Trump wants to reorganize the executive branch. Good luck with that

By Andrew Rudalevige

March 16, 2017 at 6:00 AM

A sweeping reorganization of the executive branch is needed if the government is to keep up with the times and with the needs of the people. … The time has come to match our structure to our purposes — to look with a fresh eye, to organize the government by conscious, comprehensive design to meet the new needs of a new era.

So said President Trump on March 13, announcing his new executive order "on a comprehensive plan for reorganizing the executive branch."

Oh. Wait. Sorry. No, that was actually Richard Nixon's 1971 State of the Union address.

Here we go:

I came to Washington to reorganize a federal government which had grown more preoccupied with its own bureaucratic needs than with those of the people. This executive order is an instrument for reversing this trend.

Oops, that was Jimmy Carter, in March 1978.

One more try:

Injecting competition and market forces into the delivery of services will reduce duplication, lower overhead costs, and better serve the American people.

My bad — that's Bill Clinton, from 1994.

Okay, then, is this Tuesday's recording?:

The government we have is not the government that we need. We live in a 21st century economy, but we've still got a government organized for the 20th century. … No business or nonprofit leader would allow this kind of duplication or unnecessary complexity in their operations. You wouldn't do it when you're thinking about your businesses. So why is it okay for our government? It's not.

No — that one was Barack Obama in 2012. In that speech, he pushed both for general authority to reorganize government functions — power which was granted to presidents, on and off, from FDR to Ronald Reagan — and also, specifically, for consolidation of federal commerce and trade agencies into a unified entity.

But seriously, folks — executive reform has a long history

Trump's solution, well, duplicated a long line of initiatives going back to when the government got big enough to have an organization worth reorganizing. As political scientist Paul Light has shown, there are "tides of reform" — or, at least, of attempted reform. Peri Arnold's essential study, "Making the Managerial Presidency," dates the first serious effort in this vein to 1910 and William Howard Taft's Inquiry in Re-Efficiency and Economy.


Such efforts continued through the creation of the Bureau of the Budget in 1921; President Warren Harding's Cabinet reorganization proposals of 1923; the recommendations of the Brownlow Committee in 1937; the first and second Hoover Commissions of the 1940s and 1950s; and on and on. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had PACGO (the President's Advisory Committee for Government Organization); President Lyndon B. Johnson had the Task Force on Government Reorganization; Nixon weighed in with the Ash Council; Carter had a "President's Reorganization Project;" Reagan had the Grace Commission (and, internally, the "Reform '88" initiative); Clinton had the National Performance Review; George W. Bush had the President's Management Agenda; Obama the streamlining plan described above.

As this suggests, presidents generally have both managerial and political incentives to streamline the executive branch and make it work better.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is, lawmakers do not. No one is a public partisan for government in-efficiency. But the growth of the federal government was both legislatively driven and largely unplanned. New departments sprang from ongoing events and from successful pressure from interest groups seeking institutionalized attention to their wishes.

Further, the executive branch's fragmentation is mirrored by the array of congressional committees and subcommittees — and to change the former is to jeopardize the jurisdictions of the latter. Since committee assignments are often sought as a means of helping channel resources to constituencies, that kind of change is normally fiercely resisted.

So most efforts at systematic reorganization have beached on the shoals of congressional hostility. The Nixon presidency makes a useful short case study. Nixon was able to rework the Executive Office of the President, creating a Domestic Council and changing the Bureau of the Budget into the Office of Management and Budget. He was also able to create the Environmental Protection Agency, since that agency's mission was, at the time, largely bipartisan.


But when, in the 1971 State of the Union address, Nixon called for more systematic departmental consolidation, he was rebuffed. His plan was quite well thought-out: it kept the "inner Cabinet" departments (State, Treasury, Defense, Justice) but combined most of the rest into larger organizations based on function rather than constituency. There would be departments of Natural Resources, Human Resources, Community Development, and Economic Development. The template shifted over time: In response to congressional pressure, the Department of Agriculture was restored as a stand-alone agency.

But even that wasn't enough to win approval. None of the bills ever got out of committee.

As Arnold puts it, they failed "because they were too large a challenge to the centrifugal forces within the national government." It has generally taken an external shock to overcome those forces — as when George W. Bush campaigned against lawmakers who were resisting the creation of a Department of Homeland Security after the 9/11 attacks.

So can Trump reorganize the executive branch, at long last?

Will the current effort succeed? Trump's version asks each agency to come up with a "proposed plan to reorganize the agency, if appropriate," and to submit it to OMB within six months. (It seems possible that not every agency will find reorganization "appropriate.") OMB, in turn, has another six months to compile these proposals into a single master plan for the president's consideration. This will include "recommendations for any legislation or administrative measures necessary."

