When President Trump took the oath of office three months ago, one question loomed above the others: How would the most unconventional presidential candidate in recent memory govern?
Here is what we have learned about Trump’s approach to the presidency as he nears the first 100 days of his administration this Saturday.
He’s willing to change his mind
Besides his get-tough stances on trade, immigration and crime, Trump entered politics with very few deeply held political beliefs. And he’s not been afraid to change his views depending on his circumstances.
Earlier this month, Trump put on a dizzying display by flipping on four policies in one day: Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen, the NATO alliance, China’s currency practices and the Export-Import Bank.
He backed off his promise to label China a currency manipulator during his first 100 days, decided to keep the Ex-Im Bank after criticizing it during the campaign and warmed up to Yellen.
“I said it was obsolete,” Trump said recently of NATO. “It’s no longer obsolete.”
Perhaps his biggest change was his decision to launch cruise missiles at Syria, a major change from campaign rhetoric that saw Trump decry the perils of American military intervention in the Middle East.
With the Syria attack, Trump seemed to be moved by images on television of dead children killed and wounded in a chemical weapons attack the U.S. has pinned on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military.
He said that seeing “innocent people, including women, small children and even beautiful little babies” had a “big impact” on his view, so much so that “my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”
The rapid-fire changes have given some Trump supporters pause, while others call it a positive development.
“It’s a sign of maturity. He’s got his team around him now and is fully briefed on the consequences of his policy decisions and appears to be getting to the right place on almost everything,” said U.S. Chamber of Commerce political analyst Scott Reed.
Winning is everything
“Loser” — it’s Trump’s insult of choice, and one he’s lobbed at his opponents hundreds of times. It’s also a label no president wants, but Trump might fear it more than most.
Trump faces the very real prospect of finishing his first 100 days in office without any major legislative achievements to claim. And while that might not be a sign his presidency is doomed to failure, it’s a benchmark for success Trump himself set with an ambitious list of promises during his campaign.
Trump has followed through on several of his 100-day promises, including filling Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court with another conservative justice, Neil Gorsuch.
But he has backed off others, while his attempt to repeal and replace ObamaCare foundered in the face of opposition from his own party. And the travel ban, Trump’s most controversial executive action, has been repeatedly blocked by courts.
That thin record could explain why Trump and his staff are pushing Congress to hold another vote on healthcare this week, right before his 100th day. But they’re unlikely to get that win — House GOP leaders have indicated they won’t hold a vote on a proposal that doesn’t have enough votes to pass.
In the meantime, Trump tries to tamp down expectations for his first 100 days.
“No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, & it has been a lot (including S.C.), media will kill!” he tweeted Friday.
Governing is harder than it looks
During the campaign, Trump often boasted that his skills as a dealmaker in the business world would make him a great president.
Three months into his presidency, though, Trump has found out the hard way that governing the country is the toughest job he’sever held.
Trump has marveled at the complexity of the thorny issues he’s tackled as commander in chief, from Syria and China to his effort to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system.
“Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated,” Trump proclaimed in February.
The president has been unusually candid about his learning curve on North Korea’s nuclear program. Trump has repeatedly demanded that Beijing solve the problem, only to back off after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal. “I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power over North Korea… But it’s not what you would think.”
And while the White House is loath to admit it, the lack of government experience at the staff level hurt the implementation of the travel ban.
“I think he’s tried to follow through on the things he’s said, but sometimes you get in there and find things aren’t as easy as they look from the outside,” said veteran Republican operative Charlie Black.
Candidate Trump is President Trump
In his first 100 days, Trump has modulated some of his foreign policy positions and received a wake-up call about the complexities of dealing with Congress.
But Trump has mostly refused to alter his style.
Trump still publicly feuds with critics and those in his way, whether that’s Arnold Schwarzenegger or the House Freedom Caucus members who torpedoed the GOP’s healthcare plan.
He still tweets with reckless abandon, even when it damages him politically. Trump’s claim that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, presented without evidence, generated weeks of controversy.
And Trump remains sensitive over his public image, which fuels his on-and-off war with the media.
It’s as if the campaign never ended. And it hasn’t — Trump has hit the trail for campaign-style rallies to bask in the adulation of his supporters, who continue to turn out for him by the thousands.
Trump’s mercurial management style frustrates Washington insiders. But to Trump’s supporters, it’s evidence of his authenticity.
“America would be a lot better off if more politicians continued to behave the same way between the time they’re elected and their first day in office,” said Frank Cannon, president of the conservative think tank American Principles Project.
Daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, have emerged as two of Trump’s most trusted advisers.
Kushner, 36, handles an increasingly ambitious portfolio of responsibilities from a West Wing workspace only steps from the Oval Office.
Trump has tasked his son-in-law with — among other things — leading a White House office on technology infrastructure, fighting opioid addiction and handling veterans’ issues.
Kushner helped broker the meeting with Xi, has acted as a liaison to lawmakers on Capitol Hill on issues like criminal justice reform and advises on U.S. foreign policy toward Canada and Mexico.
Kushner has also acted as an emissary to Iraq and expressed interest in brokering a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Meanwhile, the White House has backtracked on a commitment that Trump’s children would not receive security clearances.
The president has made an exception for Ivanka Trump, who was recently given a West Wing office on the second floor next to two other advisers, Kellyanne Conway and Dina Powell.
Ivanka Trump’s portfolio is loosely defined, but she is a regular at high-profile White House events and is said to advise her father on a vast array of topics.