Donald Trump promised to do a lot of things on day one of his presidency. Instead, he spent his first full day in office at the CIA, trying to impress a roomful of intelligence officers by bragging about how many Time magazine covers he’s been on. “Is Donald Trump an intellectual? Trust me, I’m, like, a smart person,” he told them, which suggests he thinks the word “intelligence” in the government context means “really smart”.
When he finally got down to business, though, he showed he does know a few things, like how he got to where he is and what he needs to do to stay there. He may not have fulfilled the vast majority of those “day one, first hour” campaign pledges (deport 2 million “criminal aliens”, introduce congressional term limits, get rid of gun-free school zones), but the ones he did fulfill demonstrated he’s smart enough to understand what’s really important to his supporters, and to his party, even if they’re not always the same thing.
So two of his first executive orders broke with Republican party orthodoxy and trashed a pair of trade deals, the TPP and NAFTA. Free trade deals are popular in principle with economists, unpopular in practice with pretty much everyone else. So it’s an easy political calculation, yet one that’s eluded Republicans and most Democrats since the Clinton era. Bashing free trade may be hard for some of the GOP’s ideological purists to swallow, but the promise of a permanent Republican majority in the Midwest makes it go down a lot easier, and all the more so by the fact that neither executive order actually does anything.