During the first 100 days of any presidential administration, national political coverage is often dominated by pundits sounding off about the ways a president discharges his executive duties.
Carol Weissert, the Florida State University LeRoy Collins Eminent Scholar and Chair of Civic Education and Political Science, said that this heightened level of national attention is nothing new.
“In the past, the first 100 days of an administration have told us a lot about what kind of governing style a president is going to have,” Weissert said. “Everybody pays attention.”
Since the early days of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term, the first 100 days of presidential administrations have been subjected to a particular kind of scrutiny. Both domestically and around the world, people look to this period for some indication of how the president plans to conduct himself in office.
“When a new president comes in, he quickly begins to make his mark on the government,” Weissert said. “The first 100 days are important because, by that point, the president has been in office long enough to give some sense of how he’s going to govern.”
After an extensive and contentious campaign where the then-candidate is expected to address a variety of diverse questions and formulate broad policy positions, the first few months of an administration provide a clearer idea of what issues the president is most eager to take on.
This, Weissert said, is crucial in structuring a framework for how to understand the operative political ideals of an administration.
“During a campaign, a candidate will discuss a whole assortment of issues, but once in office, the president has an opportunity to prioritize those issues,” Weissert said. “This gives us a good hint as to what we should expect for the following four years.”
While the work of legislating is typically a long, onerous grind, there are a few practical ways that a president can make an immediate mark on federal laws and regulations.
Executive orders are useful tools for new presidents looking for an accelerated path to set their agendas in motion.
“In his early days, President Trump, much like President Obama and President Bush before him, has gone for the low-hanging fruit,” Weissert said. “There are some executive orders that the president can issue without consulting Congress, and the president can abolish executive orders from past presidents as a way of saying ‘I have different priorities and different concerns.’ This is something that all presidents do.”
Ultimately, the first 100 days of an administration serve as a series of signposts. They clue us in on how the direction of our federal government may veer toward a different course.
“The real value of the first 100 days isn’t really the slate of executive orders, but in how it demonstrates governing style,” Weissert said. “Does a president use cabinet officials excessively? Does a president rely on a small group of people around him? Does a president frequently confer with Congress? These early days tell us a lot.”
Carol Weissert is an expert on national and state politics with an emphasis on elections, intergovernmental relations, federalism, health policy and Florida politics.