.
Until the first part of the 20th century, when an historian, journalist or politico used the term “Hundred Days,” they usually meant Napoleon Bonaparte’s ill-fated frenetic activity from the time he escaped from Elba in 1815 until his permanent fall from power after the military defeat at Waterloo. As for American precedents there is no evidence that George Washington, who was well aware that he was establishing the basic norms of the new American presidency, thought there was anything significant about his first 14 weeks in office. It was the actions of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the 73rd Congress in 1933 that turned the meaning of the concept on its head, making it a symbol of executive success.
As historian Arthur Schlesinger—whose hugely influential “The Coming of the New Deal” (1959) chiseled the concept of “The Hundred Days” into historical marble—noted, Roosevelt himself did not come into office thinking there was something magical about his first 100 days as president. What he knew was that action was required to calm American fears and stabilize the financial system. Using a constitutional power intended for use in a national emergency, the president called Congress back for a special session. Five days later, after another presidential proclamation announcing a bank holiday and passage of the Banking Bill, Roosevelt thought he had done enough for the moment.
“Roosevelt,” Schlesinger noted, “had first thought of putting through the emergency banking legislation and sending Congress home.” No hundred days of activity, just five. But like any good politician—and thanks to ambitious aides who encouraged—he sensed an opportunity to move on other fronts associated with the Great Depression. He asked Congress to stay in session for what would be about 100 days and the flood of legislative and executive activity later enshrined as part of The Hundred Days ensued—the Economy Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Tennessee Valley Authority Act, the Home Owner’s Loan Act and the Glass-Steagall Banking Act, the National Recovery Act, the abandonment of the gold standard, the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps and beginning the process of overturning Prohibition by allowing the sale of beer and wine. Although the Roosevelt administration provided the push for these changes, most of this activity came in the form of legislation. FDR found he needed only to sign 9 executive orders through his Hundredth Day on June 11 (Presidential terms then started in early March). In other words, Congress, followed his lead.
That burst of presidential activity in 1933 has yet to be equaled by any subsequent president; and arguably it would not be fair to judge any future president by that standard anyway. FDR’s Hundred Day phenomenon arose out of an almost unique political moment. President Herbert Hoover had left office as deeply unpopular as the newly–elected Franklin Roosevelt was popular. The country was gripped with fear. The official unemployment rate was 25 percent as the only economic system the American people had ever known seemed in free fall. Meanwhile Democrats had increased their majorities in both houses of Congress and were ready to take their lead from the charismatic Roosevelt.
VIDEO: Presidential Fun Facts The Oval Office has been filled with extraordinary presidents, but did you know about these not-so-famous firsts?
Until Trump, presidents have been careful not to try to beat Roosevelt’s record. All modern presidents—even the unelected Gerald Ford who promised to end the “long national nightmare of Watergate”—came into office promising change of some sort or another. The iconic presidents like JFK and Ronald Reagan signaled that the change would be lasting and alter the basic relationship of the American people and their government; but none of them promised to get the work done fast. Indeed JFK was explicit about it. “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days,” he famously said in his Inaugural Address. “Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”
The fact that most presidents have understood how hard it is repeat FDR’s achievements hasn’t stopped the press and the public from assuming that the 100 Day mark somehow matters. Even Lyndon B. Johnson, who had unexpectedly become president as a result of the tragedy in Dallas, was asked not only to assess his first 100 Days but what slogan he might apply to his approach to governing. At a press conference in March 1964, LBJ replied, “I have had a lot of things to deal with the first 100 days, and I haven’t thought of any slogan, but I suppose all of us want a better deal, don’t we?”
After LBJ, presidents tended not to draw attention to the 100 Days, though they came to accept, seemingly grudgingly, that it signaled the end of the beginning of their administration and knew to expect 100-day assessments in the press. Richard Nixon didn’t acknowledge the standard on his hundredth day (Dwight D. Eisenhower for whom he had served as vice president had not been asked for a 100-day assessment at his press conferences in April 1953), though he did establish a different kind of standard, for music, by hosting that night perhaps the greatest jazz show ever at the White House in celebration of Duke Ellington’s seventieth birthday. Not willing to shy away from the Rooseveltian challenge, but knowing that his first weeks in office didn’t match up, Bill Clinton started talking up the importance of the Second Hundred Days. His successor, George W. Bush, simply made peace with the business. In spite of the fact that his chief political advisor Karl Rove believed that it was the first 180 days that mattered most—the length of the first session of Congress of the administration—George W. Bush acknowledged the existence of this guidepost by hosting a “First Hundred Days Congressional Luncheon” in the Rose Garden.
