Promises, promises: After 4 years in the White House, which ones has Trump kept?

Donald Trump hasn't fulfilled every promise he made on the campaign trail in 2016, but the U.S. president has kept enough of them to fundamentally change the country. CBC News provides a bit of a scorecard for his four years in the White House. 

U.S. president hasn't kept every campaign promise, but the ones he has have had a significant impact

Donald Trump didn't fulfil every promise he made on the campaign trail in 2016, but the U.S. president has kept enough of them to fundamentally change the country. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In the flood of half-truths, exaggerations and outright lies Donald Trump is selling in the final days before the election, his campaign makes one assertion that has some validity to it. 

"I didn't back down from my promises. I kept every single one," Trump said in a video played at the Republican National Convention in August

Well, no, he didn't keep every one, but the U.S. president has kept enough of them to fundamentally change the country. And for his supporters, that might be enough to once again support their guy — even in the middle of a deadly pandemic that is getting worse. 

Case in point: Jeff Johns, a Trump supporter who spoke to CBC reporter Paul Hunter outside the final presidential debate in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 22.

"He does what he said he's going to do," Johns said of Trump. "Almost everything he said he's going to do, he's done."

In fact, Trump's record on his pledges is a mixed bag, at best. Independent fact-checking organization Politifact looked at 100 of Trump's campaign promises from 2016. It calculated that while 49 per cent of them have been broken, he's delivered on 44 percent of them, either in full or in part — and five per cent are stalled. 

WATCH | How many of his 2016 campaign promises did Trump keep?

Did Trump deliver on his first election promises?

The National

3 months agoVideo
From boosting manufacturing in the United States to building a border wall, Donald Trump made a lot of promises during his first presidential campaign. CBC News’s Paul Hunter checks in on whether he delivered on them. 6:00

Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, had a better record of promises kept, but that hasn't stopped Trump from touting his accomplishments, and his supporters from believing him all the way to the ballot box. 

Remaking the judiciary

The rightward shift of the judiciary isn't just a promise kept — it's the home run of campaign promises, right out of the political park. 

Trump confirmed three Supreme Court justices in his four-year term. Presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton each had only two opportunities to confirm justices in their eight-year presidencies. 

Trump's success in this area is partially due to circumstances, including the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on Sept. 18. 

Trump presides over the swearing-in of Amy Coney Barrett as a new Supreme Court justice on the South Lawn of the White House on Oct. 26. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

But it is also the result of calculation and planning by the Republican Party and, specifically, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. If McConnell hadn't held up the nomination of Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, in 2016, Trump's first opportunity to nominate a justice (Neil Gorsuch) wouldn't have happened. And if McConnell had played by his own rules to wait until after the election to nominate a replacement for Ginsberg, Amy Coney Barrett wouldn't be on the top court right now. 

This promise kept goes well beyond the Supreme Court. Before her appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, Barrett was the 220th federal judge confirmed under the Trump presidency and McConnell-led Senate. 

"We do a lot of stuff here that is small ball, but this is something that may last 25 or 30 years," Texas Sen. John Cornyn told the Washington Post last week when describing the impact of judicial appointments during the Trump administration.

WATCH | Confirmation hearings begin Oct. 13 for Amy Coney Barrett:

U.S. political divisions centre stage at Amy Coney Barrett confirmation hearing

The National

4 months agoVideo
The deep-seated divisions between Republicans and Democrats were front and centre during the first day of Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Coney Barrett says she wouldn’t let her personal beliefs impact her judgements. 2:01

Tax cuts and the economy

At a rally in Bullhead, Ariz., on Oct. 28, Trump told the crowd, "A vote for me is a vote for massive, middle-class tax cuts, regulation cuts, fair trade." 

His record has some evidence of that. In 2017, the Trump administration overhauled the U.S. tax code, dropping rates for individuals and corporations. But has the middle class really benefitted from those cuts? 

The White House says a family of four earning $73,000 US a year received a $2,000 tax break in 2018. But that's small potatoes compared to what corporations are saving — an estimated $1.5 trillion over 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, which reports to the Senate and House finance and budget committees. 

