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Changing Their Minds?

Donald Trump and Presidential Leadership

Despite popular perceptions, presidents rarely succeed in persuading either the public or members of Congress to change their minds and move from opposition to particular policies to support of them. As a result, the White House is not able to alter the political landscape and create opportunities for change. Instead, successful presidents recognize and skillfully exploit the opportunities already found in their political environments. If they fail to understand their strategic positions, they are likely to overreach and experience political disaster.
Donald Trump has been a distinctive president, and his arrival in the Oval Office brought new questions. Could someone with his decades of experience as a self-promoter connect with the public and win its support? Could a president who is an experienced negotiator obtain the support in Congress needed to pass his legislative programs? Would we need to adjust the theory of presidential leadership to accommodate a president with unique persuasive skills?
Building on decades of research and employing extensive new data, George C. Edwards III addresses these questions. He finds that President Trump has been no different than other presidents in being constrained by his environment. He moved neither the public nor Congress. Even for an experienced salesman and dealmaker, presidential power is still not the power to persuade. Equally important was the fact that, as Edwards shows, Trump was not able to exploit the opportunities he had. In fact, we learn here that the patterns of the president’s rhetoric and communications and his approach to dealing with Congress ultimately lessened his chances of success. President Trump, it turns out, was often his own agenda’s undoing.

376 pages | 3 line drawings, 74 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2021

Political Science: American Government and Politics


“Edwards uses a scholar’s tools to dissect Trump’s presidency, asking all the right questions and answering them with careful and thorough analysis. In Edwards’s telling, Trump neither found a way to sway public opinion nor found a way to manage the government. The result is a smart and unsparing portrait of the nation’s forty-fifth president—from his corrosive effect on the public discourse to his impact on democratic institutions.”

Dan Balz, Washington Post

“In this sweeping, dispassionate, and altogether damning survey, Edwards makes the case that Trump failed the most important test of presidential leadership: namely, to deliver policy accomplishments where political conditions allow, and to avoid the trappings and delusions of transformational change. For all of his vaunted skills as a dealmaker, Trump could not find the wherewithal to take advantage of the real opportunities that stood before him. Instead, he crashed headlong into political obstacles that were impervious to his threats and entreaties.”

William G. Howell, University of Chicago

“Edwards deftly applies leading theories of presidential power to the Trump presidency. His discerning analysis rests on a richly detailed and thoroughly documented account of Trump’s political leadership that is both a major contribution to our understanding of this most aberrant of presidencies and an invaluable starting point for future scholars.”

Gary C. Jacobson, University of California, San Diego

“This timely and important book applies insights gleaned from Edwards’s more than forty years of presidential scholarship to assess and understand the iconoclastic Trump presidency. Despite his showman’s bravado, Edwards shows that Trump was no more successful than his predecessors in moving public opinion and Congress, and he offers a trenchant assessment of Trump’s failed leadership, which ultimately cost the nation dearly.”

Douglas L. Kriner, Cornell University

“Edwards offers a sober, evidence-based assessment of the Trump presidency. In the process, he convincingly demonstrates that even a norm-shattering president was subject to the same fundamental political and strategic constraints as his predecessors.”

Frances Lee, Princeton University

“Edwards brings a lifetime of insight and learning to bear on the ‘great disruption.’ Trump defied the rules and shocked the system. Now, as the dust settles, Edwards eyes the context, filters the noise, and scrutinizes the results. For an assessment of the political significance of this most unusual presidency, there is no better place to begin.”

Stephen Skowronek, Yale University

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Trump as a Test

Part 1. The Promoter? Leading the Public

Chapter 2. Strategic Position with the Public

Chapter 3. Going Public

Chapter 4. On Deaf Ears

Chapter 5. The Bully in the Pulpit

Part 2. The Closer? Leading Congress

Chapter 6. Strategic Position with Congress

Chapter 7. No Deal: Negotiating with Congress

Chapter 8. At the Margins

Part 3. Trump as a Leader

Chapter 9. Plus ça Change


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