For four decades, Ronald Reagan has been the benchmark against which ‘conservative'(*) candidates have been measured. Following the misery of the Jimmy Carter years, Reagan posed a simple question during his re-election campaign in 1984: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
It would appear President Trump could easily do the same:
It’s worth noting that FDR’s results followed that of Herbert Hoover (of the “Hoovervilles” Depression-era fame). In other words, FDR had lots of room to run just digging out of the smoking hole that followed the 1929 market crash. Truman and Eisenhower both benefited from the post-World War II era, when the U.S. economy was more than a quarter of the entire world’s Gross Domestic Product. That was the era when “Made in the U.S.A.” took off, while other countries dug out of the destruction of the preceding years. Trump, on the other hand, has had to renegotiate or abandon bad trade deals (*cough* NAFTA *cough*) and reverse the huge regulatory burden strangling small business growth.
I focused on the stock market returns to this point simply because that’s a common metric the chattering class uses to gauge a presidency’s success. Given these results, I’m sure they’ll find another yardstick to use over the next year. But it’s not an isolated marker. Minorities are enjoying record unemployment rates. Three years into Obama’s first term, overall unemployment was 8.3%. Three years into Trump’s, it’s at 3.6%. Reversing the Democrats’ war on energy production allowed the U.S. to become the world’s largest oil producer for the first time since 1973.
But economics is not the only measure of a president. Trump’s greatest legacy may be reshaping the judiciary, returning it to a more originalist interpretation of the Constitution. He has also been willing to confront long-standing arrangements, such as NATO, that may have outlived their utility or else continue to exist only by mooching off of America.
Given all this, it’s no wonder so many of his supporters (including me) are willing to overlook his many personal foibles. Trump will never be a great communicator as Reagan was. But what he lacks in polish he makes up for in brash willpower. And in the end, that might leave him as the new benchmark for successful governance from a traditionalist perspective.
(*) One has to wonder at the term “conservative,” considering how much America has been remade by ideologies hostile to its traditional way of life.