Many of those recommendations will probably find favor with scholars of public administration. And they will probably receive some legislative lip-service. As Clinton put it when talking about "reinventing government," "any politician worth a flip can figure out how to develop four or five one-liners" about waste and red tape "that will make 90 percent of the voters shout hallelujah."

But as Kevin Kosar notes, Trump will have to work with and win over Congress to make this work: either to convince lawmakers to give him the unilateral reorganization authority they denied Obama, or to show that such changes are in Congress's best interest as well as the president's. Historically, that has proved an uphill battle.

Andrew Rudalevige is Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government at Bowdoin College. He specializes in the study of American political institutions, primarily the presidency and the interbranch relations, with a recent focus on presidential management of the executive branch.




The APG Richard E. Neustadt Book Prize, 2018

The American Politics Group of the Political Studies Association is pleased to invite entries for the 2018 Richard E. Neustadt Book Prize, the top prize devoted to US politics in the UK.

The prize of £400 will be presented to the best book in the field of US government and politics (including political history and foreign policy) published in the calendar year 2017, and authored by an academic permanently employed at a UK university.

The prize winner will be announced at the APG annual colloquium held at the Eccles Centre (British Library) on 9th November 2018.

Entrants for the prize should arrange for four (4) copies of their book to be sent to the Chair of the American Politics Group at the following address:

Dr Andrew Wroe

School of Politics and IR

Rutherford College

University of Kent

Canterbury, CT2 7NX

United Kingdom

Closing date is Monday 11 June 2018






The American Politics Group of the Political Studies Association Inaugural Postgraduate and Early Career Network Conference


'The American Moment: Past, Present and Future'

Call for Papers

The American Politics Group (APG) is pleased to announce its call for papers for its inaugural Postgraduate and Early Career Network Conference, 'The American Moment: Past, Present and Future.' The University of Reading will host the Conference on 4 July 2018.

There is a broad conference theme, which can be approached in various ways. Papers could, for example, take a long-term historical perspective when reflecting on the first year of the Trump presidency. We will also be happy to receive proposals that consider subjects and material beyond this particular theme. Papers or panel proposals that examine contemporary US political institutions or processes, foreign policy issues and/or political history are invited. The conference organisers would also welcome papers that address comparative themes or relevant theoretical or methodological issues.

The APG is a diverse group of scholars. As such, we will not consider panels that consist solely of male presenters.

Proposals (no more than 150 words for single papers, 300 words for panels) should be sent to Dafydd Townley ( by no later than 30 April 2018.

This conference has been made possible thanks to the generosity of the Political Studies Association (PSA) through its 'Pushing the Boundaries' program. As part of the PSA, the APG is the leading scholarly association for the study of US politics in the UK and also has members in continental Europe and the USA.

Any enquiries regarding the APG's PGR conference should be directed to the organiser, Dafydd Townley (







CFP - Measuring (the quality of) Leadership


Warsaw, June 12-13, 2018

Organizers: Leadership Studies Division at the American Studies Center of the University of Warsaw; Collegium Civitas and Polish Association of Political Studies Leadership Section and Methodology Sections;

People talk about strong or weak, good or bad leadership, yet we often leave such qualitative judgments unsubstantiated. In the academe we aspire to build methodologies which allow for solid measures to support qualitative statements. Having specific measures of leadership allows for comparisons in leadership studies. The goal of our conference is to search for the answers to the following questions:

  • By what methods can leadership be studied best? Can leadership be measured effectively?
  • What are our reference points when we want to define the quality of leadership: imagination or reality? comparison with the past or current situation? Personalities or circumstances?
  • What research methods are appropriate, from what fields of study may they come? How to draw conclusions from studies done by diverse methods?
  • Can effectiveness of leadership be predicted? When we have measures of leadership does it help us study how leadership emerges, lasts, evolves or ends?


By posing such (and the like) questions we wish to gain insight to the already existing or just conceived METHODS OF STUDYING AND MEASURING leadership - contemporary and historical cases. We are seeking methods which will allow us to "harden" often intuitive and casual judgments as to the quality of leadership.

We are extending this invitation to all scholars who have decided to focus their attention on leadership. By no means we are limiting our call to political scientists. On the contrary, we are confident that efficient and practical methods of leadership studies can be developed at the juncture of various fields of study: sociology, history, psychology, management. We are interested in studies of leadership in various areas of public life: politics, administration, non-governmental organizations, or business. We invite scholars at different stages of advancement of their academic careers.

When selecting papers for the conference we will focus on the methods of studying and measuring leadership. We hope that our conference will become a good forum for all kind of scholars at all stages of their research who would like to share and discuss results of their work with likeminded colleagues.

