Why Barack Obama's legacy is proving so difficult for the GOP to undo

Author Jonathan Chait argues his book about Obama's achievements is even more relevant since Trump became president

By Matthew Sheffield

Published May 3, 2017 6:11PM (EDT)

Barack Obama, Donald Trump   (Reuters/Yuri Gripas/Kamil Krzaczynski/Photo montage by Salon)
Barack Obama, Donald Trump (Reuters/Yuri Gripas/Kamil Krzaczynski/Photo montage by Salon)

While President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office were filled with numerous executive orders approving or banning various things, he has yet to have any major legislative achievements. Despite Trump’s promises on the campaign trail about overhauling health care or passing gigantic tax cuts, none of that has actually transpired.

Some of the president’s critics on the right, what’s left of NeverTrump, have blamed his chaos theory of management for a lot of these difficulties. But that's not entirely accurate since Trump isn't to blame for the deep divides that exist among Republicans over what the goals of government should be. This was a question they were able to punt on during the presidency of Barack Obama when the GOP didn't have the presidency but now they can't avoid it.

The other reason why things have been more difficult for Trump and his Republican allies is that many of the achievements of Obama were passed legislatively and would be very difficult to overturn for any GOP-dominated Congress.

Someone who saw all this coming is New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait. One of America’s most prolific and influential political writers, Chait is also a keen critic and monitor of his conservative counterparts.

Chait’s victims saw an opportunity in January to strike back against their tormentor when he published a book arguing that many of Obama’s policy achievements were going to prove long-lasting. The title of Chait’s work, “Audacity,” seemed daring in its own right, given that Democrats had lost the 2016 presidential election and would continue to comprise a minority in the Congress.

Much mirth was had. National Review mocked Chait’s “ill-timed” work for its “fantastical vision of an imaginary Obama.” City Journal panned the book, arguing that “Donald Trump’s victory was a repudiation of the Obama legacy.”

But now more than three months into the Trump presidency, it seems that Jonathan Chait is the one who’s laughing now.

One can readily disagree with Chait’s insistence that Obama lived up to his campaign promises but the continuing Republican debacles over health care, taxes and pretty much all the other political issues indicate that, at the very least, Chait was correct that the GOP would have difficulty enacting a different policy vision for America.

We’re still too close to see how Obama will be assessed in the future but it is notable that not only have Republicans had trouble undoing his accomplishments; they also seem to have become more popular among a significant subset of liberals who didn’t think that the former president had done enough while he had the opportunity.

Chait and I discussed these and several other topics in a long-form interview, below.

My thanks to Bensound for the bumper music.


Matthew Sheffield

A writer, web developer, and former tv producer, Matthew Sheffield covers politics, media, and technology for Salon. You can email him via m.sheffield@salon.com or follow him on Twitter.

MORE FROM Matthew Sheffield

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Barack Obama Conservatives Donald Trump Health Care Jonathan Chait Podcast