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Why do we care about a president's first 100 days anyway?

The significance and origin of an arbitrary-seeming benchmark.
President Trump
Photo: Getty Images

Much has been made about President Trump's first 100 days, what he has and hasn't accomplished and what he'll manage to squeak out by the bell that only political journalists can hear. If it seems as if there's been a laser focus on this, that's because there has been: Cable news networks like MSNBC have had a countdown in the corner of the screen during some of their programs, news sites are tracking the first 100 days under that rubric and even Google Trends has a map tracking search terms during that period. And it's been contagious: Today, Google shows 171 million search results for the term "Trump 100 days," and they probably weren't all keyed in by Wolf Blitzer.

So why do we care? As a benchmark, 100 days is a nice round number, but does it have significance? And where did it come from?

Presidential historians pinpoint Franklin D. Roosevelt's first term, in which he passed a massive blizzard of legislation — 76 bills — largely related to the New Deal in that time. During a 1933 fireside chat he said, "I think that we all wanted the opportunity of a little quiet thought to examine and assimilate in a mental picture the crowding events of the hundred days."

RELATED: You must watch Donald Trump review his first 100 days on 'The Simpsons'

He was referring to the first 100 days of the Congressional session, not of his term, but whatev. It became a measuring stick thereafter.

It's an article of faith that the 100 days is a honeymoon period (and not because it's when presidents look most bangable before they descend into premature aging) during which presidents have the greatest chance to get big legislation passed and thus cement their legacy, Roosevelt-style. But that's not necessarily true. “I think what history tells us is that it’s an arbitrary benchmark,” said Fredrik Logevall, an international-affairs professor at Harvard and a presidential historian. “It hasn’t correlated very much with subsequent success or failure. Whether an administration has success or not really depends on the four years, or eight years if you have two terms.”

But that hasn't stopped the Twitter hashtag #TrumpsDay100Songs from breaking out in celebration. 

 

 

 
 
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