News Flash: President’s Term is Four Years—Not 100 Days

April 26th, 2017

Predictably, the news this week is filled with analysis of President Trump’s first 100 days in office which officially ends on April 29th.  Ever since 1933, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made a point of noting his accomplishments at the 100 day mark, having signed seventy-six pieces of legislation by that time, presidents and pundits take careful note of what each new president accomplishes by that benchmark.

Most incoming administrations even make plans for achieving great goals by that time with advisors carefully studying the achievements of other presidents during the same period and developing strategies to emulate or exceed them.

The reason for all this is completely rationale to any student of political science.  At the beginning of any term in office, the executive holds the most political capital possible at any time in his or her administration with the exception being times of war when the country pulls together against a common enemy.

Despite that fact and all best efforts, the first several months of most presidential terms in modern history have been pretty messy affairs and things for the most part tend not to go according to plan.

For example, while Ronald Reagan managed to get the American hostages released from Iran on the first day of his administration, that event followed with no signature legislative accomplishment and an assassination attempt on his life.  George H. W. Bush couldn’t get his nominee for Defense Secretary, John Tower, through confirmation and Bill Clinton, after a particularly rocky start, suffered through the Branch Davidian standoff and raid in Waco, Texas, at the end of his first 100 days in office.

George W. Bush fared somewhat better although with no major accomplishments.  Only Barack Obama could claim some legislative achievements, but like FDR, who was dealing with an immediate economic crisis, those accomplishments were tied to trying to stop further deterioration of the economy.

As we approach Donald Trump’s 100th day in office, his major achievement is clearly the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. That’s no small achievement for any president.

Most major presidential accomplishments happen in the first two years in office and not in the first one hundred days.  Midterm elections are often tough on an incumbent making the second half of the first term oftentimes more challenging.

Donald Trump has time (although not an indefinite amount of time) to score some legislative and foreign policy achievements.  The clock is ticking but doesn’t completely wind down on April 29th.

For only one U.S. president has the 100 day standard been significant and that would be for my ancestor, William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia after just a month in office.  Certainly, I’m sure President Harrison would have liked to have at least 100 days in office whether he actually accomplished anything or not!