The Luck of the Donald

Ironically, Trump’s opponents have set him up for some major successes.

By William McGurn



“Everything in life is luck.” The words are attributed to Donald Trump and they continue to make regular appearances in the press notwithstanding that the president-elect long ago declared it fake news. “I never made this ridiculous statement,” he tweeted in 2014, in language that sounds much closer to the spirit of @realDonaldTrump.

Even so, it takes nothing away from Mr. Trump’s stunning Nov. 8 victory to note that he enters the Oval Office a very lucky president. For notwithstanding the formidable challenges ahead—a dangerous world in which American leadership has been diminished, an anemic domestic economy that has led record numbers of Americans to give up hope of finding work, to name two—the curious politics of the moment has set him up for some bigly successes early on. The irony is that it is not so much Mr. Trump’s friends as his enemies who have put him in this lucky position.

The list is long. So let’s start from the top:

Barack Obama. Remember President Obama’s vow that he wasn’t going to wait for Congress to act? Well, he didn’t. And it wasn’t just executive orders. On everything from the nuclear deal with Iran and the Paris agreement on climate change to fossil fuels, immigration and transgender bathrooms, the administration has relied principally on executive authority to impose the Obama agenda.

But as this editorial page has noted, what can be done by the pen can be undone by the pen. By relying on executive power instead of the hard work of persuading Congress to pass legislation, Mr. Obama has set Mr. Trump up for some wonderful photo-ops as the new president uses his own executive authority to undo large chunks of the Obama legacy.

John Kerry. Put it this way: If you wanted to make Mr. Trump an instant hero to Israel, what would you do? The answer is you’d have America abstain from a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the Jewish state—and then have the secretary of state give a speech like the one he just delivered knocking the coalition government of Benjamin Netanyahu as the “most right-wing in Israeli history.”

Whatever Mr. Kerry thought he was doing, his out-the-door slap at Israel is of a piece with the booing that the mention of Jerusalem received at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. At the beginning of this presidential race Mr. Trump raised fears about how pro-Israel he would be when he said he’d be “neutral” between the Israelis and Palestinians. Now he’s a hero simply for not insulting and demeaning the elected choice of the Israeli people the way Mr. Obama has.

Sally Jewell. Throughout the election Mr. Trump made coal miners his special cause, promising to restore mining jobs killed by Obama-era regulations. Interior Secretary Jewell is apparently hard at work making it easier for Mr. Trump to show he’s making good on his promise. The vehicle is an 11th-hour rule that would give federal regulators more power to deny coal-mining permits.

Here’s the gift: The rule goes into effect a day before Mr. Trump is sworn in as president. That leaves 60 legislative days for Congress to stop it from going into effect under the Congressional Review Act. Already Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised that Republicans will use that act to kill the regulation. Which will likely end with a nice ceremony with Mr. Trump surrounded by grateful coal miners as he announces how he and his party have saved the industry from another coal-killing regulation.

Harry Reid. In 2013 the then-Senate majority leader was determined to stop the then-Republican minority from blocking Obama nominees. So he pushed through what the New York Times called “the most fundamental alteration of its rules in more than a generation.” Under the Reid rules, President Obama needed only a simple majority to get his nominees through, not the 60 votes to stop a GOP filibuster.

Plainly this made it easier for President Obama. But President Trump will enjoy the same advantage in a Congress where his party already has a majority in both houses.

Ted Cruz. When Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, the Texas senator ran an ad highlighting the importance of the Supreme Court on issues from the Second Amendment to religious liberty, highlighting a clip from an old interview in which Mr. Trump called himself “very pro-choice” and concluding “we cannot trust Donald Trump with these decisions.”

In May Mr. Trump responded by releasing a list of jurists broadly in the Scalia tradition. Now he can claim a mandate because he had released these names. So once again, Mr. Trump’s critics—in this case constitutional conservatives—have set him up to make good on one of his most important campaign promises.

Right now the punditry is chattering on about how Mr. Obama is using his remaining time in office to box Mr. Trump in. Maybe. But so far Mr. Trump has been blessed by his enemies’ bad judgment.

And nothing they are now doing suggests his luck—or their bad judgment—is going to change.

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