If Mr. Trump needed a more contemporary lesson than Mr. Johnson’s, he only had to look back to his predecessor, Mr. Obama, who endured a protracted and messy process to pass the Affordable Care Act — a law that has endured, albeit weakened, despite Mr. Trump’s repeated efforts to destroy it.
For the first two years of his administration, Mr. Trump enjoyed majorities in both houses of Congress, affording him the opportunity to legislate on the issues he campaigned on: tightening immigration restrictions and building a border wall, repealing Obamacare, and restoring vitality to the economically ravaged Midwestern heartland.
But he never seriously tried to build consensus on immigration reform and opted instead for acting unilaterally on the issue, drafting a poorly-executed ban on visitors from several Muslim and African countries during his first days in office, to the chagrin of seasoned counselors, like his first White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, former aides said.
Instead, Mr. Trump became enthralled with the pageantry of issuing the executive orders, turning quotidian signing sessions into televised demonstrations of his power.
At the same time, Mr. Trump was frittering away opportunities to create a durable legislative legacy, walking away, without explanation, from initiatives like an ambitious infrastructure package that might have drawn broad bipartisan consensus and altered the trajectory of his presidency.
Two bills broke that mold — the tax cuts and the 2018 criminal justice reform bill, a measure that enjoyed strong support in both parties and became a main theme of the Republican National Convention when he was seeking to win the support of Black voters.
As majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell — who has soured on Mr. Trump since the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol — was responsible for a more enduring element of his presidency: the clever use of congressional riders to repeal some agency regulations, making them harder to repeal than the thousands of quickly reversible rule changes implemented by the president’s political appointees.