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Trump: Take Two

The previous book by presidential scholar Michael Nelson, Trump's First Year, was a nonpartisan, up-to-the-minute analysis of one of the most unique administrations in American history. Written on the tightest of deadlines—you can read the story of how it came together—the book was an instant success, receiving postitive reviews from the Washington Post, the Independent, and numerous others. It was also taken up as assigned reading in presidential-history courses and connected strongly with readers trying to make sense of the Trump presidency as it unfolded. With his new book, Trump: The First Two Years, Nelson supplements his original analysis with a substantial chapter on Trump's second year in office. Nelson agreed to answer some questions about this unique chronicle of a president, around whom there is never a dull moment.

Q: As with the previous book, the up-to-date quality of the analysis requires an extremely tight timeline for writing and editing. What was your approach to creating the new content? Did you conceive, or even write, the new chapter throughout the year as things happened, or did you bide your time and write in one big push?

Nelson: This chapter actually took as much time and effort as the rest of the book.  Throughout the year I clipped and read just about every book and article about Trump and then spent November weaving what I learned into a solid narrative analysis. Throughout the editing process, which lasted into December, I continued to update.

Q: The first book was notably non-partisan but nonetheless critical. Did Trump get better at the job in year two? Did he change his methods in any notable way?

Nelson: Presidents usually get better at the job by doing it. In Trump’s case, he became not better but more Trumpian. Longstanding habits and opinions that advisers had been able to restrain during his first year emerged during the second as he drove off or marginalized those restraining voices. During the campaign, some of Trump’s supporters advised voters to take him “seriously, but not literally.” In 2018 it became necessary to take him literally.

Q: Many commentators suggest that Trump is not a real Republican—that he, in fact, represents something new in American politics. A major aspect of your approach is to look at previous administrations to provide context for your evaluation of Trump. Is this presidency as unique as many think, or do you see important parallels with past presidents? That is, have we been here before?

Nelson: Trump has remade his party. Many GOP members of Congress who thought their Republican constituents would side with them when they disagreed with the president found out just how wrong they were. Some of these began subordinating their own views to Trump’s. Others—like Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake and multiple Republican House members—retired, knowing that they might well lose a primary to a Trump-supporting challenger.

Q: Looking ahead, any thoughts on how Trump is going to deal with a Democratic Congress?

Nelson: Republicans lost the House but actually added to their majority in the Senate, which should aid them and Trump in their project of remaking the federal courts through conservative judicial nominations—as well as making removal after a Senate trial much more difficult in the event of impeachment by the Democratic House.

Trump: The First Two Years is available now.

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