Donald Trump's rocky first year shows a president immune to scandal

Donald Trump's rocky first year shows a president immune to scandal

Donald Trump's rocky first year shows a president immune to scandal

Updated 21 January 2018, 1:40 AEDT

In many ways the past week in Washington DC has been the perfect summation of the first year of Donald Trump's presidency of the United States, writes John Barron.

In many ways the past week in Washington DC has been the perfect summation of the first year of Donald Trump's presidency of the United States.

The media has been full of outrage over the President's reported use of the word "shithole" to describe African nations during talks with members of congress over immigration reform. Or did he say "shithouse" as some have suggested?

Once again Mr Trump has denied he's a racist. Just as he did in 2015 when he described some Mexican migrants as "rapists", or in 2016 when he said a judge with Mexican parents couldn't be impartial, and in 2017 when he described some members of a violent mob which included neo Nazis and members of the KKK as "very fine people".

Heck, he's been denying he's a racist at least since 1973 when he was sued for not renting apartments to black people.

Also this week, Mr Trump's lawyers denied reports in the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal that he'd paid $US130,000 in hush money before the 2016 election to adult film star Stormy Daniels so she wouldn't give any interviews about their alleged nine-month affair in 2006, a year after Mr Trump's third marriage.

Meanwhile, members of Congress have been trying to reach a deal on something most of them actually agree on — finding a way to let up to 800,000 young people who arrived in America as children with their parents as illegal immigrants to stay in the country after Mr Trump scrapped the Obama-era DACA program.

And Mr Trump's former top advisor Steve Bannon agreed to be interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller's team as part of their ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and any possible coordination with members of the Trump campaign.

All of that as a deadline for a possible shutdown of the entire US government loomed this weekend.

Just another week in the presidency of Donald J Trump.

Defiantly Trump

As the first anniversary of his swearing-in approaches, it's clear President Trump has been essentially the same as candidate Trump, reality TV star Trump and real estate mogul Trump. Mr Trump is many things to many people, but he is always, defiantly, Donald Trump. He delights his "deplorable" fans and appals the rest.

In 12 months, Mr Trump has raised more eyebrows than hopes.

Some Republicans who clung to the belief he would grow into the Presidency now talk about the need to mind Mr Trump like a child.

Democrats, demoralised by Mr Trump's victory have staged something of a comeback, winning elections in states as diverse as New Jersey, Virginia and Alabama — where Republicans lost a senate seat for the first time in a quarter of a century after nominating a Trump-like populist.

Mr Trump's legislative achievements have been modest at best. Failing to get his own side to agree on their number one priority — healthcare reforms — Republicans rounded out 2017 by giving Americans a tax cut which many say disproportionately favours the rich at the expense of the poor.

But in the short-term there is more money in many American pockets, the stock market is booming, the jobless rate is lower — the economy is really looking up for the first time in a decade.

There were times in 2017 when the Trump White House was in open warfare. Mr Bannon was purged after finding himself consistently at odds with First Daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, one of the President's most untouchable advisors.

Until General John Kelly replaced the hapless Reince Priebus as chief of staff in July, the West Wing had more leaks than any since the dying days of the Nixon administration. Internal power plays broke out into the press, and the intelligence agencies merrily released damaging information about Trump and his associates.

Hasty decisions like the January executive order banning immigration from mostly Muslim nations triggered massive protests and travel chaos, and were found wanting in the courts. Other presidential calls like the sacking of FBI director James Comey led to the appointment of Mr Mueller, and where that far-reaching investigation will end is anyone's guess.

'Political Teflon'

Polls haven't been particularly kind to America's 45th President.

His approval rating, which began at an historically low 44 per cent last January, has drifted down to just 39 per cent a year into his term. More worrying for the President, disapproval which also began at about 44 per cent has risen to 56 per cent — a loss of support of 17 percentage points. Dire but not terminal numbers.

Mr Trump isn't alone among American presidents in having a tough first year.

It is one of the paradoxes of their political system that at the point where a president's political powers are at their greatest after an election win, their political skills are at their least developed.

Their staff is new, still trying to log on to their office computer when having to make decisions on major policy issues. They are bolting the plane together as it taxis down the runway.

Bill Clinton had a very rocky start in 1993, with failed cabinet appointments, policy setbacks (including healthcare) and looming sex scandals. He survived, easily won re-election, endured further scandal, impeachment over the Lewinsky affair, and yet left office with sky-high approval ratings.

It is possible Mr Trump, with not dissimilar setbacks and scandals over his personal and business dealings could still find a way to make his Presidency a success — particularly if like Mr Clinton he can ride the wave of a sustained economic boom.

Like Mr Clinton, Mr Trump is blessed with a coat of political Teflon.

Imagine if President George W Bush or Barack Obama had paid a porn star to cover up their extramarital affair?

It would be huge news, potentially ending a presidency. For Mr Trump it's not even the biggest story of the week.