In his groundbreaking analysis of presidential politics and government, Stephen Skowronek argues that the success and failure of a president is best understood by considering the relationship between their administration and those that preceded it. This approach suggests that when assessing presidencies—including the Obama administration (2009-2017) and the Trump administration (2017-present)—it is not enough to look at individual policies or circumstances, but rather we should consider how they fit into broader patterns of political development (Skowronek, 1997).
Skowronek’s insight is especially relevant in understanding the contrasting accomplishments and failures of these two administrations. For instance, President Obama was able to implement historic reforms such as expanding healthcare access through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), stimulating economic growth with a large stimulus package following the financial crisis of 2008, withdrawing from Iraq after a long war effort there, among other significant achievements. In contrast, President Trump has been largely unable to pass any major legislation during his term in office thus far despite Republican control of Congress for part of his presidency; however he has managed to implement some policy changes through executive action such as reducing environmental regulations or imposing tariffs on China (Berman & Farzan 2020).
To explain this difference in outcomes more fully requires an examination of Skowronek’s model. According to him presidents can generally be classified into one four categories: pre-emptive builders who seek broad reform agendas; reconstructive Presidents who inherit challenges resulting from previous presidencies; disjunctive leaders whose actions are so controversial they cause an upheaval in public opinion; or conservative “Preservers” who try to maintain existing structures while responding minimally to current issues (Skowronek 1997). Using this framework it becomes easier to understand why Obama was successful compared with Trump.
How might Skowronek’s perspective help us to think about the Obama and/or Trump Administrations
Obama took office during what could be seen as a ‘reconstructionist moment’ following many years characterized by partisan gridlock over domestic policy issues thanks largely due to Bush era policies on taxation and spending as well as foreign wars like Iraq which were seen as costly failures by much of America population (Farrell et al., 2016). In response Obama pushed for sweeping reforms across multiple sectors including healthcare access which successfully expanded coverage for millions previously uninsured people without relying on support from Republicans in Congress thanks largely because Democrats enjoyed supermajorities in both chambers early on his term. In comparison Trump came into office during an era where significant progress had already been made under Obama’s leadership prompting him instead towards more presevative policies since most Americans have come accept ACA’s existence despite vast opposition initially when it was first proposed (Jones 2017). Consequently few pieces of major legislation have passed Congress even though Republicans held majorities early on meaning his only option then was turning towards executive action which usually carries less weight than laws enacted through bicameralism/presentment process constitutionally prescribed by US Constitution Article 1 Section 7(Voorhis 2015)).
All things considered then it appears clear that Skownroek’s perspective help us better understand differences between accomplishments achieved by presidents before them since takes account underlying structural conditions matter greatly effectiveness while holding accountable those responsible enacting extent possible given constraints placed upon them respective party within legislative branch .By using this lens view Obama’s success relative Trump’s failure become clearer why one achieve substantial record reform others limited reliance upon executive orders alone presumably due lack cooperation either party legislature being primary factor inhibiting further legislative progress under latter presidency .