Who Had the Better First 100 Days?
Photo illustration by Slate. Images by Southworth & Hawes and Win McNamee/Getty Images.
William Henry Harrison and Donald Trump.
On the 31st day of his presidency, William Henry Harrison died. This presented a major hindrance to his efforts to pass signature legislation and has generally been considered the worst “first 100 days” a president can have. Given how poorly Donald Trump’s first 100 days have gone, however, it seems possible that being dead might have been a better strategy than whatever it is Trump’s doing. Let’s compare terms:
Trump, Jan. 20–26
Trump gave a competent if unoriginal inaugural address, which was immediately overshadowed by press secretary Sean Spicer’s delusional insistence that Trump’s inaugural audience was not obviously smaller than Obama’s. Trump also told congressional leaders during a private meeting that he’d only lost the popular vote because 3 million to 5 million illegal votes had been cast for Hillary Clinton, an extremely dubious claim that was immediately leaked to the press.
Harrison, March 4–10, 1841
Harrison delivered a 8,445-word inaugural address, the longest in history, which lasted nearly two hours. In the speech, Harrison promised not to run for a second term, said he would exercise discretion in the use of executive power, and defended the rights of states to allow slavery.
Who had the better week? By virtue of not having defended slavery, it’s Trump.
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Trump, Jan. 27–Feb. 2
Signed a ban on travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries. Nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
Harrison, March 11–17, 1841
Called for a special session of Congress to meet in May to address the depressed economy. Pushed back against efforts by members of his own party to influence his political appointments. (Powerful Sen. Henry Clay was trying to exert influence over Harrison, a fellow Whig; others wanted the new president to fire everyone in government who’d been appointed by his Democratic predecessors. Harrison told Clay to back off and refused to carry out the mass firings.)
Who had the better week? Harrison, no question! Great week for Harrison.
Trump, Feb. 3–9
Complained on Twitter that Nordstrom had stopped selling his daughter Ivanka Trump’s clothing line. Federal judges blocked the not-a-Muslim-ban travel ban.
Harrison, March 18–24, 1841
Continued his push against the politicization of the government via a declaration that federal employees “are not expected to take an active or officious part in attempts to influence the minds or votes of others, such conduct being deemed inconsistent with the spirit of the Constitution and the duties of public agents acting under it.” Damn, son!
Who had the better week? Harrison. He was on fire!
Trump, Feb. 10–16
National security adviser Michael Flynn resigned after being caught lying about a conversation with the Russian ambassador to the United States. The New York Times reported that Trump advisers “had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.”
Harrison, March 25–31, 1841
Fell ill, first consulting his personal doctor on March 26. While traditional accounts have said Harrison developed pneumonia triggered by his exposure to cold, wet weather on Inauguration Day, recent research by writer Jane McHugh and University of Maryland scholar Philip A. Mackowiak indicates that his illness was likely in fact “enteric fever”—a gastrointestinal malady that could have been linked to bacteria that had festered in a “field of human excrement” located just seven blocks upstream of the White House’s water supply. (Sewage management was not the 19th century’s strong suit.) Harrison received some extremely questionable medical care, including doses of such substances as ipecac, castor oil, camphor, mercury, ammonia, brandy, opium, “snake weed,” and crude petroleum (!) in addition to “mustard plasters” and several enemas.
Who had the better week? Trump, because he was not exposed to a nearby field of human excrement—unless you count Congress, am I right?
Trump, Feb. 17–23
Made reference at a rally to a terrorist incident that took place “last night in Sweden,” which turned out to have an allusion not to an actual thing that happened in Sweden, but rather to a segment about Sweden that had aired the previous night on Fox News.
Harrison, April 1–7, 1841
Who had the better week? Harrison.
Trump, Feb. 24–March 2
The good: Trump delivered a generally well-received speech to Congress. The bad: The Washington Post revealed that attorney general Jeff Sessions had misled Congress about a meeting he’d had in 2016 with the Russian ambassador.
Harrison, April 8–14, 1841
Who had the better week? Tie.
Trump, March 3–9
Tweeted that Barack Obama had his home wiretapped. Issued a second ban on travelers from majority-Muslim countries.
Harrison, April 15–21, 1841
Who had the better week? Harrison, whose death, incidentally marked the last time that a man who had been born as a subject of the British crown—he was born in the colony of Virginia in 1773—served as POTUS. Caveat: Kenya was still a British colony in 1961, the year that Obama was born “in Hawaii.”
Trump, March 10–16
The Congressional Budget Office analysis of Trump and Paul Ryan’s American Health Care Act revealed that it would trigger massive premium increases for many Americans and estimated that it would cause as many as 24 million people to lose their insurance. A federal judge struck down the second travel ban.
Harrison, April 22–28, 1841
Who had the better week? Quite clearly Harrison.
Trump, March 17–23
FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress that there is no evidence Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower. News reports indicated that the AHCA was floundering in Congress. Trump made a face like “Grrrrrrr!” while he pretended to drive a big truck that was parked outside the White House.
Harrison, April 29–May 5, 1841
Who had the better week? Trump, because big truck, neat! Vroom, vroom!
Trump, March 24–30
In a major abandonment of his campaign promises about repealing Obamacare, Trump agreed to pull the AHCA from legislative consideration when it became clear the bill did not have enough support from moderate swing-district Republicans or hardline Freedom Caucus conservatives to pass the House. News reports revealed that Rep. Devin Nunes, who’d claimed that a government whistleblower had given him information that supported Trump’s claim about Obama surveillance, had actually gotten that information from the White House.
Harrison, May 6–12, 1841
As dead as health care reform.
Who had the better week? Harrison, who at least never promised that he wouldn’t die.
Trump, March 31–April 6
Demoted Steve Bannon off of the National Security Council; ordered a missile strike against Syrian regime forces.
Harrison, May 13–19, 1841
Who had the better week? Trump, though this week’s truest winners were the members of the National Security Council who no longer have to listen to Steve Bannon.
Trump, April 7–13
After meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump backed off his campaign promise to formally accuse China of unfairly manipulating the price of its currency. Sean Spicer buried himself in a truly astounding series of statements involving chemical weapons and the Holocaust.
Harrison, May 20–26, 1841
Who had the better week? Hitler.
Trump, April 14–20
Potential international thermonuclear war was averted as a North Korean missile test failed and Trump’s poll numbers improved.
Harrison, May 27–June 2, 1841
Who had the better week? Trump!
Who had the better first 100 days?
Trump’s first three months have been marked by the failure of major initiatives, an embarrassing public obsession with indefensible allegations against Obama, and historically low approval ratings. Harrison had a promising few weeks and then died, which is bad, but also precluded the possibility that he’d screw anything up as badly as Trump has screwed up the Obamacare repeal. Harrison did defend slavery, which is unforgivable; on the other hand, Trump regularly retweets white supremacists and doesn’t seem to know who Frederick Douglass was. The victory thus goes to Harrison.
Harrison, as it happens, was the scion of a wealthy coastal family who’d received an elite education and lived in luxury but was sold to supporters, during his campaign, as a rough-hewn straight-talker who emblemized the values of the rural common man. Stupid 1800s voters! We’d never fall for something like that again!
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters.
People protest against President Donald Trump’s travel ban in Brooklyn on Feb. 2.