Asked for a second-term agenda, Trump's answer falls far short

For five months, Trump has been pressed to tell voters what he'd do with four more years in power. It's still not going well.
Image: President Donald Trump and Joe Biden during the first presidential debate in Cleveland on Sept. 29, 2020.
Getty Images; Reuters

It was in late June when Sean Hannity first asked about the president's "top priority items for a second term." As regular readers may recall, Donald Trump rambled for 161 words, insisted that the word "experience" is "a very important word," called John Bolton "an idiot," but never got around to identifying a single substantive goal.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) soon after scolded Hannity, arguing that the Fox News host has a responsibility to help Trump win, and it's not helpful to ask questions such as "What are your top priority items for a second term?"

As the summer progressed, a variety of hosts -- some of them overtly sympathetic to the Republican's re-election plans -- asked the president to describe what he'd do with four more years in power. He struggled in each instance, eventually telling the New York Times in late August, "But so I think, I think it would be, I think it would be very, very, I think we'd have a very, very solid, we would continue what we're doing."

Soon after, the Republican Party didn't bother to write a platform for the first time since 1854.

Yesterday, Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo gave it one last shot, asking, "What do you want to do in terms of your policies in a second term, sir?" The president replied:

"Well, the first thing we have to do, Maria, is open up our country. You can't keep all these states closed up, the Democrat states. And they're not doing well. And the country is doing well.... So, number one, you have to open it up."

Trump proceeded to complain about New York, call Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer "the complainer in chief," and claim that he's ahead in the polls in "many, many states, more than we were last time."

In other words, asked for his vision for a second term, the first thing that comes to the president's mind is pressing governors to stop trying to curtail the spread of a deadly virus -- and there is no second thing.

As we recently discussed, at this point in the campaign, we'd ideally see a battle of ideas, with the major-party candidates critiquing each other's agendas, highlighting their flaws, and promising a better way. Except in 2020, that's effectively impossible: the Republican incumbent hasn't presented any ideas to critique.

It's not an accident; it's the result of a choice. Governing parties present platforms to voters, in part so the electorate knows what they consider important, and in part so that winning candidates can claim a mandate in the event of a victory.

Post-policy parties, however, don't bother.

Postscript: Joe Biden's campaign website includes 48 issue areas in which the former vice president has unveiled relatively detailed plans. Trump's website, as of this morning, still doesn't include any plans on any issues.