Trump’s turbulent first few weeks as President have many people guessing what will come over the rest of his term. However, it may not be as hard as it sounds to predict what will come after him.
According to Stephen Skowronek’s theory of political time, there are four types of Presidents, and Trump fits neatly into the type that tends to destroy old regimes from within, allowing new ones to be created. The legacy of the Reagan Revolution – small government, low taxes and unregulated markets – may be about to end.
Here are the four types of Presidents in Skowronek’s theory.
They come into power when the opposition is weak, and replace the old regime with something completely new. For this reason, they’re often ranked amongst the greatest Presidents; think FDR’s creation of the New Deal or Lincoln’s abolition of slavery and victory in the Civil War. Their influence is felt long after they have left office. Modern example: Ronald Reagan, who created a new coalition which has made Republicans the dominant party to this day.
They support the existing regime when they come into power, and try to continue its legacy while moving with the times. Modern example: George HW Bush, who faithfully continued Reagan’s policies
This category is opposed to the main regime when they are elected so are forced to fight against it in subtler ways. They also lay the groundwork for overthrowing it completely. Modern example: Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, Democrats who compromised with Republicans to modest success
The final category comes into power when the regime they support is weak. They try to hold it together but the competing interests in their party fractures, leaving a power vacuum, which allows a transformative president to come in and start the cycle again. They’re often regarded as amongst the worst presidents since they get little done. Modern example: Jimmy Carter, who wasn’t able to hold the Democratic party together and opened the door for Reagan.
Since Donald Trump is part of the dominant Republican regime, he could either be an articulation president or a disjunctive one. Will he successfully maintain their ideology or discredit it? Arguably, he fits far better into the second category, and here’s why.
Outsiders in their party
Just like Carter beat more established names to win the Presidency, Donald Trump came from nowhere to win – the powers-that-be in the Republican Party didn’t want him.
Reliant on personal skills
Disjunctive Presidents argue that all that’s need to maintain the ideology is effective management skills. Carter sold himself on his attention to detail, while Trump has promoted his business abilities. (Another Disjunctive President, Herbert Hoover, was also an engineer who was elected based on his competency.)
Poor relations with Congress
Carter famously scuppered his relations with Congress very early in his term by gutting many Democrat’s pet projects; as a result, he hardly passed any meaningful legislation, despite controlling both Houses. Trump seems to be in a similar position, with many Republican leaders denouncing him or distancing themselves. Although they’re working together so far, relations are far more strained than you’d expect.
Leading a fractured party
Just as the Democrats in the 70’s were tearing themselves apart with anti-war movements, the Republicans are split between traditionalists (small government, free trade) and populists (low immigration, tariffs on trade). Trump is leaning towards the later but Congress, led by Paul Ryan, are definitely the former. This will almost certainly lead to a clash of ideologies.
Skowronek writes that Disjunctive Presidents are the last gasp of their regime; they make it impossible for their party to win and open the door for their opposition to come in and make sweeping changes. Whether or not Trump fits this model remains to be seen. Only political time will tell.