Newt’s Test: One Year In, How Transformative has Trump Been?

It would be hard to declare that the President’s first year signals a true watershed moment for the nation.

By John Murdock Published on January 16, 2018

Newt said we would know in a year. As 2016 turned to 2017, former Speaker Newt Gingrich gave a series of lectures for the Heritage Foundation on Trumpism. He observed that President Trump could be more transformational than Ronald Reagan or the Contract with America. Gingrich said we would not have to wait long to make a judgment.

“We’ll know in a year,” said Gingrich, “if this was a real watershed or just a temporary aberration.” He then outlined a lengthy checklist of outcomes for which to look. Gingrich even suggested that Heritage convene a conference to double-check them in early 2018. Perhaps that will yet happen. But seeing no such event on the calendar, here’s an initial assessment.

Trump on Jobs, Regulations and Healthcare

Q: “Are there jobs, jobs, jobs?”

A: Yes. Here, the news is pretty good. The unemployment rate stands at 4.1 percent, down 0.6 percent from a year ago. There are 354,000 fewer long term unemployed persons. A broadly downward trend for unemployment was already in place when President Trump set foot in office, but it has continued and any administration would see that as a win.

Q: “Have tough pro-America trade negotiations begun?”

A: Maybe. The United States left the Trans-Pacific Partnership and is threatening to do the same with NAFTA if current talks do not lead to changes. Regarding China — not a participant in the TPP, by the way — the administration is threatening tariffs but has yet to make any major moves.

Q: “Has the new private-public approach to space dramatically accelerated our emergence as the leader in space manufacturing, tourism, travel, and science?”

A: Probably not. Private space ventures have made some headlines, but NASA is still run by an Obama holdover. (Newt has always had a quirky space fetish, but for most of us, this may not be one of the most important markers for measuring an administration.)

Q: “Are there dramatically fewer federal regulations in January 2018?”

A: No. While the growth of federal regulations has slowed a lot, only a few regulations that were on the books in January 2017 are now gone.

In an age ruled by emotions and tribalism, the mere discipline of asking and honestly answering measurable questions is important.

Q: “Has Medicaid been largely transferred to the states to manage and experiment?”

A: No. No major changes have been made to Medicaid, though states now have the option of linking certain benefits to work requirements.

Q: “Has the replacement of Obamacare with a decentralized, transparent, doctor-patient centered system of health and healthcare begun?”

A: Somewhat. This answer depends on how generously one reads the word “begun” in the question. Obamacare has clearly not been repealed and replaced as long promised, but the individual mandate to buy insurance has been eliminated. Prospects for a major overhaul on healthcare during the next year seem slim, though.

Q: “Has the public and private investment in health research begun to lower future costs through dramatic breakthroughs in knowledge and cures?”

A: Probably not. Healthcare costs (at least as measured through insurance premiums) have continued to rise and there has been no fundamental change to how the country invests in healthcare research.

Trump on School Choice, The Military and Infrastructure

Q: “Do dramatically more children have school choice so they can be liberated from bad schools?”

A: No. The Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos has returned the idea of “school choice” to the public discussion. But,so far, there have been no major legislative advancements on this front beyond a tax provision that allows 529 education savings plans to be used to fund private K-12 education. Only about 3 percent of U.S. families currently use a 529 plan, however.

Q: “Are political correctness and anti-American intellectualism being confronted at every turn with honest reality and American values and traditions?”

A: Somewhat. Political correctness has certainly been confronted by Trump, but too often his confrontations do not elevate either honest reality or American values. Here, President Trump’s comments about the Charlottesville protests and the birthplaces of legal immigrants come quickly to mind.

Q: “Is the military being rebuilt?”

A: Not yet. While significantly more money has been authorized for defense, those dollars are not real until they are actually appropriated. That process remains bogged down, so far producing only short-term spending bills that move from one potential government shut-down to the next.

Q: “Do we have a coherent strategy for defeating Islamic supremacists?”

A: Somewhat. At least as to liberating ISIS-held territory, a strategy emerged and has been largely successful. Regarding Iran, the nuclear deal that Obama cut and Trump criticized is still in effect, and the administration’s future approach is less than clear.

“Trumpism,” noted Gingrich, “measures results, not efforts.” Based on these metrics, it would be difficult to declare that the President’s first year signals a true watershed moment for the nation.

Q: “Is the wasteful defense bureaucracy and procurement system being overhauled?”

A: Not yet. There are hopes for addressing these structural issues in 2018, but major reform did not occur last year.

Q: “Are we actually creating a better infrastructure rapidly and cost effectively with minimum red tape?”

A: No. Infrastructure is merely on the “maybe” list for 2018.

Q: “Has the wall been completed and the southern border secured?”

A: No. The big, beautiful wall has not progressed beyond the model stage.

Trump on Poverty, Veterans and America’s Budget

Q: “Have the poorest parts of our cities and our rural and small town areas begun to grow and have hope?”

A: Probably not. President Trump declared an opioid emergency but little of substance has followed. His poll numbers have declined among all segments of the population, including his base of blue collar voters.

Q: “Has the overhaul of the Veteran’s Administration begun?”

A: Yes. A VA reform bill was passed and signed, making it easier to fire underperforming employees.

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Q: “Is there a new deal for African Americans as candidate Trump promised in Charlotte in October [2016]?”

A: Probably not. If there is one, the African American community has yet to hear of it. Bedbugs and junk mail still make a more favorable impression in this community than President Trump.

Q: “Are we on a path to combine rapid economic growth, economic use of federal assets, and dramatic reforms in spending to get back to a balanced budget?”

A: Probably not. While Trump’s one major legislative achievement, the GOP tax cut statute, may improve economic growth, no spending cuts have been made nor do such appear on the horizon. A balanced budget seems very unlikely during Trump’s first term.

At Best, an “Incomplete”

As Newt notes, one could add other questions to the list. Christian conservative voters might have asked whether the judiciary is more amenable to religious liberty (it is) and whether Planned Parenthood has been defunded (it has not). Fundamentally, has the cause of Christ been elevated or degraded? (Talk amongst yourselves.) The content of the questions matter. But in an age ruled by emotions and tribalism, the mere discipline of asking and honestly answering measurable questions is important.

“Trumpism,” noted Gingrich, “measures results, not efforts.” Based on these metrics, it would be hard to declare that the President’s first year signals a true watershed moment for the nation. The swamp is draining slowly, if at all. Instead, Trump showed a potential that was too often squandered by distraction. At best, one can only give Trump an “incomplete.” Year two of the Trump presidency ends with elections that will be provide an even more important test.


John Murdock is a professor at the Handong International Law School.

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