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Analysis and perspective about what's happening in the political realm.

Obama Faces the Ex-President's Dilemma

“I see you Barry,” said comedian Hasan Minhaj at the White House Correspondent’s Association dinner. “What you doin’ right now? You jet skiing while the world burns?” After leaving office, Barack Obama spent a few weeks palling around with Bruce Springsteen, Tom Hanks, and Oprah Winfrey in French Polynesia. Now the vacation’s over, how can Obama maximize his sway in American politics? The answer lies in understanding the source of his influence.

President Trump’s strength is founded on hard power, or the ability to coerce people through payments and force. As commander-in-chief, millions of men and women stand ready to follow his orders. With a stroke of the pen, Trump can renounce America’s commitment to the Paris climate treaty. Or he can put the pen down and press the nuclear button—and here, there are no checks and balances

By contrast, as an ex-president, Obama has virtually no hard power. He even had to learn how to use the coffee machine at home. Instead, Obama’s strength lies with soft power, or the attraction of his image, beliefs, and values, in getting others to do what they otherwise might not. Soft power is still power, but...

Analysis: It's a Mistake to Call Donald Trump’s First 100 Days Unproductive

Okay, so Donald Trump has not managed to build the border wall, repeal Obamacare, or reform the U.S. tax system in his first 100 days in office. But to call the beginning of his presidency unproductive would be a mistake.

Unlike previous presidents, historians and political observers say, Trump’s biggest changes involve tearing down institutions and rules rather than creating new ones. In doing so he has not only dismantled regulations designed to protect consumers, workers, and the environment. He is, says James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association, introducing nothing less than “a different approach to government.”

Republicans have historically been inclined to “tilt towards market-based solutions, and Democrats to regulatory-based ones,” Grossman notes. But Trump has undone regulatory structures created by Republican Richard Nixon in the 1970s, and supported by another Republican, George H.W. Bush, two decades later.

To be fair, much of the Republican party has shifted since Bush to embrace “small government,” nationalism, and, in some cases, a tolerance of racism. Trump just embodies that shift.

But his early actions represent nothing less than a “return to pre-New Deal America,” said Heather Cox Richardson, a political historian at Boston College...

Trump's Presidential Status Anxiety

As he approaches his hundredth day in office, Donald Trump appears to be suffering—once again—from an acute case of presidential status anxiety.

In public, of course, he has labored to play it cool, strenuously insisting (and insisting, and insisting) that he does not care about the “first hundred days” metric that historians and pundits have used to evaluate the success of new administrations since FDR. Trump has called this milestone “ridiculous” and “artificial”—a meaningless media fixation. And yet, the less-than-laudatory press reviews seem to have left him seething. For evidence, look no further than the president’s pathos-drenched Twitter feed, where he recently took to vent, “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!”

This explains why we are now witnessing the White House in mad-scramble mode—frantically reaching for last-minute “accomplishments” to placate the president, and pad his record. The closer Trump gets to the hundred-day marker, it seems, the more erratically he flings major legislative initiatives at the wall in hopes that something will stick.

Last week, Trump abruptly pledged to unveil a “massive” tax-cut plan in...

Analysis: How Trump Is Upending the Conventional Wisdom on Illegal Immigration

Obamacare remains the law of the land. So does NAFTA. Tax reform exists only as pixels in a tweet. Infrastructure ain’t happening. Five months after the Republicans won united control of Congress and the presidency, it seems uncertain whether one-party Washington can avoid a government shutdown over a budget dispute.

Yet as Day 100 of his presidency nears, President Donald Trump can take credit for one huge accomplishment, an accomplishment more central to his election campaign than any of the unfulfilled pledges above. Illegal immigration into the United States has slowed dramatically. The Department of Homeland Security reports that illegal crossings across the southern border plunged 40 percent in the first month of the Trump presidency, the steepest decline in illegal migration since the recession of 2009. Illegal immigration by family groups with children has dropped by over 90 percent.

This accomplishment may or may not prove enduring. It was not brought about by any decisive policy change. Trump’s wall is not funded. No new enforcement measures have been put in place. People eligible for President Obama’s delayed action continue to receive work authorization. While arrests of illegal aliens inside the country have accelerated under Trump, actual...

How Trump Fell Into His Own 100-Day Trap

Everyone knows the feeling: There’s a big deadline coming up at work, and you’re not sure you’re going to get everything you need done before it. As the end of the semester approaches at colleges around the nation, plenty of students are feeling it, and President Trump can sympathize:

The tweet is the latest whiff of panic wafting from the White House ahead of April 29, which marks the hundredth day of Trump’s presidency. Another one came on Thursday, with the administration mounting a renewed effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, despite no indication that the politics in the House of Representatives have moved far enough to make the latest push any less Quixotic than the last catastrophic attempt.

But Trump has been eyeing the 100-day mark with dread for some time, as Shane Goldmacher reported in Politico on April 10.

“One hundred days is the marker, and we’ve got essentially two and a half weeks to turn everything around,” a White...