Donald Trump’s term as president from 2017-2021 represented one of the most divisive and unconventional presidencies in modern history. Trump’s supporters frequently hailed him as an transformative political outsider who shook up the system.
His critics saw Trump as an authoritarian figure who threatened democracy and norms.
But how will Trump’s presidency ultimately be judged from a historical perspective?
Evaluating the metrics around Presidential performance provides insight. In this post, we’ll examine key factors political scientists utilize to rate Presidents:
- Presidential job approval ratings
- Legislative accomplishments
- Economic performance
- Foreign policy impact
- Public scandals and corruption
Analyzing these critical areas offers a balanced perspective on where Trump succeeded versus where he fell short as president. The record reflects a presidency defined by stark partisanship and controversy.
Trump’s Approval Rating Trajectories
One significant gauge of perceptions during a president’s tenure is their approval rating trends. Trump’s approval reveals some of the most entrenched polarization of any president:
Started with Record Low Ratings
- Trump entered office with just a 45% approval rating according to Gallup, the lowest of any elected first-term president since tracking began in 1945 .
- For comparison, Barack Obama took office with a 67% approval and George W. Bush with 57% approval.
Never Won Majority Approval
- At no point did Trump crack 50% job approval during his 4-year term. His peak was 49% at his 2017 inauguration.
- He is the only president since Gallup tracking began to never reach majority job approval at any time while in office.
Dropped and Remained Below All Recent Predecessors
- Trump’s final approval rating when departing office was just 34% according to Gallup .
- Other outgoing presidents like Obama (59%), Bush (40%), Clinton (66%), and Reagan (63%) all had significantly higher approval.
This entrenched unpopularity differentiates Trump from any other modern president.
Presidents are typically judged by their ability to enact campaign promises through legislation. Trump’s record was mixed:
First Two Years Saw Major Conservative Victories
- Passed tax cuts and tax reform through budget reconciliation in December 2017 .
- Wide-ranging criminal justice reform bill passed with bipartisan support in 2018 .
- Record number of appellate court judges confirmed during first 2 years with Republican Senate .
Failed to Overturn Obama’s Key Policies
- Attempts to repeal Affordable Care Act stalled in the Senate with loss of key vote by John McCain .
- No major infrastructure package passed despite promises of stimulus spending.
- No funding secured from Mexico to build a border wall despite central campaign pledge.
Last Two Years Marked by Gridlock
- After Democrats took the House in 2018, Trump failed to pass any major legislation.
- Government shut down for over a month in disputes with Congress over funding priorities .
- Second impeachment after Capitol riot stalled policy agenda entering 2021.
While Trump’s tax cuts marked a victory, he largely failed to enact the sweeping changes promised as an anti-establishment candidate.
Economic Report Card
Trump frequently touted a strong economy under his leadership before the pandemic. GDP and unemployment data offer insight into actual performance:
GDP Growth Stayed Steady
- GDP growth during Trump’s term averaged around 2.5% annually, a decent but not spectacular level .
- The growth trajectory largely continued gains made during Obama’s second term rather than dramatically accelerating.
- Tax cuts provided some economic stimulus, but gains trailed Trump’s promises of sustained 3%+ GDP growth .
Unemployment Fell to 50-Year Low
- The unemployment rate dropped from around 5% when Trump entered to just 3.5% by the end of 2019 right before the pandemic .
- The 3.5% rate matched the lowest level in 50 years.
- However, the rate was already below 5% for Trump’s entire presidency, so gains just maintained strong Obama-era progress.
Economists credit Trump with sustaining solid growth, but note he did not dramatically improve upon already positive Obama-era trends .
Foreign Policy Review
Every president aims to shape America’s global footprint. Here are key aspects of Trump’s foreign policy record:
Disrupted Relations With Historical Allies
- Attacked NATO and European allies over defense spending, sowing distrust .
- Slapped tariffs on key trading partners like China, Canada, and the EU.
- Threatened to withdraw from NATO, rupturing decades-old military alliance.
Cozied Up to Autocrats
- Refused to confront Russian election interference and NATO aggression .
- Held summits to praise and legitimize dictators like Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin .
- Backed away from sanctions and human rights criticism against China and Turkey.
Sought Diplomatic Breakthroughs
- Brokered normalization deals between Israel and several Arab states like the UAE .
- Initiated direct engagement with North Korean leadership.
- Renegotiated NAFTA into a revised trade pact with Mexico and Canada.
Trump’s isolationist approach scored some diplomatic wins but carried steep costs to America’s worldwide standing and relationships.
Scandals and Corruption
Every president faces controversies, but Trump presided over near constant turmoil:
- First president ever impeached twice, related to Ukraine dealings and election allegations .
- Acquitted both times by the Senate, but impeachments marred his legacy.
Criminal Convictions of Inner Circle
- Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort imprisoned for financial crimes .
- Personal lawyer Michael Cohen jailed for tax evasion and false statements .
- Foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos jailed for lying to FBI agents .
Nonstop Leaks and Turnover
- Administration faced endless leaks and damaging books like Bob Woodward’s “Fear” .
- Cabinet-level turnover rate of 71% was the highest of any president since 1897 .
The sheer chaos left voters constantly exhausted with drama.
Evaluating Trump’s presidency holistically produces a mixed record of genuine conservative policy success contrasted with unending controversy and norm-shattering. Trump delighted supporters with his pugilistic style but exhausted most Americans with constant divisiveness. His most enduring legacy may be further polarizing voters along cultural lines as his policies fluctuate between parties.
Historians will long debate Trump’s presidency as an anomaly in American political history – a singular figure who captured the Republican Party through force of celebrity and grievance but could not expand his appeal beyond a loyal base. The metrics around Trump’s term ultimately reveal stable economic trends, conservative gains on judges amid legislative gridlock, damage to US global standing, and deep cultural fractures that outlast his tenure.
Hi y’all, I’m Caroline Webster, your proud Texan source for everything related to our 45th president, Donald Trump, and the GOP.
Along with my husband, Bill, I run Trump Scoop, born out of our ranch in the Lone Star State, offering insightful and unbiased commentary on conservative politics.
With a degree in Political Science and years immersed in local politics, my aim is to keep our readers informed and connected.
For me, it’s not just about delivering news—it’s about standing up for our values and the spirit of American patriotism.