We are planning to publish (online or paper) the texts which get a positive recommendation after blind peer review. The post-conference publication will be a well-focused set of texts so we are asking the participants to explain in their conference submissions how they define leadership and how they propose to study/measure it. The proposals should be no longer than 800 characters, submitted in word or pdf format. We are asking the prospective participants to include a brief biographical note which describes their fields of research interest. It will help us prepare a rich and coherent program.


  • Conference dates: June 12-13, 2018 (Tuesday-Wednesday)
  • Presentation proposals should be submitted (via the link mentioned below) by March 31, 2018
  • Information about presentation acceptance will be available by April 15, 2018
  • Conference fee: 500PLN, (PTNP members 400PLN), foreign participants Euro 130. Doctoral students pay 200PLN
  • Conference fee should be paid by May 10, 2018
  • Conference language: English and Polish
  • Text should be submitted for publication by July 31, 2018
  • Publication of texts is expected in December 2018


Proposals and all correspondence should be directed to this address:







American Political History Symposium 2018: Call for Papers

'Did Liberalism Fail in the United States after 1945? Identity and Conflict from Truman to Trump.'

The University of Glasgow, June 1, 2018

We are delighted to request paper and panel proposals for our symposium at the University of Glasgow on June 1, 2018. This one-day event focuses on the supposed failure of liberalism after 1945 by exploring the meanings of 'identity' in contemporary US political history, examining the processes of identity formation and tracing the lineage of identity contestation through to the 2016 election. After the rights-consciousness of various groups was awakened by the drive for civil rights in the 1960s, the emergence of 'identity politics' - which stresses strong collective identities as the basis of political action - increasingly determined the shape and structure of voting coalitions in ensuing decades. After the 2016 election, a number of political commentators suggested that the failure of the Democratic Party and liberalism more generally was directly tied to its affiliation to so-called identity politics. We hope to use this symposium to explore this further and offer new understandings of liberalism and conservatism through an examination of their relationship with identity politics during the post-war period.

Papers are welcomed on all topics related to this focus on identity and concerning the political history of the United States, post-1945, more generally. This could include (but not limited to):

▪ Gender and sexuality

▪ Policy history

▪ Race and racism

▪ Presidential and Congressional history

▪ Elections

▪ Liberalism and/or Conservatism

▪ The dynamics of contemporary American politics under Trump

Plenary Speaker Competition: In order to foster unique forms of engagement, we are turning the plenary speaker position into a competition, geared predominately toward PGRs and ECRs (although we do welcome proposals from established academics and independent scholars). Alongside the experience gained, the awardee will also be gifted a modest prize by the organisers. The plenary will last 1 hour (40 minute lecture; 20 minute Q&A).

Individual paper proposals and three-person panel proposals are equally welcomed. In order to address issues of representation and inclusion, panels composed entirely of male presenters will not be considered.

Please submit a 200-300-word abstract of the proposed paper to the organisers, Dr Joe Ryan-Hume and Dr Mark McLay, at ( by 2nd March 2018. Should you wish to enter the competition to be our plenary speaker, please send a brief CV (no more than two pages) as well as no more than 800-words on your proposed plenary.

This event is generously supported by BAAS and the University of Glasgow's History Department.





How Donald Trump put an end to the GOP's Southern strategy

By Laura Ellyn Smith January 10

Laura Ellyn Smith is a Ph.D. candidate and graduate instructor at the University of Mississippi, Arch Dalrymple III Department of History.

Donald Trump is tossing out the Republican Party's "Southern strategy."

The Southern strategy required the subtle art of racial coding: appealing to white Southern racism without alienating white suburbanites who recoiled at overt racial language. But time and again, President Trump has opted for the bullhorn rather than the dog whistle, regularly hurling racially loaded bromides and insults.

There's his nickname for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, "Pocahontas," which he most recently wielded in the Oval Office during a ceremony to honor Navajo World War II veterans. Trump made the comment in the shadow of a portrait of President Andrew Jackson, who committed genocide against Native Americans by forcing the passage and implementation of the Indian Removal Act.

Then there was Trump's recent visit to the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant invited the president on a private tour of the new museum. Civil rights leaders declined to attend the museum's opening, with Rep. John Lewis describing Trump's attendance as a "mockery." In Trump's remarks at the museum, he called Gov. Bryant - who earlier this year proclaimed April to be Confederate Heritage Month - a "great governor."

Trump's attack on political correctness - which is a term that, for him, applies as much to the GOP's coded language as to the inclusive language pioneered by the left - has profound consequences for politics that go beyond rhetoric, threatening to have an impact on policies such as immigration to the detriment of "dreamers" and race relations as a whole.

