Posted on July 25, 2017
That first August can define a presidency.
Jimmy Carter made news in August by creating a new Cabinet department, the Department of Energy, and by actively working to give the Panama Canal back to the Panamanians.
Ronald Reagan fired every striking air traffic controller who dared to defy his orders to go back to work. He also signed, from his ranch in California, the first huge Reagan tax cut.
The Savings and Loan bailout was the biggest legislative accomplishment for George H.W. Bush, which he signed on Aug. 9, 1989, an exceedingly unpopular and expensive bipartisan effort to stabilize the financial industry.
Bill Clinton signed an omnibus reconciliation bill that included a huge tax increase. His bill didn’t garner Republican votes in the House or the Senate.
George W. Bush made news for taking a planned month vacation at the Western White House in Crawford, Texas. The media, though, was more focused on missing Washington intern Chandra Levy and her relationship with then-Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.). It would later be revealed that Bush had been briefed by the CIA on possible efforts by Osama Bin Laden to launch a terrorist attack on American soil.
The tea party rebellion reared its ugly head during Barack Obama’s first August as president, as conservative voters reacted vociferously to the new president’s plans to nationalize America’s healthcare industry.
Reagan showed America that he was a strong leader who would stand up to the unions and could bend Congress to his will. George H.W. Bush demonstrated early on that he would be a responsible guardian of the public trust, which would manifest itself later when he would sign a budget bill that raised taxes and would ultimately undermine his reelection campaign.
Both Obama and Clinton were willing to put forward unpopular agendas that may have initially pleased their most ardent supporters but would ultimately sacrifice their congressional majorities in the process.
George W. Bush was attacked in August for leaving too much of the dirty work of governing to his second in command, Dick Cheney. He could never overcome that perception, even as he won reelection.
For Donald Trump, this August is make-or-break time.
For Donald Trump, this August is make-or-break time. #FeeheryTheory Click To Tweet
He has no choice but to get a big legislative accomplishment under his belt, and unfortunately for him, that choice has to be replacing ObamaCare, a key promise made to his conservative base.
Had he started with tax cuts and infrastructure, he would have been in a stronger position to win August, but it’s too late to change the plans now. He must push through to replace ObamaCare with something, anything better.
It’s all fine to take a break in August, but it is far better to be seen working hard on behalf of the American people, no matter where you are working from.
When George H.W. Bush vacationed in Kennebunkport during that first August of his presidency, he was seen racing his speed boat and playing golf. He was asked during a press conference how he could empathize with the concerns of the average American who couldn’t afford such nice things. He didn’t have much of an answer.
Reagan, during his first August, and in every subsequent vacation, was filmed chopping wood and riding horses, consistent with the image of an American cowboy. It worked for him.
It didn’t work as well for George W. Bush, who cleared brush and raced on his mountain bike on his ranch.
That’s because the reporting class was completely miserable in Crawford, where it was hot and there was nothing else for them to do, other than sit in air-conditioned hotel rooms and wait for the president to not make news.
Trump should plan to stay active, on Twitter and elsewhere, doing the business of the American people, even if he wants to play 36 holes of golf a day.
The most important thing he could do is sell his tax cut plan to grow the economy and help American companies stay in America.
He is reportedly planning to travel in the former rust belt states, reconnecting with the hard-working Trump voters who put him in the White House in the first place. That’s a good plan.
If he wants to win August, he needs to be in sell mode. And selling his tax cut plan is a whole lot better than selling whatever healthcare bill that Congress produces for him by Aug. 15. He said, hopefully.
(This appeared first in The Hill)