The national debate over the presidency of Donald J. Trump took center stage in Ocean Shores Saturday morning when the annual Roanoke Conference focused in on the first year of the Trump Administration.
There was not a mention of the current FBI controversy or the ongoing investigation into Russian influences and meddling in the 2016 presidential election, neither was there any discussion of the latest news out of Washington, D.C., that President Trump had tried to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel assigned to handle the Russian investigation.
There was, however, some concern about what the first year in office means for Republican political candidates going forward and some attempt to look back at the Trump victory over Hillary Clinton with new appreciation for what it means for the party.
“President Trump won the election fair and square,” said panelist Steve Beren of One Spark Marketing. “It was a close election … Hillary Clinton was a uniquely flawed candidate.”
He noted that about 7.8 million people voted for neither one of the candidates, and Trump ended up winning in the Electoral College with just 46 percent of the popular vote.
“We should realize that generally speaking, 46 percent is not enough to win. For us to have more Republican senators, more Republican candidates, and for future presidential candidates to win, we are going to need more than 46 percent,” said Beren, who described himself as a “solid, hard-core Republican.”
With an estimated 500 Republicans in attendance for the annual convention at the Ocean Shores Convention Center, a panel of four people that included two closely tied to the Trump Administration took a close look at how the current president has reshaped the political landscape. When the Roanoke Conference held its election straw poll prior to the 2016 election, Donald Trump was not even on the ballot.
“Lets face it,” said moderator and radio-talk show host Kirby Wilbur, “it was the most conservative first year of any president, including Ronald Reagan.”
Todd Myers, director of the Center for the Environment at Washington Policy Center, noted he was not a Trump supporter during the presidential campaign.
“After the first year, I think it’s worth looking at the good and the bad that we have had with the president,” Myers said.
Myers listed “things that have gone well” as the appointments of General Jim Mattis to the Cabinet and Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court among other appointments.
“(Trump) has provided social license to the members of the Cabinet to do things that other presidents would not,” Myers said.
While Trump may not always understand policy, according to Myers, he has empowered Cabinet members “to do things in a different way,” resulting in the repeal of a number of regulations.
“He gives his team members the opportunity to make dramatic improvements and changes in things that have turned out to be very good,” Myers said.
Not knowing policy, however, also can be a detriment, such as in the failure to succeed in the effort to repeal and replace what has been known as “Obama care.”
“We can’t rely on him to always steer in the correct direction,” Myers acknowledged.
The panel included Katie Walsh Shields, a former Trump aide (Deputy Chief of Staff) now working to advance his agenda through a group called America First Policies.
“Don’t let the national media take you off your game,” Shields said in reference to the news reports that center on the ongoing campaign investigation.
Shields cited a number of first-year accomplishments she said were from her first-hand experience in the first year.
In addition to the appointment of Gorsuch, Shields noted Trump has appointed 12 federal appellate judges, “which is a record for an Administration in its first year.”
“When you talk about setting a vision for the country for the next four years, those are judicial appointments that will shape the way this country works for the next 40 to 50 years. That cannot be underscored,” Shields said.
Another accomplishment she stressed was economic improvement, citing a recent Gallup Poll: “56 percent of Americans now feel good about finding a high-quality, high-paying job. That is the highest average on record.”
With the stock market up 36 percent since Trump took office, and unemployment at a 17-year low, Trump also rates high for his support of the recently passed tax package, according to Shields.
“We really cannot get through mainstream media in terms of what the everyday American is going to see in the difference in their lives because of this tax bill,” Shields said, predicting it will put an average of $2,000 “in the pocket” of families making about $75,000 a year.
Other accomplishments were permitting the Keystone and Dakota pipelines to moving forward and helping to cut numerous governmental regulations. “Getting government out of people’s way is not a small thing,” Shields said.
Not all decisions by the President were as warmly received.
Myers, who was filling in for former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, predicted out the recent repeal of the individual mandate for health care coverage in the recently passed tax cut package “may make the system even worse” when people get their bills for next year for health care coverage.
“We can’t blame Barack Obama any more. It’s our system now. If we don’t fix that, and insurance rates continue to go up, that’s our problem,” Myers said.
Another issue will be unfettered free trade, which Myers said of Trump: “I’m very worried that he is going to go in the wrong direction on that.”
“Lastly, I worry that he makes decisions based on personality rather than policy,” Myers added, pointing to the recent decision to open up coastal waters to offshore drilling. When Florida’s governor complained, Florida was eliminated from the policy decision.
“How can I say we should do drilling off the Washington coast, which I am dubious about anyway, when Donald Trump is making personal deals? I worry about that sort of thing,” Myers said.
From her national perspective, Shields maintained that the results are clear: “There may be people who don’t like the President’s rhetoric, there may be people who don’t like his tone. At the end of the day, no one can argue with his accomplishments.”