The strategy of using racially coded language is a relatively modern invention in American politics, where for much of the nation's history, overtly racial rhetoric thrived. In the antebellum era between 1820 and 1860, Southern politicians shifted from the Founding Fathers' acceptance of slavery as a "necessary evil" to actively promoting slavery as a "positive good," part of a defensive reaction to perceived threats to slavery. Throughout the antebellum era, politicians wielded horribly bigoted rhetoric against African Americans and Native Americans.

This unambiguously racialized rhetoric continued to be used by angry Southern segregationists for the next 100 years, most infamously by George Wallace and Strom Thurmond. The latter's disgust at the Democratic Party's support for civil rights legislation led him to switch parties and become a Republican. It was only once this rhetoric became a political hindrance that the transition to more coded language occurred.

During the height of the civil rights movement, the Republican Party adopted twin Southern and suburban strategies, spearheaded by Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign. Both strategies relied on appealing to whites who felt threatened by the civil rights movement in one way or another, but suburban voters recoiled at the overt race baiting of politicians like Wallace and Thurmond. Understanding this, Republicans developed a racially coded language that conveyed racialized messages without being blatantly racist - things like vocally opposing "forced busing" of schoolchildren rather than "school integration."

Perhaps the most memorable coded phrase was Ronald Reagan's references to the "welfare queen." He used this controversial phrase to depict single African American mothers as not only reliant on government handouts but also as determined abusers of the system, driving around in Cadillacs while the white working class struggled to make ends meet. The "welfare queen" trope served two purposes: to attack Great Society programs and to stoke racial animus.

Such racially coded rhetoric was effective at shoring up the unwillingness of many white voters to sacrifice to right past wrongs, especially for programs that appeared to aid black Americans more than white ones. This tactic created a unified base of white Republican voters across class and regional lines.

Instead of pioneering a new form of political communication, Trump is resurrecting the blatant racial rhetoric of the past. Nor is Trump alone in doing so. There's also former Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who revealed during the campaign that he believed that America was last great before the emancipation of African Americans from slavery. In fact, Trump and Moore share a use of racial rhetoric and policy: Moore's blatant references to "reds and yellows" - a reference to Native Americans and people of Asian descent - and his opposition to Muslim Americans serving in Congress are comparable to Trump's description of Mexicans as "rapists" and his desire to ban Muslims from the country.

Trump's rhetoric, combined with his support of a candidate who freely employed racial rhetoric, may become a watershed moment for the Republican Party. Republicans can no longer hide behind racially coded language: Their racial politics are now out in the open, dividing the party over whether to follow its president or follow demographic statistics that show an increasingly diverse American population.

Either way, the Southern strategy appears to be dead. Perhaps that's for the best. The country needs to reckon with the racism undergirding its politics. Trump has ensured the issue cannot be ignored.



A very special LIVE episode with host Adam Quinn and regular co-hosts Christalla Yakinthou and Scott Lucas discussing the election of Donald Trump, one year on.

This week the podcast is LIVE at Muirhead Tower at the University of Birmingham. Special guests Clodagh Harrington (De Montfort University) and Luca Trenta (Swansea University) join our regular panel to analyse what has changed since Donald Trump recorded a surprising victory over Hillary Clinton. Fake News, controversial turnarounds and general incompetence are all talking points this week. Our number of the week round also features alongside some detailed critiques of the Trump administration's foreign policy.

Produced by Conor McKenna in association with the University of Birmingham's Alumni Impact Fund. Find out more:…pact-fund.aspx

You can follow us on and stay up to date

And Like our

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Luca Trenta -

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Royal Holloway, University of London 

Department of Politics & International Relations

Fully funded PhD Studentship on public policy development in the Centre of International Public Policy at Royal Holloway, University of London


The Centre of International Public Policy (CIPP) is a world leading academic research centre based within the Department of Politics and International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London. We are currently offering a fully-funded PhD Studentship for three years from September 2018. The successful candidate will be supervised by Dr Ursula Hackett and Prof Andreas Goldthau and will sit within and be supported by CIPP. He or she will benefit from our wide-ranging expertise in political science, international political economy, and public policy, and will be expected to become part of our research community.

We invite applicants to submit a 2000 word proposal within the field of public policy making in the US, UK or other advanced democracies. Rising polarization, citizen alienation and the growth of privatized forms of governance and regulation animate the study of the design and transformation of public policies on the national and transnational level. Questions a PhD project could address may include:

? Under what conditions do public policies pass or fail?

? How do the coalitions advancing policies form and do they differ significantly across different policy areas?

? Why and how are policies transformed over time?

? What role do policy regimes play in this context?

Proposals may examine policy structure or compare policymaking procedures across several policy domains. Comparative proposals are welcomed though not required. Proposals may be qualitative or quantitative in nature with a preference for mixed-methods design.

Applicants should have a background in political science, public policy or a closely related discipline.


? Applicants should have completed a Master's degree (or equivalent from a university outside the United Kingdom) in a relevant subject by the start date.

