‘I Alone Can Fix It’ Donald Trump, the Administrative Presidency, and Hazards of Executive-Centered Partisanship

Sidney M. Milkis 1  and Nicholas Jacobs 1
  • 1 University of Virginia, VA, USA
Sidney M. Milkis
  • Corresponding author
  • University of Virginia, VA, USA
  • Email
  • Further information
  • Sidney M. Milkis is the White Burkett Miller Professor in the Department of Politics and Faculty Associate in the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.
  • Search for other articles:
  • degruyter.comGoogle Scholar
and Nicholas Jacobs
  • Corresponding author
  • University of Virginia, VA, USA
  • Email
  • Further information
  • Nicholas Jacobs is a PhD candidate in the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia.
  • Search for other articles:
  • degruyter.comGoogle Scholar


Eight months into his presidency, most depict the Trump administration as being mired in chaos and frenzy. Such a perspective, however, overlooks the aggressive pursuit of Trump’s campaign agenda through unilateral administrative action. Far from “deconstructing the administrative state” as promised, Trump has embraced the levers of presidential discretion and power inherent within the modern executive office. Although Trump cannot lay claim to any major legislative achievement early in his presidency, we argue that there is plenty he can take credit – or blame – for in fulfilling his campaign promises. Moreover, far from using administrative power to simply roll back his predecessor’s programmatic goals, the new president has sought to redeploy state resources in ways that will further entrench traditional commitments of the Republican Party, while simultaneously redefining them to mirror the president’s personal policy objectives. This is not a new development. Rather it is the culmination of a decades-long reorientation within both major parties: the rise of an executive centered party-system. As such, Trump – despite his seeming idiosyncrasies – might further reinforce the centrality of executive actions as a way to overcome both parties’ institutional weakness and ideological polarization.

  • Brownstein, Ronald. 2015. “The Clinton Conundrum.” The Atlantic. Last Accessed: September 12, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/the-clinton-conundrum/431949/.

  • Callen, Zachary. 2017. “Repurposing the Administrative State.” The Forum 15 (2): 379–393.

  • Coglianese, Cary. 2010. “Presidential Control of Administrative Agencies: A Debate over Law or Politics?” Journal of Constitutional Law 12: 637–649.

  • Galvin, Daniel J. 2010. Presidential Party Building: Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush. New Jersey, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  • Galvin, Daniel J. 2014. “Presidents as Agents of Change,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 44 (1): 95–119.

  • Greenhouse, Linda. 2017. “Election Wars at the Supreme Court,” New York Times, MAY 25. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/25/opinion/supreme-court-congressional-redistricting.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region®ion=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region.

  • Heclo, Hugh. 2008. On Thinking Institutionally. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

  • Jacobs, Lawrence, and Desmond King (eds.). 2009. The Unsustainable American State. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

  • Klaidman, David, and Andrew Romano. 2002. “President Obama’s Executive Power Grab,” The Daily Beast. Last Accessed: September 12, 2017. www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/10/21/president-obama-s-executive-power-grab.html.

  • Light, Paul C. 1998. The Tides of Reform: Making Government Work, 1945–1995. New Haven: Yale University Press.

  • Lowande, Kenneth, and Sidney M. Milkis. 2014. “‘We Can’t Wait’: Barack Obama, Partisan Polarization, and the Administrative Presidency.” The Forum 12 (1): 3–27.

  • Lowi, Theodore J. 1985. The Personal President: Power Invested, Promise Unfulfilled. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

  • McCarty, Nolan. 2016. “Polarization and American Political Development” In Oxford Handbook of American Political Development, edited by Richard M. Valelly, Suzanne Mettler, and Robert C. Lieberman. New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Milkis, Sidney M. 1993. The President and the Parties: The Transformation of the American Party System Since the New Deal. New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Milkis, Sidney M. 2014. “Ideas, Institutions, and the New Deal Constitutional Order,” American Political Thought 3 (1): 167–176.

  • Milkis, Sidney M., and Jesse Rhodes. 2007. “George W. Bush, the Republican Party, and the ‘New’ Party System.” Perspectives on Politics 5 (3): 461–488.

  • Milkis, Sidney M., and John W. York. 2017. “Barack Obama, Organizing for America, and Executive-Centered Partisanship.” Studies in American Political Development 31 (1): 1–23.

  • Milkis, Sidney M., Jesse H. Rhodes, and Emily J. Charnock. 2012. “What Happened to Post-partisanship? Barack Obama and the New American Party System.” Perspectives on Politics 10 (1): 57–76.

  • Nathan, Richard. 1983. The Administrative Presidency. New York: Wiley.

  • Orren, Karen, and Stephen Skowronek. 2017. The Policy State: An American Predicament. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Roosevelt, Franklin. 1932. Roosevelt, Campaign Address on Progressive Government, Commonwealth Club, San Francisco, California, September 23. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=88391.

  • Roosevelt, Franklin. 1941. State of the Union Message, January 6. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=16092.

  • Skocpol, Theda, and Lawrence R. Jacobs. 2012. “Accomplished and Embattled: Understand Obama’s Presidency.” Political Science Quarterly 127 (1): 1–24.

Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.

Log in with your institution

Journal + Issues

This journal provides a forum for professionally informed commentary on issues affecting contemporary American politics. This includes but is not limited to issues engaging parties, elections, and political participation; the news media, interest groups, Congress, the Presidency, and the Courts; trends in public finance, presidential popularity, congressional productivity; in contemporary, historical, or comparative perspective.