Timothy Naftali is Clinical Associate Professor of History and Public Service at New York University.
Why It Is Significant To Mark A President's 1st 100 Days
President Biden has been in office for 100 days — an informal marker for how a new administration is doing. The time frame goes back to Franklin D. Roosevelt and his first 100 days in office in 1933.
President Biden used his first address to Congress to lay out the biggest government spending plan in generations. The president wants to spend trillions of dollars to create jobs and improve access to education and child care. The speech came as Biden wrapped up his 100th day in office, which has become a sort of informal marker for how a new administration is doing early on. For more on the history of this bellwether, we're joined by NPR's Ron Elving, senior editor and correspondent. Ron, thanks for being here.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Rachel.
MARTIN: So much is made of the 100th day in office. How did this come to be? Does it have any legal or official meaning?
ELVING: It actually does not. It's a date on a calendar, and the world moves on.
ELVING: One presidential adviser recently call it a Hallmark holiday, meaning a kind of made-up occasion.
ELVING: But over the past dozen presidencies, it has taken on a kind of significance as a marker, a way of measuring a new president's achievements. And it's often a way of saying that the new president is just getting started, just beginning to have an impact or maybe not managing to do much at all.
MARTIN: How long has it been happening? How long have people been using this time frame?
ELVING: In this country, it goes back to Franklin D. Roosevelt and his first 100 days in office in 1933. The country was wallowing in recession. The banks were closing. People were out of work, standing in bread lines. FDR came in with a big head of steam and took it all on. And in a hundred days, Congress had passed 76 new laws, roughly one each working day. And FDR had issued nearly a hundred executive orders on his own.
MARTIN: And that's what was called the New Deal. And it fundamentally changed this country.
ELVING: Yes, and in some ways, almost overnight. The banks reopened. People felt better about putting their money in them again. And by summer, there were government programs putting people back to work and giving people hope. Other big changes like Social Security and new labor laws would come later in FDR's first term.
MARTIN: Since then, every new president has been, in some sense, then measured against that standard?
ELVING: in varying degrees, yes, even though no president has faced such dire circumstances, and no president has had quite the same claim to public support as FDR at the beginning. We should remember he started out with a landslide election and huge majorities in Congress. You could make an analogy to Lyndon Johnson in his first year as an elected president. That was 1965, when he did the Voting Rights Act and created Medicare and Medicaid and revamped the immigration system. Of course, it was also the year he greatly escalated the war in Vietnam.
MARTIN: Have there been other presidents who have made such big, fundamental changes to the country in that short a time?
ELVING: Not in the sense of laws and programs, but you could say the first months of Ronald Reagan's presidency were transformative in a directional sense. Reagan had campaigned on cutting taxes, and he did so aggressively. He called for a bigger defense budget and cuts to most other government programs. And he made those things happen, too. So some people said at the time it was kind of like the end of the New Deal, the bookend on FDR's hundred days.
MARTIN: So, Ron, you watched the speech, I assume, on Wednesday night. You have seen a lot of these addresses to Congress over the years. What struck you?
ELVING: I had to wonder about Biden's personal reaction to this bizarre scene. Here's a guy who's been in the room where presidential address has happened for nearly 50 years now. He's been around to witness the first address to Congress by seven different presidents and more than 30 State of the Union addresses. And because he's been a candidate for president since the 1980s and vice president for eight years himself, you know he's imagined himself many times doing what he finally did Wednesday night. And then he got up in front of a room that's mostly empty-looking, with a smattering of people wearing masks. But that is the world of the pandemic. And it's the pandemic that has presented a historic opportunity for Biden, much as the Depression did for FDR.
MARTIN: NPR's Ron Elving. Thanks, Ron.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR&rsquos programming is the audio record.
Breaking from Trump
On one hand, there is messaging about a clear break from troubling Trump policies. Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have pledged to re-invigorate the State Department so that diplomacy can be the “tool of first resort."
Antony Blinken introduces Biden at the U.S. State Department in early February 2021, via the U.S. State Department YouTube channel.