Funding Details:

? Starts September 2018 (with the possibility of a January 2019 start date)

? Three-year award

? HEU fee waiver worth approximately £4,195 and maintenance of approximately £16,553 p.a. (2017-18 figures; 2018-19 figures to be confirmed).

? Access to departmental research and training allowance.

How to apply:

To apply for this studentship please email Ursula Hackett ( and Andreas Goldthau ( including:

(a) A brief cover letter outlining why you are applying for the Public Policy Development Studentship.

(b) A proposal (max 2000 words) outlining the project and how it relates to public policymaking. Include research question, context, methodology, and proposed thesis structure and timeline.

(c) A curriculum vitae.

(d) Contact details (email and postal addresses) for two academic referees.

Please provide your referees with a copy of your research proposal so that they are able to comment specifically on your suitability to pursue the course of study you have described.

Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed.

Application Deadline:

1 st December 2017

Further Enquiries:

Ursula Hackett ( and Andreas Goldthau (




Candidate Trump attacked Obama's executive orders. President Trump loves executive orders

By Andrew Rudalevige

As he campaigned for the presidency, Donald Trump argued that Barack Obama's frequent use of unilateral administrative tools made Obama a weak leader. "We have a president that can't get anything done," Trump told an interviewer in January 2016, "so he just keeps signing executive orders all over the place."

That spring he added,

I want to not use too many executive orders, folks. … Obama, because he couldn't get anybody to agree with him, he starts signing them like they're butter. So I want to do away with executive orders for the most part.

Fast forward to a White House news release marking President Trump's first 100 days in office. It claimed that Trump had "accomplished more in his first 100 days than any other President since Franklin Roosevelt." The proof? He had signed more executive orders in that period than any of Roosevelt's other successors.

[Most of Trump's executive orders aren't actually executive orders. Here's why that matters.]

And while Republicans fiercely criticized Obama for pledging to use his "pen and his phone" to get around legislative gridlock, this week - using his phone - Trump touted his pen. The president tweeted: 'Since Congress can't get its act together on HealthCare, I will be using the power of the pen to give great HealthCare to many people - FAST'

Indeed, last week gave us many examples of President Trump's wallow in the buttery goodness known as "the administrative presidency." Atop the executive order promising great health care came a directive to cease cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurance companies as well as new rules allowing more entities to opt out of providing contraception coverage for their employees; these followed numerous prior HHS efforts to undercut Affordable Care Act markets. And the week's directives went far beyond the ACA, ranging from the treatment of transgender people to environmental regulations to the international agreement aimed at reining in Iran's nuclear program.

In light of Trump's past pronouncements, it is tempting to simply shout "Hypocrisy!" and move on. It is certainly telling that Trump's turn to unilateralism, unlike his predecessors', comes when both chambers of Congress are run by his own party. Using executive orders as a substitute for legislation is far more common in divided government.

But in fact presidents of all parties, policy preferences and personality types have strong institutional incentives to embrace administrative tactics. As Richard Nathan wrote nearly 35 years ago, "in a complex, technologically complex society in which the role of government is pervasive, much of what we would define as policy-making is done through the execution of laws in the management process." So presidents have developed a wide range of tools to execute those laws, well beyond executive orders themselves. Further, partisan polarization and divided government makes new legislation harder to obtain.

Thus, presidents have both opportunity and motive to seek unilateral solutions to policy problems. As George W. Bush put it in 2004, 'I got a little frustrated in Washington because I couldn't get the bill passed out of the Congress. They were arguing process. … Congress wouldn't act, so I signed an executive order - that means I did it on my own.'

Doing it "on my own" - and doing it fast, even "FAST" - is very tempting to presidents of all stripes.

But some executive action can evaporate with the next executive - or be challenged in the courts

But even as Trump's directives shape policy implementation, they also show the potential fragility of administrative action. As Peter Baker recently noted, Trump's use of executive power has often been directed at undoing President Obama's.

The ease of that undoing varies by the kind of action. Regulations can only be rescinded when an agency can make a strong substantive case for doing so, meaning that while announcing the end of Obama's Clean Power Plan is easy, actually repealing or replacing it will take time and sustained effort.

By contrast, executive orders can be reversed by subsequent executive orders - for instance, in shifting the rules for government contracting. And where statutes have been interpreted to yield certain policy results, they can be reinterpreted to yield others. The latest Trump executive order on the Affordable Care Act, encouraging federal agencies to expand insurance options not subject to ACA requirements, may run up againststatutory language limiting their ability to do as much as promised. Any resulting rules changes will almost certainly wind up in court.

