President-elect Trump is being held to an impossibly high standard, considering he won’t even take office for 10 weeks. Michael Gerson griped in The Washington Post that Trump has not produced “a set of developed proposals” for his policy priorities, or indicated a “favored bill or detailed plan” for rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, or told Congress exactly how he wants to replace Obamacare. “Many Republican members of Congress are frankly confused,” Gerson wrote.
Confused, really? Because a man who won’t move into the White House until mid-January hasn’t submitted a comprehensive legislative agenda to a new Congress that itself hasn’t convened? It would be more confusing if he had.
Journalists are also quick to pounce when they sense Trump is putting daylight between his current positions and his campaign promises. Whether on Obamacare, the wall with Mexico or appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton’s emails, tarot-card-reading reporters have detected subtle softening, shifting, walking things back. But it is contradictory to criticize Trump for not being specific enough about implementing his agenda, and at the same time allege he is backing away from his promises.
Contrast Trump’s transition to President-elect Bill Clinton’s. Before his inauguration, Clinton managed to flip-flop on his China policy, water down his promised middle-class tax cut, and abandon his pledge to admit Haitian refugees. Commerce Secretary-designee Ron Brown became embroiled in a scandal about corporations offering to pay for his inaugural party, and attorney general nominee Zoe Baird fell afoul of the Nannygate controversy and was thrown under the bus. As The New York Times said a few days before the inauguration, “The Clinton administration looks ready to hit the ground stumbling.”
Some claim that the Trump transition is dragging its feet. Politico stated that “Trump was caught flat-footed by winning,” offering as evidence that “his transition team has been slow to engage with the outgoing administration.” But Trump is sprinting down the track compared with Ronald Reagan’s laid-back transition. The Gipper’s first move was to take a short vacation on his ranch in California, where transition head Ed Meese said the president-elect “hasn’t even looked at a list” of prospective appointees. Donald Trump met with President Obama a mere two days after the election, while Reagan and President Carter waited until Nov. 20 to sit down together at the White House. A week after that, Reagan had still not reached out to his prospective Cabinet officials. Asked by a reporter outside a barbershop in Beverly Hills whether he had called any potential nominees, the Gipper simply said, “Nope.”
Maybe Trump’s unprecedented rise to the presidency has trained reporters to expect more from him than they did from his predecessors. But they are a little too demanding under the circumstances. People in a hurry to declare Trump’s presidency failed should at least have the courtesy to first let it begin. They should let Trump be Trump and see what happens. It will take more than a week for America to make the transition to being great again.