They've backed this up by announcing the full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and ending support for offensive operations in Yemen, terminating the “Muslim travel ban" and recommitting to multilateral initiatives like the Paris Climate Accord and negotiations with Iran.
But spurning Trump's bull-in-a-china-shop approach doesn't mean there aren't some worrisome signs from the Biden administration. “America is back," Biden has said repeatedly, but is that automatically a good thing (as Stephen Wertheim insightfully asked in the New York Times)?
The return of a George W. Bush-style Iraq disaster would hardly be welcome, for example, nor would Barack Obama's attempt to ride to the rescue in Libya.
Biden and Blinken, in fact, helped to shape pre-Trump global policies, especially in the Obama years. Will they have learned enough from past experiences to “build back better," to borrow a phrase not routinely applied to foreign policy? It's unclear, particularly given recent rhetoric.
Where We Are Today
As President Biden settles into the White House, some extraordinarily difficult challenges are waiting for him. FDR would no doubt sympathize.
- A global pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and impacted all of our lives
- An economic collapse that has led to millions of people losing their jobs and wondering how to pay for food and rent
- The climate crisis that&rsquos responsible for more and more extreme weather and (un)natural disasters every year
- Racial injustice and systemic racism that mean Black and Brown Americans have been hit hardest by all of the above
And add to all that the January 6 attack on the US Capitol by an insurrectionist, white-supremacist mob incited by former President Trump and others.
Donald Trump’s First 100 Days: The Worst on Record
Franklin D. Roosevelt invented the idea of a president’s first 100 days. Roosevelt was actually referring to the first 100 days of a special Congressional session to fight the Great Depression, as Robert Speel of Penn State notes. But the idea soon came to mean the 100 days that start on Jan. 20 and that, for President Trump, will end on Saturday.
No doubt, you’ve seen a torrent of coverage in recent days of the milestone. And while it’s certainly an arbitrary milestone, it’s also a meaningful one. Presidents are at their most influential in their early months, which makes that period a particularly important one for a presidency.
Here’s my reading of Trump’s start: It’s the least successful first 100 days since the concept existed.
Even if you forget about the content of his actions — whether they strengthened or weakened the country — and focus only on how much he accomplished, it’s a poor beginning. His supporters deserve to be disappointed, and his opponents should be cheered by how unsuccessful his agenda has been so far.
Before now, the weakest starts probably belonged to Bill Clinton and to John F. Kennedy. Partly as a result, neither of them ended up being as consequential presidents as, say, Lyndon B. Johnson, Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama. And yet Trump’s first 100 days have been vastly weaker than Clinton’s or Kennedy’s:
Trump has made no significant progress on any major legislation. His health care bill is a zombie. His border wall is stalled. He’s only now releasing basic principles of a tax plan. Even his executive order on immigration is tied up in the courts. By contrast, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan had made substantial progress toward passing tax cuts, and Barack Obama had passed, among other things, a huge stimulus bill that also addressed education and climate policy.
Trump is far behind staffing his administration. Trump has made a mere 50 nominations to fill the top 553 positions of the executive branch, as of Friday. That’s right: He hasn’t even nominated anyone for 90 percent of its top jobs. The average president since 1989 had nominated twice as many, according to the Partnership for Public Service.
Part of the reason is a lack of execution: The administration has been slow to make nominations. And part of the reason is who is being nominated: A disproportionate number of affluent investors and business executives with many potential conflicts of interest that require vetting. Either way, the effects are real. The executive branch can’t push through the president’s priorities if it doesn’t have his people in place.
The Trump administration is more nagged by scandal than any previous administration. No new administration has dealt with a potential scandal anywhere near as large or as distracting as the Russia investigation. It could recede over time, true. But it also could come to dominate the Trump presidency.
Trump has no clear foreign policy. Is he protectionist, as he appeared to be when starting a trade spat with Canada on Tuesday, or a globalist, as he appeared when backing off his criticism of China? Is he an isolationist, an interventionist or some alternative? No one seems to know, which confuses allies and does a favor for rivals who would welcome diminished American influence.
Trump is by far the least popular new president in the modern polling era. His approval rating is just 41 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight. All other elected presidents since Roosevelt have had an approval rating of at least 53 percent after 100 days. (Gerald Ford was at 45 percent.) Some, including Obama, Reagan and Johnson, have been above 60 percent.
