This is the paradox of the Age of Trump: a very weak man is occupying a very strong office. It remains unclear which will win out in the end.
Take Trump’s decision last Friday to declare a state of emergency in order to fund more wall construction. The press coverage strongly suggests that Trump was flailing, trying to turn a political loss into an apparent victory. Here at PostEverything, Josh Chafetz and Douglas Kriner argue that, “Trump’s unilateral gambit is more a sign of his political weakness than strength…. We need to distinguish between Trump’s motivating impulses — which do seem authoritarian — and the actual effects of his behavior.” Similarly, Ross Douthat argues in the New York Times that Trump’s weak caudillo act will actually undercut the imperial presidency: “precisely because his contempt for constitutional limits is so naked and his incompetence so stark, Trump has (modestly, modestly) weakened the imperial presidency by generating somewhat more pushback than his predecessors.”
But when you break down exactly how these authors think that Trump is weak, their arguments become less convincing. They all point out that Trump’s policies are unpopular and will meet opposition from Congress and the courts. Chafetz and Kriner bring up the “stinging and public rebuke” that will happen if he has to veto a resolution disapproving of the state of emergency. But for a president who doesn’t care about any norms, there’s nothing stinging about it. He will still get his way.