Trump displays the $1.5-trillion tax overhaul package he signed in December 2017. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Democrats argue the tax cuts have benefitted the rich and exacerbated inequality — and The Center for Public Integrity reported more companies paid no tax at all in 2018, partially as a result of the tax law. This is also a case where fulfilling one promise meant the president couldn't make good on another. The combination of losing tax revenue, spending more money on defence — another campaign promise — and the costs of the coronavirus have ballooned the U.S. national debt to more than $27 trillion

That's around $8 trillion more than when Trump took office in 2017, when he was promising to eliminate it entirely.

When it comes to deregulation, much of the administration's rollback of rules has focused on the environment. The New York Times counted 100 policies related to clean air, water, wildlife and toxic chemicals that have been rolled back or reversed under Trump, including weakening rules for emissions from vehicles and power plants, as well as removing protections from wetlands. 

America First 

Donald Trump promised a new kind of foreign policy, one that put "America first." Over the past four years, that has meant pulling back from multilateral international institutions, resulting in diminished American leadership in the world. 

The United States left the Paris Climate Accord, the Iran Nuclear Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and re-negotiated NAFTA with Canada and Mexico to form the new USMCA trade deal. While U.S. troops remain in Iraq and Afghanistan, their numbers are going down, reflecting Trump's commitment to put an end to endless wars.


Trump's promise to build a "big, beautiful wall" on the U.S. border with Mexico — and have Mexico pay for it — was a cornerstone of his 2016 campaign. 

In 2020, Trump has been telling crowds at his campaign rallies that the wall is almost finished, but that's a very generous definition of "almost." 

Trump speaks during a June 2020 tour of a section of the border wall in San Luis, Ariz. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

The original promise was for more than 1,600 kilometres of concrete barrier. In reality, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol says about 500 kilometres have been built, mostly reinforcement of existing barriers and fencing. The Associated Press reports less than seven kilometres of wall have been built where no barrier existed before. 

Mexico did not pay for any of it. The cost of the project — estimated at upward of $11 billion — is being borne by the United States. In fact, the president diverted money from the Pentagon's budget to cover it. 

WATCH | Trump promises to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border at a 2016 campaign rally in Phoenix, Ariz.:

Trump: 'Mexico will pay for the wall.'


4 years agoVideo
Trump: 'Mexico will pay for the wall.' 0:38

But the president's promised immigration crackdown is real. Under Trump, the U.S. is a much harder place to get into. As promised, the administration restricted travel from several Muslim-majority countries (although the law had to be adapted and expanded after court challenges). The non-partisan Migration Policy Institute found Trump used executive actions to pretty much end the asylum system at the southwest border and reduce refugee admissions

In 2021, the Trump administration plans to cap the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. at 15,000 a year, down from the current cap of 18,000, and far less than the more than 85,000 slots during the final year of the Obama administration

Broken promises 

There are some pledges from the 2016 campaign that simply haven't been kept. The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, remains in place despite Trump's promise to repeal and replace the health-care law. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on Obamacare in November, and the Trump administration supports scrapping it entirely. Despite Trump's promise to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions, he hasn't explained how he would do that. 

Remember "Drain the swamp," Trump's call to clean up corruption in Washington? That hasn't happened. His administration has presented no anti-corruption legislation and Trump himself did not divest from his businesses. In fact, many argue the swamp has gotten swampier, with Trump's own family in key government positions and his properties profiting from government business. 

A demonstrator holds a sign at a September protest march in Los Angeles. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Coal hasn't come back despite his promises it would. Neither have manufacturing jobs in a meaningful way. In both cases, that may have more to do with broader market forces.

All of these promises, kept or not, may pale in comparison to the growing U.S. death toll from COVID-19. For those inclined to believe Trump when he says the pandemic has "rounded the corner" — despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary — or that he did the best he could, there are plenty of reasons to justify voting to keep him in office. 

The question before the electorate is whether they see more positive than negative in a record that, in four years, has changed the country dramatically.


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About the Author

Lyndsay Duncombe

Senior Washington editor

Lyndsay Duncombe is the senior Washington editor at CBC News. She co-ordinates coverage of U.S. politics for all platforms and has worked as a producer, reporter and anchor at CBC since 2001.

With files from Paul Hunter