Indeed, Trump claimed illegality as the reason he reversed both the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and halted CSR payments. His September statement on DACA emphasized its threat to "the core tenets that sustain our Republic," claiming that "virtually all other top legal experts have advised that the program is unlawful and unconstitutional." And the Justice Department delivered a legal opinionstating that CSR payments could not be made because they had not been appropriated by Congress.

The Trump administration's reading of the law might well be correct in these cases; the CSR opinion, notably, is buttressed by a 2016 federal district court decision. It's worth noting, though, that no small number of "top legal experts" have in fact taken opposite positions on both matters. The district court's CSR ruling was under appeal - and in other cases President Trump has certainly not treated the rulings of individual judges as sacrosanct. Nor has he renounced aggressive interpretations of statute in other arenas. As usual, what counts as "faithful" execution of the law is at least in part a function of competing policy preferences.

And that means it's not just presidents who like the use of executive power. Others gladly encourage it, so long as it serves their own policy goals. As the DACA and CSR debates indicate, for instance, many in Congress are happy with the substance of such policies - and also happy to avoid accountability for supporting them.

The upshot is that Trump's new love of executive action has managed mostly to put legislators on the spot. This is ironic, but not inappropriate: It is indeed Congress's responsibility to resolve statutory ambiguity and define the boundaries of executive discretion. This is a job legislators have long shirked - but as they do so, they might find their institutional prerogatives melting away. Like butter.

Andrew Rudalevige is Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government at Bowdoin College. He specializes in the study of American political institutions, primarily the presidency and the interbranch relations, with a recent focus on presidential management of the executive branch.


Five ways Donald Trump is rolling back the

Obama years - or trying to


In the absence of any clear ideology associated with Donald Trump's US presidency, it does seem he has at least one obvious priority that transcends the hype and spin: he is determined to undo his predecessor's legacy.

Trump's efforts to "repeal and replace" have had mixed success, just as Obama's efforts to build that legacy in the first place were stymied by the 2010 Republican takeover of the House of Representatives. Obama did push executive branch authority to its limits - most notably when it came to the diplomatic thaw with Cuba - but relying on administrative powers to bring about change was a second-best way of building a robust legacy.

Eight months into his term, Trump has added no major legislative achievements to his name, but he too has used executive powers to chip away at the achievements of his predecessor. Here are some examples of where his administration has tried to roll things back so far.


As a candidate Trump broke with conservative orthodoxy on some key social policy issues, notably in his support for the government-run Medicare and social security programmes. But he joined with Republicans to vociferously denounce Obama's signature domestic policy achievement, the Affordable Care Act, better known as "Obamacare".

Through 2017 congressional Republicans advanced various proposals and the House passed the American HealthCare Act in May, only for this bill to die a death in the Senate. The GOP's narrow 52-48 majority means there is little room for internal party dissent, giving some voice to the few remaining moderates. The final week in September brought the year's last-ditch effort at repeal, since the Senate's arcane rules dictate that the use of the "reconciliation" process, which would preclude any Democratic filibuster of reform, ended on September 30.

Trade and tarriffs

Trump has consistently attacked trade deals that he claims are bad for American workers. Through the campaign he lambasted the North American Free Trade Agreement, which dates back to the George H W Bush and Clinton presidencies, and suggested that the US might impose significant new tariffs on Chinese imports. He was also scornful of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a deal the Obama administration had negotiated with 11 other countries and which encompasses almost 40% of the world's economy. Here Trump promptly fulfilled his promise and withdrew the US from the agreement, which had yet to come into effect. Regarding other deals while Trump's rhetoric remained fiery, he has mainly instructed that they be reviewed rather than revoked.

Funding family planning overseas

On his first day in office Trump signed a memorandum reinstating the so-called Mexico City policy, which prevents federal funding from going to NGOs that perform or promote abortion as a means for family planning as part of their work. In May, Trump had announced that it would expand the range of activities that would be prohibited under what critics call the "global gag" rule. The US would save around US$500m a year and Trump scores a win with his socially conservative base, while the number of abortions carried out in Sub-Saharan Africa and other areas is likely to rise, rather than fall. While the funding ban does not affect American women directly, it sends a clear message to them that their president is sympathetic to those who oppose female reproductive autonomy.

Transgender Americans in the armed forces

In August 2017 the president reinstated a ban on transgender recruits signing up to the US Army, and a ban on the military paying for any related medical expenses or surgery. Responsibility for the decisions on what to do regarding the thousands of currently serving transgender army members was left to the generals.

Again, this presidential memo was a direct reaction to an Obama-era initiative. It remains a political flashpoint, and as of September 2017 a six-month delay in implementation has been put in place. Those in favour of the ban decry the notion of the army being used as a forum for "social experiment" while others argue that a person's qualification and suitability for military service should be the only criteria that matters. Chelsea Manning responded to the ban by stating that the armed forces "have always been a social experiment just as much as a fighting force".