Trump’s low approval isn’t only a reflection of his struggles. It also becomes a cause of further struggles. Members of Congress aren’t afraid to buck an unpopular president, which helps explain the collapse of Trumpcare.
Obviously, Trump can claim some successes on his own terms. Most consequentially, he has named a Supreme Court justice who could serve for decades. Trump has also put in place some meaningful executive orders, on climate policy above all, and he has allied the federal government with the cause of white nationalism, as Jonathan Chait wrote.
Trump remains the most powerful person in the country, if not the world. It would be foolish for anyone to be complacent about what he can do. Yet by the modern standards of the office, he is a weak president off to a uniquely poor start.
It’s worth considering one final point, too. So far, I’ve been judging him on his own terms. History, of course, will not. And I expect that a couple of his biggest so-called accomplishments — aggravating climate change and treating nonwhite citizens as less than fully American — are likely to be judged very harshly one day.
The (human) nature of realism
Although Biden has been described as a “pragmatic realist,” similar leaders have let anxieties spurred by fading glories interfere with prudence.
Nixon and Kissinger are seen in the White House in June 1973. (AP Photo/Jim Palmer)
Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger — avatars of realpolitik in foreign policy — could not avoid tugs of war between cool-headed, even cold-blooded intentions and nostalgia. Appreciating the need to adjust to changing global politics, they built closer ties with the People’s Republic of China and a détente with the Soviet Union. Yet Vietnam revealed how emotions can get in the way: attached to a sense of American greatness that emerged during the Cold War, they tragically persevered and expanded the losing venture.
Like Nixon, Biden will be running risks if “loss aversion” affects his desire for prudent policy-making. Neuroscience now tells us that a sharp dividing line between presumably questionable “sentiment” and theoretically admirable “rationality” does not exist. This means that the challenge for policy-makers, like all human beings making decisions, requires being sufficiently aware of the complexities of perception and response to maintain a safe and effective balance.
Watchful perseverance will be needed to see how well such a balance will be achieved in the Biden presidency.
In 1991, Guan and Xin counties launched the “Hundred Childless Days” campaign. Guan County Secretary Zeng Zhaoqi issued the order that no children were to be born between May 1 and August 10. Because it was the Year of the Sheep, locals referred to the campaign as the “slaughter of the lambs.” Family planning was national policy, and we all had to abide by it. But the “Hundred Childless Days” campaign flew in the face of national policy! It was horrendous!
The first time I saw a trending post about Guan County, my old home, was when the internet cafes there were forced to close [in 2009] as punishment for some issues with the family planning program. When I returned this November to visit family, I almost couldn’t recognize my hometown. It’s changed beyond belief. Guan County today is still strict about family planning. I suppose this is how the local government is doing “good deeds” for the country. As I think back on what happened over ten years ago, it was a very Leftist operation. I think it was called the “year without children.” I was studying outside the province and so didn’t see the campaign unfold with my own eyes. But in summer … no, probably in winter, when I returned home for vacation, every one of my friends and relatives was talking about the campaign. No matter how many months pregnant you were, as long as you hadn’t yet given birth, you were induced. The cruelty with which this national policy was executed in my hometown was simply unprecedented.
I heard from relatives that several pregnant women in our village were sent to shacks built by the side of the county hospital. They described one woman who was very pregnant who went screaming and crying. There was also a college student in Xinji Village who didn’t accept what was happening and had a breakdown, cursing the program. She was strung up on an electricity pole for all the village to see (according to my relatives in Xinji). A lot of families that were about to have a child fled. But, as they say, the monk can’t outrun the monastery. Their homes were destroyed and their relatives captured in retaliation. I know for a fact that my wife’s sister-in-law ran away and hid with a relative. Then her entire family went into hiding. Her uncle was captured and paraded around town. It almost felt like they wanted to wipe out her entire family.
That campaign is one for the history books. Like the Great Leap Forward, it spawned a series of enduring institutions and practices: for example, the rule that once a family gives birth to a male son then they can’t have another child. Or if the first born is a female, you’re allowed to have a second child, but then you can’t give birth ever again, regardless of the sex. At the time, extreme measures were explained by social exigency. But so many years later, we’re still taking extreme measures. [Chinese]
Jill Lepore: Abraham Lincoln’s 100 Days
Weary of the one-hundred-day-a-palooza? Not every span of one hundred days is as arbitrary as this one. On September 22, 1862, Lincoln signed a document called the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that he would free every slave held in every Confederate state in exactly one hundred days, on New Year’s, 1863. That’s a long time to wait. And not everyone was sure the President would stand by his pledge. “The first of January is to be the most memorable day in American Annals,” answered Frederick Douglass. “But will that deed be done? Oh! That is the question.”
