Over at his other blog, TheMoneyIllusion, fellow EconLog blogger Scott Sumner writes:
I've often suggested that Presidents have far less power than people assume, and that events tend to follow the "zeitgeist", or the prevailing mood in the country. That's why Obamacare was not repealed, and it explains why Trump has not been very consequential, despite his obvious personal flaws.
I agree with Scott that Presidents have far less power than people assume.I don't agree, though, that he "has not been very consequential." The way to tell is to do one's best to imagine what a President Hillary Clinton would have done.
There are a number of areas in which we have seen and, I think, will see, a big difference between him and her.
1. Tax policy. I'm confident there's no way, if Clinton had been elected, that we would have seen such a good combination of tax cut and tax reform. Yes, she might have cut the corporate income tax rate to 28%, but it's hard to believe it would have gone lower. Also, given her support from high-tax states, she almost certainly wouldn't have limited the state and local tax deduction to $10,000. One libertarian friend on Facebook pointed out that the initiative for the tax bill came from a Republican Congress, not Donald Trump, and that's largely true. But so what? If Clinton had been elected, she would not have signed a tax bill close to what we got.
2. Immigration policy. Trump is moving in a dangerous direction, continuing the Obama policy of cracking down on illegal immigrants but stepping it up a notch and even limiting further legal immigration. That's consequential. And I fear that we haven't see the end of it.
3. Judges. There's no way we would have got Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court or many of the other excellent picks for federal judgeships had Hillary won.
4. Regulation. Trump has been much more of a deregulator than I expected. I think this is already consequential.
There is one area where I think it's clear that Trump has not been very consequential--and I'm thankful: international trade. This is a possible explanation.
In the same post, Scott writes:
The one possible exception is foreign policy, where Presidents might be influential, in certain cases. But even there I don't really expect much change. Rather the problem is that Trump's recklessness makes a miscalculation with countries such as North Korea slightly more likely.
I agree. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are pretty reckless on foreign policy.