In many ways, the Trump presidency never got off the ground: The president’s legislative agenda is going nowhere, his relations with foreign leaders are frayed, and his approval rating with the American people never enjoyed the honeymoon period most newly elected presidents do. Pundits who are sympathetic toward, or even neutral on, the president keep hoping that the next personnel move—the appointment of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, say, or the long-rumored-but-never-delivered departure of Steve Bannon—will finally get the White House in gear.
But what if they, and many other people, are thinking about it wrong? Maybe the reality is not that the Trump presidency has never gotten started. It’s that he’s already reached his lame-duck period. For most presidents, that comes in the last few months of a term. For Trump, it appears to have arrived early, just a few months into his term. The president did always brag that he was a fast learner.
Who knows when the lame-duck period began. Was it on January 21, when Trump’s administration tried to argue, against all evidence, that he had the largest inauguration crowd in history? Or the next day, when Kellyanne Conway introduced the world to “alternative facts”? Was it when Trump fired FBI Director James Comey? Was it the days-long slow reveal on Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016? Or did it come on Tuesday, when Trump stepped to a lectern in Trump Tower and delivered a strange de facto defense of white nationalism?