Trump barks, but struggles to find his bite

President Donald Trump is all about the bark -- bold, aggressive promises.

Whether it's unfair Chinese trade practices, the North American Free Trade Agreement he's dubbed a "disaster" or Iran's destabilizing actions, Trump has kept up much of his bold campaign rhetoric.

    But when it comes to follow through, at least in his first 100 days in office Trump has come up short on the bite, failing to deliver on his toughest campaign promises.
    After months of railing against NAFTA, some of Trump's top aides signaled Wednesday he might withdraw from the deal altogether in the coming days.
    By Wednesday night, Trump had talked to the fretful leaders of Canada and Mexico and stood down on the possibility, deciding against pulling the US from the trade deal altogether.
    "I received calls from the President of Mexico and the Prime Minister of Canada asking to renegotiate NAFTA rather than terminate," Trump tweeted Thursday morning. "I agreed subject to the fact that if we do not reach a fair deal for all, we will then terminate NAFTA."
    But Trump's decision to swerve away from NAFTA withdrawal also signaled the extent to which Trump is running up against the realities of governing as he attempts to implement his bold campaign promises.
    As Trump's senior staff in recent days mulled a potential executive order announcing the US' plans to withdraw from NAFTA, officials have had to consider tedious factors to ensure that they would maintain fast-track authority over a renegotiated deal and drafted several versions of a potential order to ensure it would pass muster. It's part of the reason the White House has yet to formally notify Congress of its plans to renegotiate the deal.
    Trump's decision not to withdraw from NAFTA came only after Trump consulted with members of his Cabinet as well as business and congressional leaders, a senior White House official said Thursday.


    The realities of governing have hit Trump harder than most presidents.
    Not only is Trump the first president to have never served in government or the military, but he surged to the White House on far-flung campaign promises that even many in his own party dismissed as unrealistic.
    And the business of making those promises a reality, coupled with his lack of relevant Washington experience, has left Trump with few choices beyond sticking to his rhetorical guns while scrambling behind the scenes to find ways to convert those bold ideas into sound policy.
    Trump has continued to rail against Iran, decrying the nuclear deal brokered under the previous administration as one of the "worst deals" just as he did during the campaign and arguing most recently that Iran was "not living up to the spirit of the agreement."
    But even though the Trump administration put Iran "on notice" in the first weeks of Trump's presidency, there's been little follow-through.
    Absent any evidence to the contrary, the State Department was forced to affirm last week that Iran is abiding by the terms of the nuclear deal. The Trump administration has shown no signs so far of any plans to renegotiate the deal as the Republican nominee pledged during the campaign.
    And while he has continued to decry the US trade deficit with China and recently tied widespread loss of manufacturing jobs to the Asian powerhouse, Trump has confronted the reality of the US's complicated and delicate relationship with China in the last month as he's sought to enlist China in efforts to tame an increasingly belligerent North Korea.
    "Why would I call China a currency manipulator when they are working with us on the North Korean problem?" Trump tweeted earlier this month as he took flak for reneging on a major campaign promise.
    And beyond the diplomatic implications, Trump has also had to confront the reality that China long ago stopped artificially devaluing its currency -- instead working to prop it up, which benefits US exports.

    Bruising start

    But Trump and his White House did not come to learn the limitations of his presidency and the realities of governing until after the bruising first weeks of his presidency.
    White House officials' meticulous review of the language of a potential executive order on NAFTA followed the administration's early stumbles as it eagerly sought to implement another one of the Trump's biggest campaign promises: banning travel from Muslim-majority, "terrorist-prone" countries.
    The initial salvo on that ban came within days of Trump's inauguration and with little consultation with government agencies that would typically be consulted. The result was chaos at airports worldwide and the detention of Muslims at US airports who had valid visas and even green cards to travel to and stay in the US.
    Trump has also struggled to make good on his core campaign promise of repealing and replacing Obamacare with something "much better" amid disagreements between warring factions of the Republican Party. And amid his quest to get a bill passed as soon as possible, Trump failed to help bridge those differences and was forced to accept a loss, canceling a scheduled vote on the House floor.
    Trump has sought to sidestep his difficulties on the legislative front with a slew of executive orders, but a person close to the White House acknowledged Wednesday that they were no substitute for legislation.
    "They let you take action," the person said of the orders. "It doesn't take place of something statutory."

    Fight continues

    But even as Trump is learning the lessons of governing and confronting the headwinds -- diplomatic, economic and political -- he faces as he tries to implement his hard-charging agenda, he is showing no signs of letting up.
    A person close to Trump vowed Trump will only ramp up his actions on trade -- still searching to make good in bold fashion on Trump's campaign rhetoric.
    "NAFTA as we know it today will change. It just is," the person close to the White House and Trump said. "It's just not going to stay the way it is. It's going to be different."
    Trump displayed the same bravado on NAFTA Thursday morning as he did on the campaign trail, despite backing down on a potential NAFTA withdrawal just the night before.
    "NAFTA has been a horrible deal for the United States. It's been very good for Canada, it's been very good for Mexico, but it's been horrible for the United States," Trump said Thursday from the Oval Office, as if he were still rallying supporters on the campaign trail.