President Donald Trump is set to hit the 100-day mark later this month.
It’s often seen as an early milestone when a presidency can be judged in terms of its accomplishments.
Tom Rath is a longtime Republican strategist in New Hampshire and a former state attorney general.
He’s speaking Wednesday about Trump’s first 100 days at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
Rath spoke to NHPR's Morning Edition about his impressions of the Trump administration so far.
Let’s start on a positive note. What have you seen from Trump that’s been a pleasant surprise for you?
It’s hard to get over the divide of the stylistic change, which is so remarkable. What I have seen and I do give the White House credit for is that the nominee to the Supreme Court Neil Gorsuch was a nominee that many Republican presidents would have nominated. And he did seem to be able to put him through and put together a team including Kelly Ayotte that seemed to be able to move it forward in as close to a nonpartisan or bipartisan basis as we can have in Washington, D.C. these days.
Gorsuch has become a Supreme Court justice now, but of course they had to go through the so-called nuclear option to do it.
I respect that argument, but I happen to think that for most people, there’s a technicality to that that doesn’t feel right. Today, given our politics, it is very hard unless you have 60 votes in your own party, to clear that hurdle. I’m not sure who could have cleared that hurdle.
I think in the last 10 days, we’ve seen a little surer foot in foreign policy. The emergence of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as a stronger voice is helpful. The president tends to be…bellicose isn’t the right word, but he tends to color outside the lines too much. I think the Syria thing surprised me, in that it was measured, it was precise, and that it sent a message. And by the way, he didn’t talk about it before he did it. And I think that’s been one of his issues. He believes in the pre-sell, and you don’t always do that. So those things have been better.
You also haven’t been shy about calling the president out. You denounced his assertion of widespread voter fraud here in the state, for example.
Does this speak to the president’s credibility and what kinds of problems could that pose for him going forward?
I think there’s a tendency to go overboard. And I think it is…I mean, the tweets, the nonstop tweets. It’s one thing if I tweet, but it’s a different thing when the President of the United States does it. And it’s an appreciation and understanding of not just the actual sense of the office but the visual, public perception aspects of the office that I think they haven’t understood.
Let me as be unequivocal as possible-allegations of voter fraud in NH are baseless,without any merit-it's shameful to spread these fantasies
— Tom Rath (@polguru) February 12, 2017
And I think it may be because around him, at least initially, were a lot of people who practice kind of divisive politics, setting one group against another, and it’s good that we won because now we’re going to do what we want.
But that’s worked for him, hasn’t it?
Well, it works to get elected, but the real test of an elected official is when they can move beyond that. And we especially want presidents to do that.
We of course saw the health care bill fail. Does he still have a lot to prove when it comes to taking the lead on legislative issues and actually bringing Republicans together?
The legislative process is very difficult and it’s never been more difficult than it is at this moment. I think doing health care the way they did it without a consensus as to what was going to work even amongst themselves was at best awkward, and at worst, bordered on malpractice. There were things you could have started with that were less vexing. Now, having said that, there was a lot of talk in the campaign about the first thing I’m going to do is repeal Obamacare. There’s a point at which campaign rhetoric has to give way to actual governing reality, and that’s a transition. It’s never an easy transition, but it’s easier if someone’s been in public life and understands it. This is what you get when you take the sort of indignant, outspoken, person of the people, and put them in there without any real governing experience. And particularly when you take someone who has run a reasonably successful private enterprise where he could decide tomorrow they’re going to change the color of the stationary and nobody would say nay. He doesn’t tolerate fools, but he doesn’t tolerate opposition. He needs to understand that around him, the most valuable assets he can have are people who will say you shouldn’t do that.
And that’s what the first 100 days is all about, when the rubber meets the road. Going forward, are there signs for you that he is learning how the process works?
I think so. I mean, he is who he is and I don’t think he’s about to change. But I also don’t think he likes to be embarrassed and I don’t think he likes to not do well. This is not a project where you can declare bankruptcy and walk away. He’s going to wear this, good, bad or indifferent. I think he is trying to sort out who he should listen to and what they can tell him.
If you could get President Trump in a room, what kind of advice would you give him?
I think it would be take a deep breath once in a while. You don’t have to react to everything the moment it happens. And it is alright to show a desire to get to the middle, rather than define everything in terms of wins and losses. We’re a different kind of country than that, we don’t keep score that way, and he shouldn’t. I was impressed, of all the things I’ve seen him say, by the statement he made after the chemical attacks on people in Syria, when he talked about killing children and babies. There was a little insight into what he feels and he should not be afraid to show it. He doesn’t always have to be macho.