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Campaign manager defends Trump’s first 120 days in office

Lindsey Scullen
Michigan Radio
Panelists begin the discussion in theater #14 at Celebration Cinema North in Grand Rapids.

President Donald Trump has now been in office for more than 120 days.

To assess how Trump’s presidency has gone so far, Jack Lessenberry, Michigan Radio’s senior political analyst, hosted Issues & Ale-President Trump: A Michigan Report Card.

Lessenberry took the stage last night at Celebration Cinema North in Grand Rapids.

Joining him was a panel of political experts:

  • TJ Bucholz, Democratic strategist and president & CEO of Vanguard Public Affairs
  • Scott Hagerstrom, Michigan state director for Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign
  • Cheyna Roth, Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network
  • Gleaves Whitney, presidential historian and director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University

Together, they worked to determine how the Trump administration has impacted people in Michigan up to this point.
“I think [President Trump] is in the same position now that he was on the election,” Hagerstrom said.
“In fact, probably a little bit better…”

While he conceded the White House has seen its fair share of drama throughout these 120 days, Hagerstrom wasn’t bothered by it.

“I think when Michigan voters voted for Donald Trump, they knew what they were getting and there would be a lot of drama,” he said. “But underneath that drama, look at the issues and what matters.”

Credit Lindsey Scullen / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Audience members directed the night's conversation with questions about topics ranging from immigration and "otherization" to public education.

Hagerstom said Trump is fulfilling his campaign promises. Namely, he said, Trump has taken the United States out of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), he’s going to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and he’s working to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare).

Bucholz brought a different perspective to the movie theater stage:

“When Scott talks about drama, I worry that it’s mostly about panic…. I think the administration is thin-skinned,” he said. “I think they have difficulty with tough questions, because there are a lot of tough questions.”

In terms of Michigan-specific points of concern, Bucholz named Great Lakes programs on the chopping block and what he called the administration's rollback of public education.

There’s no denying the night’s conversation was contentious. And Bucholz said the nature of the conversation going on in this country is part of the problem.

“I think one of the problems we have … is civility. I’m not interested in the crowd boos or the reactions. I think that everybody has a point to make and they’re all valid,” he said.

Whitney agreed.

“It starts with listening,” he said. “It starts with respect.”

Whitney said progressives and conservatives need to come together in good will, with an “instinct in the civic ecology for being able to work with other people.”

“We’re going to have to have more of an honest conversation about how we move forward and get away from the tweets, and get away from the politics,” he said. “This country has serious problems…. Democracy will only go forward if we can get the kind of older coalitions … from previous generations, where Republicans and Democrats could work together – the Tip O’Neill working with the Ronald Reagan. We need to go back to that model. We’re better than this.”

Listen to the night’s full conversation above. You’ll hear talk about the Trump administration’s education policies and immigration policies. You’ll also hear discussion about how the news media has covered President Trump and about panelists’ outlook on the midterm elections.

For information on upcoming Issues & Ale events, click here.