Art of persuasion eludes Trump

Jeffrey Engel, SMU's director of the Center for Presidential History, assesses Trump's ability to ability to persuade compared to previous presidents.

By Peter Grier and Francine Kiefer
Staff Writers

Washington — One of the most important powers of the US presidency is its power to persuade. But after six months in office, President Trump is far from becoming America’s Persuader-in-Chief.

That’s one of the lessons – so far – of the Senate’s struggle to pass health-care legislation. Until this week Mr. Trump has been largely uninvolved in twisting arms and bending ears in an effort to win passage of the bill. He’s seemed uninterested in or unaware of its details, to the discouragement of some of the effort’s senatorial supporters.

In recent days Trump has thrown himself into lobbying for a health-care “win,” but his message has at times contradicted itself, while the bill teeters on the edge of extinction. He’s publicly tweaked some GOP lawmakers without appearing to acknowledge the cross-pressures they’re feeling from their particular constituencies. Oh, and he’s given The New York Times a long interview that’s producing major headlines, and major distraction.  . . .

With health care looking doomed, it is becoming less and less likely that the Trump administration will be able to get anything resembling a broad legislative agenda through Congress, says Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Presidential time runs down quickly, he points out. History shows that the first year is the best to pass big bills, and that the ability to persuade anyone declines quickly thereafter, as first mid-term elections, then presidential reelection bids, loom.

For Trump, the first-term window is closing.

“He’s starting to look more and more like we expect a second-term president to look ... lurching from crisis to crisis [with little legislative progress]” says Engel.

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