As soon as word got out, though, a crowd came to the White House and spontaneously serenaded the President. (The District of Columbia’s thirty-one thousand slaves had already been emancipated, by an act of Congress, in April.) Elsewhere, the response was mixed. The New York Times deemed the Preliminary Proclamation as important as the Constitution. The Richmond Examiner called it “the inauguration of a reign of hell upon earth!” Within days, the news made its way to slaves in the South. Isaac Lane took a newspaper from his master’s mailbox and read it aloud to every slave he could find. One hundred days? Not everyone was willing to wait that long. In October, slaves caught planning a rebellion in Culpeper, Virginia, were found to have in their possession newspapers in which the Proclamation had been printed seventeen of those men were executed.
The Proclamation has not always been highly regarded many historians, like many abolitionists, think Lincoln did too little, too late some see granting freedom to the slaves in Confederate states a purely military—and, finally, a cynical—maneuver. Whatever it was, it wasn’t unimportant. As the historian John Hope Franklin once observed (in a chapter called “The Hundred Days”), the Preliminary Proclamation “transformed the war into a crusade against slavery.” And that’s what gave Lincoln so much trouble: not all of his supporters were interested in fighting a crusade against slavery. As autumn faded to winter, pressure mounted on the President to abandon his pledge. Maybe he wavered. Maybe he didn’t. “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history,” Lincoln told Congress in December. “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best, hope of earth.”
On Christmas Eve, day ninety-two, a worried Charles Sumner visited the White House. Was the President still planning on declaring an end to slavery, as promised? Lincoln reassured him: “He would not stop the Proclamation if he could, and he could not if he would.” On December 29th, Lincoln read a draft of the Proclamation to his Cabinet and he discussed it with them again, two days later. Cabinet members suggested an amendment, urging “those emancipated, to forbear from tumult.” This Lincoln did not add. But Salmon Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, suggested a new ending, which Lincoln did adopt: “I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of almighty God.”
Day ninety-six. “The cause of human freedom and the cause of our common country,” Douglass said, that Sunday, “are now one and inseparable.” Ninety-seven, ninety-eight. Ninety-nine: New Year’s Eve, 1862, “watch night,” the eve of what would come to be called the “Day of Days.” In the capital, crowds of African-Americans filled the streets. In Norfolk, Virginia, four thousand slaves—who, living in a city already under Union control, were not actually freed by the Emancipation Proclamation— paraded through the streets, with fifes and drums. (In other states, men and women and children simply headed north, in an attempt to emancipate themselves they didn’t often make it.) In New York, Henry Highland Garnet preached to an overflowing crowd at the Shiloh Presbyterian Church. At exactly 11:55 P.M., the church fell silent. The crowd sat in the cold counting those final minutes. At midnight, the choir broke into “Blow Ye Trumpets Blow, the Year of Jubilee has Come.” On the streets of the city, crowds sang another song:
Cry out and shout all ye children of sorrow,
The gloom of your midnight hath passed away.
One hundred. On January 1, 1863, sometime after two o’clock in the afternoon, Lincoln held the Emancipation Proclamation in his hand, and picked up his pen. “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper.”
Biden’s One Hundred Days of Hubris
President Joe Biden / Getty Images Matthew Continetti • April 28, 2021 11:06 pm
President Biden's address to a joint session of Congress underscored this administration's left turn. The speech was a laundry list of progressive priorities in domestic, foreign, and social policy with a price tag, when you add in the American Rescue Plan, of some $6 trillion. Biden's delivery, heavy with improvisation, only slightly enlivened a prosaic and unoriginal text. Biden repeated lines from both Bill "the power of our example" Clinton and Barack "the arc of the moral universe" Obama. But it wasn't just the words themselves that made me think of Biden's most recent Democratic predecessors. The scope of his plans, increasing government's role in just about every aspect of American life, also brought to mind the Democrats who tried to govern as liberals after campaigning as moderates.