Gun rights

Speaking to the BBC in the summer of 2015, President Obama noted that his biggest regret as president was the failure to make any headway on gun control. In truth it was only after the Sandy Hook massacre, in which 20 primary school children and their six teachers were gunned down, that he made the issue a top priority. Despite sustained efforts to get Congress on board, his efforts were fruitless, and he was forced to resort to executive action in January 2016. This had symbolic and some substantial value, and if nothing else demonstrated he was prepared to take on the gun lobby. Trump, on the other hand, embraced the gun lobby as a candidate, which rewarded him by donating US$30m to his campaign. That investment began to pay off when President Trump, on February 28 2017, signed a bill that undid one of Obama's measures to strengthen background checks.

Even in the aftermath of Las Vegas, the biggest mass shooting in modern America, little is likely to change. With 59 dead and hundreds injured, there might seem an opening for political dialogue on the widespread access to weapons of war, but opponents of more regulation will protest against "politicising the issue". Trump and the Republican party will remain wedded to a culture promoting gun rights, emphatically reinforced by power of the National Rifle Association. Presidential thoughts and prayers, rather than actions, will have to suffice.




We are thrilled to announce the winner of the APG 2017 Richard E Neustadt book prize is Dr Mark Shanahan (Reading University) Eisenhower at the Dawn of the Space Age: Sputniks, Rockets and Helping Hands (Lexington Books, 2017) We very much look forward to congratulating Mark in person at the APG colloquium on November 10 where he will receive plaudits and a cheque!

'Eisenhower at the Dawn of the Space Age' is a fine and original work focusing on the space politics of the Eisenhower administration. Shanahan creates a subtle and nuanced portrait of Eisenhower as policymaker, suggesting Eisenhower was both more consistent in his space policy and more capable of driving the agenda than previous work has suggested. In doing so, he expands on the existing school of Eisenhower revisionism.However the implications of the book extend beyond that, it suggests. the existence at the helm of the nascent space institutions of a close-knit policy community which had developed its own consensus. This consensus, Shanahan argues, proved remarkably resilient to outside pressure, initially even being continued under Kennedy. Shanhan also strongly suggests space policy under Eisenhower was better thought out, more thoughtful and constructive than was its successor under Kennedy. This is a seminal work that would be consulted by scholars of both the Eisenhower administration and Space policy for years to come.'



PSA Annual International Conference 2018 - Call for Papers and Panel Proposals

Cardiff City Hall

26 - 28 March 2018 #PSA18






Walking Dead: The Republican Effort to Repeal Obamacare

By Alex Waddan and Daniel Béland 


Repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is also known as Obamacare, had been a mantra of Republicans ever since its passage in March 2010. The Tea Party drew much of its energy from its opposition to the ACA and Republican candidates had reiterated their commitment to undoing the law in each subsequent election cycle. This paid dividends for the party in the 2010 mid-term elections, but the re-election of President Obama in 2012 seemed to ensure that the ACA would continue its rollout, which was always scheduled to be a prolonged process, as he would be able to block efforts by congressional Republicans to repeal the law. Nevertheless, continuing, and effective, Republican opposition to the ACA was illustrated by efforts to obstruct implementation at the state level; for example, at the start of 2017, 19 states still refused extra federal funding to expand their Medicaid programmes to cover low-income, uninsured Americans. This level of resistance to Medicaid expansion, which generally occurs in Republican-controlled states, was made possible by a June 2012 Supreme Court decision that upheld most components of the ACA but forbid the federal government to punish states that refused to expand the programme. Furthermore, in January 2016, Obama was forced to use the presidential veto to block a bill passed by the Republican controlled chambers of Congress that would have repealed large parts of the ACA.

The 2016 presidential election cycle demonstrated once again that promising to "repeal Obamacare" was catnip to Republican candidates and the party's base. And, although candidate Trump did break with some aspects of conservative orthodoxy when promising that he would not cut the Medicare or Social Security programmes, he was fully onboard with the anti-ACA rhetoric. Thus, Trump's unexpected victory in November 2016 meant that Republicans, enjoying unified government in Washington DC as they now controlled the White House and both the House and the Senate, could now fulfill their longstanding promise. Doing so, however, turned out to be much more complicated than anticipated.

In early May 2017, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act. This occurred after an abbreviated, yet still tortuous, process, with the initial proposals withdrawn from consideration ahead of a floor vote due to opposition from all Democrats, but more decisively by moderate Republicans and conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus. Eventually the last group were satisfied by changes to the bill meaning that the AHCA garnered sufficient support to pass the House. That was followed by a rather presumptive White House ceremony, of the sort normally reserved for when a President actually gets to sign a bill passed by both House and Senate. Expectations were high that such a moment would come, but ominously for Republicans, while AHCA did repeal important parts of the ACA, few thought that it was a coherent model for reform and the hope was that Senate would put together a more comprehensible package.

