It’s been a year since Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States, commander in chief, leader of the free world, the most powerful person on the face of the planet.
In those 12 months, the country experienced, well, quite a lot. Federal courts have axed multiple versions of Trump’s travel, a.k.a. Muslim, ban, the White House has been engulfed in a seemingly neverending drip of Russia scandal turmoil, Congress appears deadlocked on every major administration-backed initiative, there’s been a sloppily handled nuclear standoff with North Korea, equivocation over the murder of a protester by a neo-Nazi…
…the president has clashed with the family and friends of a fallen soldier, he accused a top Democrat of facilitating a terror attack in New York, he has relentlessly feuded with various political and personal enemies, and there has been unprecedented staff turnover at the highest levels of the administration.
What the country hasn’t seen is a major legislative achievement or a sign that Trumpism as a political ideology is anything close to bulletproof, certainly not after the drubbing that took place Tuesday night in this year’s most important election.
The vast majority of White House officials The Daily Beast has spoken to in recent weeks recognize that the West Wing is uniquely, mind-blowingly chaotic and overwhelmed, and that the GOP agenda remains inert.
Despite it all, the president’s allies and advisers have decidedly mixed feelings about Year One of the Trump era. Some proclaim total success, or blame any shortcomings on forces outside of his control.
Others are drowning in regret over the direction the Trump White House has taken or find themselves consumed by grievances relating to their pet issues. Asked what one thing she could change about the Trump’s administration, pro-Trump TV personality Scottie Nell Hughes (who made a name for herself during the 2016 election as one of the most faithful Trump boosters on cable news) replied, “Only one thing? Lol.”
“President Trump and his team should have been ready to introduce and push for the vote almost immediately of his top three campaign promises,” Hughes added. “Tax reform, repeal and replace AHCA & legislation to build the wall (in that order) should have been ready, introduced and voted on before the opposition could organize against. Instead, this administration lost their focus in the fog of the swamp and was swallowed up by the status quo.”
Others pinpointed more specific problems. “Build the wall,” conservative commentator Ann Coulter told The Daily Beast, when asked what one thing she wished Trump and his team had done differently thus far.
“Never fire the FBI director,” bluntly advised Barry Bennett, a Trump campaign adviser turned federal lobbyist. Ed Brookover, a Trump campaign hand and current Bennett colleague at the lobbying firm Avenue Strategies, said he wished Trump had been bolder. “Changing the swamp culture is hard,” he wrote. “Keep pushing on every front.”
Sam Nunberg, a former Trump political adviser who served early on in his campaign before getting sacked, said Trump should not have brought his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, into the White House, since “he”—Kushner— “is an incompetent.” Beyond that, Nunberg added, Trump should have started “with tax reform instead of repealing Obamacare.”
On the other end of the spectrum was Boris Epshteyn, a Trump campaign alumnus and former White House official who is now chief political analyst at the Sinclair Broadcast Group. Of those in Trump-world who spoke to The Daily Beast, he was the only one to offer unvarnished praise for the campaign and the administration as is. “I do not wish for anything to have been done differently,” said Epshteyn, whose contributions to Sinclair invariably praise the president and his agenda items of the day. “I am proud of our winning campaign and the great work the Trump administration is doing for the American people.”
A.J. Delgado, a senior adviser to the 2016 campaign, said that her biggest quibble (at least on the record) was about canines. “Everyone knows I'm a fanatic about dog welfare so I would have liked to see the first family adopt a rescue dog as their pet,” she emailed. “What's more anti-Establishment-swamp than getting a survivor, all-American rescue as their dog? The world underestimated POTUS’s chance of winning last November—I’d love to see him with a dog that the world underestimated, too.”
While others from Trump’s orbit expressed regret for the distractions that have encumbered the administration, many knew precisely where to place the blame for the failure to move the Trump agenda.
“I think we all trusted the Congress too much,” said Michael Caputo, a Republican operative and another veteran of Trump’s presidential run. “Today we know leaders of both houses have not been able, or even willing, to deliver on the President's agenda. If I knew we would have so many problems on Capitol Hill, I would have urged the president to move immediately on tax cuts and infrastructure after the Inaugural.”
Darrell Scott, a Cleveland-area pastor and former member of Trump's presidential transition, said he continues to be a die-hard fan of the president. He also told The Daily Beast he is still mulling a congressional run based largely on a pro-Trump platform and has been texting with Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, and has plans to meet with Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s ousted campaign manager, to talk about it.
Scott said he laments the anti-Trump “back-stabbing” from party stalwarts such as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and believes the president “should have stayed in campaign mode” after his inauguration.
“[He should have] not [tried] to cooperate with the [Republican] Party as much as he has because they haven’t supported him in return, and [are] not trusted to have his back,” Scott said Monday, reflecting on the supposed strategic blunder.
Rarely, if ever, do the first years of first terms go swimmingly for a president. But Trump’s, by most measures, has been rockier than normal. On the eve of the election anniversary, it is clear that both he and his allies are grappling with a political reality that many did not expect, in part because they never anticipated that they might win. That includes Trump himself.
According to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, at least four people in the room with Trump on Election Night “have said he was stunned to silence” at the news he had actually defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. A senior Trump campaign official confirmed that to The Daily Beast, stating that “yes, he was surprised but virtually everyone [on the campaign] was preparing for the opposite outcome that day.”
In just a few months, Trump will enter the second full year of his administration. And the president’s biggest fans are hopeful that they’re now better suited and situated for the long haul.
“I’ll be give him an ‘A’ [grade], given the obstacles the administration has been facing,” Corey Stewart, former chairman of the Trump campaign in Virginia, told The Daily Beast, as he waited on the results of his state’s gubernatorial race early Tuesday evening.
“You got all this opposition from inside the Republican Party, like from Sen. McCain, and Sen. Flake, and the others who have been trying to stop the president from implementing his agenda,” Stewart continued. “[But] it’s just beginning. And conservatives and Trump supporters have to have patience. It’s going to take a long time to drain the swamp.”