I’m old enough to recall the last president who vanquished Reaganism. Obama spoke of "fundamentally transforming the United States of America," and came to Washington in 2009 with the aim of changing the trajectory of the country just as Ronald Reagan had done three decades earlier. Shortly before his one hundredth day in office, he delivered a speech at Georgetown University where he promised to lay a "new foundation" for the country. His friends in the media hailed him as the second coming of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. "Barack Obama is bringing back the era of big government," historian Matthew Dallek and journalist Samuel Loewenberg announced in the New York Daily News.
We know how that turned out. The GOP captured the House in 2010. By the time Obama left office, Republicans had full control of Washington and were dominant in the states. Reaganism survived. And now, 12 years later, the cycle is repeating. This time it’s President Biden who is likened to FDR. It’s Biden who is said to have interred the idea of limited government. It’s Biden who is marking his first 100 days in office with plans to spend trillions on infrastructure, green energy, health care, and elder and child care. The political setbacks of the Obama years didn’t temper Biden’s ambitions. They intensified his desire to leverage narrow congressional majorities into sweeping expansions of the welfare state.
Why does Biden think he can avoid Obama’s fate? Like a good lawyer, he has a theory of the case. It goes like this: Neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama spent enough money to ensure a strong economic recovery. They didn't emphasize jobs above all else. Their caution was responsible for Democratic losses in the midterm elections. And all it takes is GOP control of one chamber of Congress to spoil a liberal revival. By opening the floodgates of federal spending, Biden hopes to deepen and extend the post-coronavirus economic boom. Growth and full employment will prevent a Republican takeover. And a second Progressive Era will begin.
The problem with this theory is its selective misreading of history. It wasn’t just the economy that sank the Democrats in 1994 and 2010. It was independent voters who turned against presidents who campaigned as moderates but governed as liberals. Nor did rising unemployment stop Republicans from picking up seats in 2002. And an economic boom didn’t save the House GOP in 2018. In every case, assessments of the president—among independent voters in particular—mattered more than dollars and cents. By committing himself to the idea that massive spending will safeguard the Democratic Congress, Biden may be inadvertently guaranteeing the partisan overreach that has doomed past majorities.
Biden doesn’t give enough credit to the record of his Democratic predecessors. The unemployment rate was 7.3 percent in January 1993 when Bill Clinton was inaugurated. By November 1994, it had fallen to 5.6 percent. Meanwhile, the economy grew by 4 percent in the third quarter of 1994. Nevertheless, the Republicans won control of the House for the first time in 40 years and the Senate for the first time in 8 years. Why? Because Republicans won independents 56 percent to 44 percent. Voters who had backed Ross Perot in 1992 swung to the GOP. Voters’ top priority in the exit poll wasn’t jobs. It was crime . And the failure of Clinton’s unpopular health plan didn’t help.
The 2010 midterm had similar results. The economy, while nothing to brag about, was nonetheless improving. Unemployment had been falling since October 2009 . Growth, though anemic, had also returned . Republicans gained 63 seats in the House and 6 in the Senate because independents rejected President Obama’s governance. They backed Republicans 56 percent to 37 percent—an 8-point swing against a president they had supported in 2008. Why? Part of the reason was the economy. But the Affordable Care Act was also significant. Health care was voters’ second priority in the exit poll. A 48 percent plurality called for Obamacare’s repeal.
Biden’s theory also omits the contrary examples of recent Republican presidents. In November 2002 the unemployment rate was higher , and growth lower , than in November 2000. But the GOP had a good year anyway thanks to President Bush’s high post-9/11 approval ratings and a tough but effective campaign on national security.
The 2018 midterm is further proof that campaign results are not a direct function of economic performance. Democrats won control of the House despite full employment and sustained growth. Independents, who had narrowly backed President Trump in 2016, turned against him and voted for Democratic candidates by a 12-point margin . No mystery why: A 38-percent plurality of voters said they were voting to oppose Trump, whose strong disapproval rating was at an incredible 46 percent in the exit poll. Health care ranked as the top issue, with voters recoiling at the prospect of an Obamacare replacement that failed to cover preexisting conditions.
Not only do the data show that the economy is less important to the midterms than many assume, they are also a reminder that the first hundred days do not define a presidency. The fate of a president and his party depends more on his ability to maintain popularity and on his performance during unanticipated crises. While Biden’s approval ratings continue to be positive and his disapproval low, there are some warning signs: His approval among independents ranges between the mid- to high-50s, and a majority of voters disapproves of his handling of migration along the southern border. Focused on his grand plans for the economy, Biden might dismiss voter concerns over immigration, crime, and inflation until it is too late.
