By Michael R. Malone
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 21, 2017)–A panel of University of Miami professors, media strategists, and a former legislator convened Thursday at the UM School of Law to appraise President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office, a period that historically provides a telling gauge for a president’s full term in office.
Hosted by Joseph Uscinski and Casey Klofstad, associate professors in the Department of Political Science, and the College of Arts and Sciences, “Trump’s First 100 Days” attracted an audience of approximately 150 students, alumni, and community members. Panel members included former U.S. Congressman Patrick Murphy and publisher Justin Sayfie, both University of Miami alumni; Merike Blofield and Gregory Koger, associate professors in political science; and Fernand Amandi, a local pollster and host of the morning program on WIOD news radio. A short audience Q&A followed the panel discussion.
Panelists gave low marks to the new president based on his inability to enact major legislation and deliver on key campaign promises. Murphy pointed to Trump’s “inability to be bipartisan” and to the uncertainty and antagonism stemming from his campaign.
“You have to have created an environment for some collaboration. There’s no incentive for Democrats or even Republicans to work with him,” Murphy said.
“He’s in a tough place; Trump has seen warning signs from the alt right not to go too mainstream,” he added.
The panelists concurred that the Trump presidency is unique by any historical comparison, and Sayfie in particular cautioned against applying a generic template to evaluate.
“We’re seeing the rise of populism on both sides of the political spectrum—and we need to see Trump in this context. It’s a case of ‘reality television meets the presidency,’ and we have to understand him for what he is,” said Sayfie, publisher of the Sayfie Review and former senior policy advisor, communications director, and chief speechwriter to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
Blofield, who is also director of the University’s Women’s and Gender Studies program, applied a “gender optics” lens to view the new president’s “politics of masculinity and male identity,” i.e., Trump’s appeal to male, working class, mostly white supporters. “There’s a sense [within this base] that the people who should be in power are now in their rightful place,” Blofield said. She shared an informal study of photos of 10 recent cabinet meetings that depicted the appearances of 108 men—and just 11 women. The Trump cabinet includes four women of the 23 posts.
Amandi highlighted the president’s approval ratings, peaking at 38 percent and lower than any president in the modern era, which is especially surprising for a president whose party controls both houses of Congress. Amandi noted the importance of the 100-day time frame as a “honeymoon” in which campaign promises can be enacted and Congress is generally willing to support new initiatives. Those presidents who perform poorly early “never recover” to enjoy successful presidential terms, said Amandi, of Bendixen & Amandi International, a public opinion research and strategic communications consulting firm.
Koger said the president’s early stumbles are owed to four factors: his lack of understanding of enacting policy; failure to surround himself with those who understand the legislative process; staffing problems; and the fact that the Republican Party was ill-prepared to assume the role of majority party.
Asked for their insights on the short-term future of the Trump presidency, several panelists cited the complications and current investigations into dealings with Russia.
Sayfie noted that the new president was not alone in his low appeal and limited productivity—that both parties also suffer from a loss of direction and dysfunction.
“There’s a schism in both parties that makes it virtually impossible for either party to govern,” Sayfie said.