Republican Senate leaders, in their desire to craft a bill quickly, chose to bypass so-called "regular order", thereby significantly truncating the legislative process and relying on a Republican only taskforce to develop a bill. They also chose to push the bill through the "reconciliation" process, thus negating the possibility of a filibuster, meaning that they would need only 50 votes since they could rely on the casting vote of Vice President Pence. Yet, even after tilting the playing field, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, renowned for his party management, could not muster enough votes. The final blow came when, in late July 2017, the Senate voted down so-called "skinny repeal". Few thought this a satisfactory way forward, but it was advanced by the leadership on the same, kicking the can down the road, logic used to justify the passage of the AHCA in the House. Only this time a House - Senate Conference Committee was expected to come up with a coherent plan to save the day. In the end, just over six months into Trump's presidency, the Senate repeal effort failed.

Although the debate on the future of the ACA is by no means over, this recent failure leads to an obvious question: why, after seven years of deriding Obamacare, were Republicans unable to undo the law when in an institutional position to do so? A cynic might suggest that they never expected to have to fulfill their promise, especially as the 2016 campaign unfolded and the prospect of a Trump presidency seemed remote, leaving them confounded when faced with delivering on their rhetoric. Yet, there were plans in the conservative eco-system on how to move forward on health care reform, so unpreparedness is not a sufficient explanation. It is the case, however, that the party had never come together over any particular plan, reflecting how the US health care system is extraordinarily complex, a fact that President Trump discovered, apparently to his, though no-one else's, surprise.

In this context, while the ACA was consistently underwater in polling during Obama's presidency, the law did have features that were popular, and Republican lawmakers struggled with crafting plans that would keep those legacies in place, but simultaneously repeal other parts of the ACA that effectively supported them. In particular, Republicans committed themselves to maintaining the ACA's principle that individuals with pre-existing conditions should have access to affordable health insurance. The reality that this principle required spreading the cost of risk to healthy people, however, proved problematic when Republicans were also promising to reduce the insurance premiums for the healthy. More generally, as the ACA had been implemented, the numbers of uninsured Americans had dropped considerably. The manner in which that drop was largely attributable to the ACA became ever more apparent as each of the Republican plans put forward in Congress were scored by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office as likely to leave over 20 million more Americans uninsured.

Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge the ever present difficulty of getting any major reform through the US legislative maze, even when one party controls both Congress and occupies the White House. In 2017, the Republicans stumbled in the Senate where they had only a 52-48 majority. McConnell made no effort to reach out to Democrats, which put a premium on his ability to corral his caucus. Yet, while the well-documented trend of partisan polarization in the US had seen the Republicans become a considerably more conservative force, there turned out to remain some moderate Republican voices in Congress worried about the consequences of taking insurance away from millions of Americans. On the final vote on skinny repeal, most of the attention focused on Senator John McCain from Arizona, returning to the Senate after a diagnosis of a severe form of brain cancer, and his vote against. In fact, the more consistent voices of opposition to the leadership had come from Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Finally, it is worth reflecting on the role of President Trump. He had promised prompt repeal of the ACA upon taking office, and his frustration was clear in the summer as he lashed out as the congressional efforts stalled, including a side swipe at McCain in an extraordinary August 15 impromptu press conference on the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which he apparently equated Nazis and KKK supporters with those protesting against them. Yet for all the presidential bluster, it was very clear that Trump had minimal grasp of the policy detail, which undermined his capacity to make a public case for why Republican plans for reform were a good idea and diminished his ability to sway the likes of Collins and Murkowski.

From a Republican perspective, one distinctly unintended consequence of their actions was to boost the popularity of the ACA. Yet, supporters of the ACA should remain wary. First, the Republican reform effort may look like the walking dead, but zombies can do harm to the living. To switch monster analogies, it maybe that Republicans try again to build a Frankenstein repeal bill if they make the calculation that it is more politically damaging to break their seven year promise than to enact something that might be very unpopular. Second, the ACA, particularly with regard to functioning of the individual insurance markets, needs the federal and state governments to take a pro-active role in encouraging households to enroll and pressuring insurers to offer plans where returns are likely to be low. Trump has regularly declared that he is happy for the ACA to implode and for Democrats to take the blame. As it is, he is likely both underestimating the resilience of the law and misjudging the political fall-out should people become even more disgruntled with their health care. But politics, bravado, and bluster aside, the administration does have the capacity to undermine the implementation of the law and leave many more Americans exposed to both economic and health risk should they need medical care.

Daniel Béland is Professor and Canada Research Chair in Public Policy at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan. Alex Waddan is an Associate Professor in American politics at the University of Leicester.