Sure, Biden might avoid making Barack Obama’s mistakes. But he has plenty of time to make mistakes of his own.
What a difference 100 days make: How Biden has turned the Trump era upside down
During his ill-fated campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet told voters: "If you elect me president, I promise you won't have to think about me for 2 weeks at a time".
Mr Bennet would eventually drop out of the race long before voters handed the nomination to then-former Vice President Joe Biden, now the 46th President of the United States. But Mr Biden has largely managed to keep the Coloradan's campaign promise over his first 100 days, even as his administration has made significant changes in an effort to consign his predecessor's policies to the dustbin of history.
Perhaps the most jarring aspect of the transition from Donald Trump's presidency to that of Mr Biden has been an end to the presidential omnipresence pioneered by his predecessor.
According to the presidential speech trackers at Factba.se, Mr Biden has spoken just 36 per cent of the word volume as Mr Trump did over his last 100 days in office and has only been on camera for 40 per cent of Mr Trump's last 100-day total. And while the vast majority of Mr Trump's camera time came from impromptu media availabilities, during which he frequently upended his own administration's attempts at messaging, Mr Biden's appearances have for the most part been carefully coordinated policy addresses, often timed to mark significant milestones or highlight policy roll-outs.
The low-key nature of the Biden presidency has also extended to the medium which perhaps defined Mr Trump more than any other – Twitter. While the now-former president was banned by his favourite social media platform 11 days before he left office, the remaining 89 of his last 100 saw him send 2,770 tweets via the former @realDonaldTrump account. By contrast, Mr Biden – who does not write or send his own tweets – has tweeted just 171 times since he was sworn in on 20 January.
But the relative lack of presidential noise during the first days of the Biden administration belies significant changes.
Among the most visible? The return of White House press briefings.
Under Mr Trump, who frequently undermined his own spokespeople with his erratic public pronouncements – often based on something he'd seen on television – Mr Biden has left much of the daily task of messaging to his top spokespeople. Unlike the last days of the Trump era when ex-White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany's combative presence in the James Brady Briefing Room became less and less frequent, her successor, Jen Psaki, has briefed reporters nearly every weekday since Mr Biden's inauguration. The White House has also held frequent briefings with its Covid-19 response team, but unlike those held by the Trump-era White House Coronavirus Task Force, they are always led by experts – not the president or vice president.
The advent of expert-led briefings is yet another significant departure from the Trump-era, during which top public health officials at the Centers for Disease Control were prohibited from conducting their own briefings after National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases director Dr Nancy Messonnier warned that "disruption to everyday life might be severe" from the coronavirus back in February of 2020.
Another big break from the Trump-era White House during the early Biden era has been the new administration's implementation of coronavirus safety measures in the White House's daily operations.
Under Mr Trump, the White House was frequently the site of so-called "super-spreader events," after which multiple White House staffers, guests, and even the president, were diagnosed with Covid-19 despite a programme in place by which those in contact with Mr Trump were tested for the virus.
But at noon on 20 January, the incoming Biden administration implemented sweeping changes to White House operations. At present, every person who passes through the White House's gates is either tested for the coronavirus by White House medical unit personnel or must provide proof of a self-administered negative test that day.
The number of staff working on-site has been drastically reduced as well, with many White House officials – and even some of Mr Biden's most senior staff – working from home in the same manner as many other federal workers. Mr Biden also signed an order mandating masks on federal property, another break with his predecessor, who often mocked the very idea of covering one's face to hinder the spread of the coronavirus.
Perhaps the most significant change in how Mr Biden and his advisers have conducted themselves lies in the area of personnel.
Under Mr Trump, just one member of the president's cabinet – made up of the 15 executive department heads – was either non-white or female: Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.
Mr Biden, by contrast, has a cabinet that is one-third female (the secretaries of the Treasury, Interior, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, and Energy), one-third non-white, and includes the first Native American interior secretary and first Black secretary of defence.
Of the 1,500 political appointments Mr Biden has made, a White House report revealed that 58 per cent went to women, 18 per cent are Black, 15 per cent Hispanic, 15 per cent Asian-American or Pacific Islander, with three and two per cent of appointments going to appointees of Middle Eastern and Native American ancestry, respectively.