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Conservatives Debate Where Things Stand After Trump's First 100 Days

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Shortly before last year's election, presidential candidate Donald Trump made a commitment for how he would start off if elected.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: What follows is my 100-day action plan to make America great again. It's a contract between Donald J. Trump and the American voter, and it begins with bringing honesty, accountability and change to Washington, D.C.

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INSKEEP: Well, tomorrow, the hundred-day contract expires, so let's hold him accountable as citizens may. We have two conservative perspectives on the Republican president. Jonah Goldberg of National Review was very critical of Trump during the campaign. He's in our studios. Good morning, Jonah.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Morning.

INSKEEP: And Chris Buskirk is the publisher and editor of the site American Greatness, which has been supportive of Trump. He's on the line from Phoenix. Welcome back to the program, Chris.

CHRIS BUSKIRK: Well, thanks. Good morning.

INSKEEP: And since you've been supportive of the president, let's start with you. How's he done?

BUSKIRK: You know, broadly speaking, I think that the president has done well. He has, you know, he has been I think surprisingly energetic as a president, has brought an energy that a lot of people maybe didn't expect from a Republican president who they have traditionally been maybe more circumspect with the use of executive power. But President Trump has not been. Following President Obama's lead, he has been - he's been quick to use his pen and his phone and has signed a number of executive orders, which I think were a good down payment on pursuing the agenda that he promised people during the campaign.

INSKEEP: Jonah.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. I see it a little differently. He's been better than I had expected him to be, which is a low bar. It's like saying the best Oktoberfest in Orlando.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

GOLDBERG: Saying something.

INSKEEP: I'm sure there's an Oktoberfest in Orlando that's OK, but go on.

GOLDBERG: But I think when Chris points to all these executive orders and whatnot, what is interesting about that is that's basically what presidents do during lame-duck periods in their presidency when they can't get anything through Congress. In his interview yesterday with Reuters, Donald Trump said he thought this job was going to be a lot easier. And I think one of the things we can all agree on is he's discovered how wrong he was.

INSKEEP: Chris, I want to ask about that because I'm looking back at this contract we alluded to from October. He had a bunch of things he was going to do in his first hundred days. He's done a couple of them - begin process of selecting a justice for the Supreme Court - they got the guy confirmed. Limit regulations - he did put out an executive order on that. But then there's all these other things he promised to do that were blocked - suspending immigration from terror-prone regions, a five-year ban on lobbying - turns out, there's multiple exceptions to that. A hiring freeze - he did that, then gave it up. Term limits - nothing there. Is there proof here, Chris Buskirk, that the president got elected on a raft of unrealistic promises?

BUSKIRK: Not unrealistic. I mean, I think the 100-day bar was always probably unrealistic. I think he has taken big strides forward in terms of trying to execute on those promises, trying to fulfill those promises. But what you find out is - and I thought - I think Jonah's exactly right when he says these executive orders, you see that in lame-duck sessions.

There's historical truth to that, but what I think the president has found out that - is that he has a Republican Congress that is not onboard with the agenda that he won on and that there is - that there's a large part of the Republican conference that is out of step with the president and that is out of step with their own voters. And that is something that needs to resolve itself rather quickly.

INSKEEP: Has the president changed at all as he has discovered that the job is very hard?

GOLDBERG: Well, yeah. Look, I think this notion that there is such a thing as Trumpism as a coherent philosophical program that Donald Trump believes in has been disproven at this point. Donald Trump has made it clear that he's not going to be bound to any doctrine. He's - now calls himself a globalist and a nationalist. He, you know, did his intervention in Syria. This is an ad hoc presidency, and ad hoc presidencies can do good things and can do bad things. But one of the most striking things in the first hundred days is how many of Donald Trump's true believers who really did believe in a thing called Trumpism I think have been disappointed.

INSKEEP: Chris Buskirk, are those fighting words? I mean, you're publishing American Greatness, which is supposed to be making intellectual sense of this president.

BUSKIRK: Yeah. No, I disagree, you know, respectfully with Jonah. I think that Donald Trump does have some core beliefs. And what he has done more than anything else - I mean, we can point to executive orders or legislation or or his Cabinet or appointing Neil Gorsuch and say, as someone who supports the president, those are all wins, and I agree with that. The biggest win, though, is that what President Trump has done is that he has invigorated or reinvigorated a debate about what it means to be an American.

Are we going to have a government that is responsive to its people? If - are we going to have a government that is - or are we going to have a government that has - that toes the - what has been the bipartisan consensus for 25 years? And I think that he's taken a whack at the Bush-Obama-Clinton consensus about what government is supposed to do and about what America's role in the world is. And that's a good - that's a good debate to be having.

INSKEEP: In just a few seconds, Chris Buskirk, even though you support the president, one thing that's disappointed you.

BUSKIRK: One thing that's disappointed me is I would've liked to have seen legislation move faster. But, you know, this is Washington we're talking about, and there are multiple branches of government, and that's the nature of the beast.

INSKEEP: And, Jonah Goldberg, one thing that's pleased you about this president you very much did not want.

GOLDBERG: I'll give you two. Gorsuch, I think, was a home run, and two, his ability to actually revisit a lot of his views on foreign policy and become a much more conventional foreign policy president.

INSKEEP: OK. We're wrapping up a hundred days - many, many, many hundreds of days to go. Jonah Goldberg of National Review, thanks very much for coming by.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And Chris Buskirk of the blog American Greatness is in Phoenix, Ariz. Thanks to you, Chris.

BUSKIRK: It's my pleasure. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.