How Trump's first 50 days will define the next

Trump used to bash jobs reports, until now
Trump used to bash jobs reports, until now

    JUST WATCHED

    Trump used to bash jobs reports, until now

MUST WATCH

Trump used to bash jobs reports, until now 01:18

(CNN)On the first day of his presidency, Donald Trump filed papers with the Federal Election Commission to qualify him as a candidate in 2020.

And while the letter states that it "does not constitute a formal announcement," the reality is that Trump's administration has unfolded much like his campaign -- an unbroken assault on the institutional norms and niceties that have governed government for the better part of a century.
Trump's is a permanent campaign and the first 50 days of his time in the White House have revealed much of the man, while changing almost nothing. Now, at this halfway point to the end of that more traditional measuring stick, here are seven story lines that defined the first nine weeks -- and seem likely to guide the next.

Trump on Twitter

By its nature, and perhaps to a fault, modern political reporting thrives on narrative. We want to know what is happening, why it's happening and who is making it happen. In only 50 days, the new administration has laid waste to that familiar ecosystem. With a few taps of his phone, Trump can reset the news landscape and upend an unflattering cycle.
But it cuts both ways.
Trump has shown himself to be equally willing to lash out in spite of his own best interests. When he woke up on Saturday morning and accused his predecessor of tapping the phones at Trump Tower during the campaign, the allegation -- made without evidence -- swallowed any messaging the White House might have planned ahead of this week's Obamacare replacement push.
It wasn't the first time.
Trump has attacked the news media, calling it "the enemy of the American People!" He has assailed the intelligence community, tweeting that, when it comes to Russia, "The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by 'intelligence' like candy. Very un-American!"
When his travel ban was halted by a federal judge, Trump tweeted, "If something happens blame him and court system."
"Any negative polls are fake news," he added the next day, "just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election."
The rogue tweeting has been the one constant since Trump's swearing in, beginning just a few days into his administration when he pledged, on social media, to ask "for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and ... even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time)."
There have been no credible reports of voter fraud. Then or now. And while some would argue that Trump's tweets are meant to distract, the first 50 days suggest his use is more impulsive than strategic.

The Russia question

It's simple, really: Who knew what, when, and when will we know what the what is?
The Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia have opened up a rabbit hole that threatens to derail the administration's core agenda and sow distrust in an already tense White House.
After he failed to disclose past meetings with the Russian ambassador to the US during his Senate confirmation hearings, Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week recused himself from any future (or existing) investigations related to the campaign and Moscow. But even after weeks of revelations and accusations, the real show has yet to begin.
Sessions recuses himself from Russia probe
Sessions recuses himself from Russia probe

    JUST WATCHED

    Sessions recuses himself from Russia probe

MUST WATCH

Sessions recuses himself from Russia probe 10:51
On March 20, the House Intelligence Committee will host its first public hearings on Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. The star witnesses include, FBI Director James Comey, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who was fired by Trump after refusing to back his travel ban in court.
Of all the criticism and accusations directed his way, nothing riles Trump like the suggestion that Moscow tipped the scales for him. His most virulent attacks on the media, the intelligence community and, most recently, former President Barack Obama, have almost all stemmed from anger over reports tied to the Russia question.
So when the committee convenes 10 days from now, you can be sure that Trump will be watching and, if past behavior is any indication, weighing in on the conversation.

Obamacare, taxes and the art of the deal

As a candidate, Trump sold himself as a deal-maker.
The next few weeks will give him a chance to prove it. First up, the ongoing negotiations to repeal and replace Obamacare. In a sense, this should be one of his easier tasks. Democrats, the minority party in both chambers of Congress, have little say in the matter.
But the Republican majority is a fractured, fractious and motley crew. Conservatives in the House and some allies in the Senate want "full repeal" and have threatened to vote against anything less. Then you have moderates, including a group of four GOP senators, who warned the White House in a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that cuts to Medicaid expansion could be a dealbeaker on their end.
Trump has stayed positive, using Twitter not to attack but prod and massage critics like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. But there is a long road ahead. On Thursday night, two senior administration officials and a senior House conservative aide told CNN that the White House was open to moving up a proposed Medicaid rollback. Doing so might allow the bill to survive the House, but would harden opposition in the Senate.
The clock is ticking. If Trump is going to overhaul Obamacare and pass tax reform, he needs to solve this legislative Rubik's cube first. And he knows it.
"I can't do (taxes) until we do health care, because we have to know what the health care is going to cost and -- statutorily -- that's the way it is," he said last month. "So for those people who say, 'oh, gee, I wish we could do the tax first,' it just doesn't work that way. I would like to do the tax first."
Bottom line: If Obamacare repeal-plus isn't done and dusted 50 days from now, the odds that Trump can deliver on his top policy pledges will be severely, perhaps irrecoverably, diminished.

Jobs? Jobs! Jobs.

Trump celebrated his 50th day by touting positive economic news.
The US economy, according to the Labor Department, added 235,000 jobs in his first full month in office. The unemployment rate ticked down to 4.7% from 4.8%. Trump retweeted the Drudge Report headline: "Great again."
But as Trump knows as well as anyone, the stats aren't always an accurate reflection of how people -- especially those in communities trailing or left behind by the broader economic upswing -- feel about their own prospects.
Asked on Friday whether Trump believed the new numbers were accurate, and not misleading or outright lies as he claimed during the campaign, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the topic had come up before earlier and Trump "said to quote him very clearly: 'They may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now.' "
Spicer laughed, and why wouldn't he? As the honeymoon (at least among Trump's supporters) winds down, the President emerges with the wind at his back. Whether he can sustain those good feelings may be the administration's most trying test.

Palace intrigue thickens

No White House, especially a new one, is immune to turf wars and internal conflict. But the Trump administration can on certain afternoons resemble a daytime soap opera.
Video shows heated Oval Office meeting
heated oval office meeting bannon trump nobles newday_00000000

    JUST WATCHED

    Video shows heated Oval Office meeting

MUST WATCH

Video shows heated Oval Office meeting 01:38
Consider the Michael Flynn saga. On February 13, top aide Kellyanne Conway said during an MSNBC interview that the now-former national security adviser enjoyed the "full confidence of the president." But, only hours later, Spicer offered a different outlook, telling reporters that Trump was "evaluating the situation."
Flynn's role at the White House wouldn't survive the day.
Sacked that night for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his pre-inaugural conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Flynn this week sought to retroactively register as a foreign agent in accordance with his work lobbying for the Turkish government before Election Day.
But we digress. After the Flynn ordeal, the White House sidelined Conway for more than a week. During that time another top adviser, Steve Bannon, and chief of staff Reince Priebus, sought to dispel rumors of infighting by insisting to anyone who would listen -- and, at this point, who didn't? -- how close they had become.
Priebus, Bannon dismiss infighting rumors
Priebus, Bannon dismiss infighting rumors

    JUST WATCHED

    Priebus, Bannon dismiss infighting rumors

MUST WATCH

Priebus, Bannon dismiss infighting rumors 02:34
And then there is Spicer. Unlike many in Trump's inner circle, the press secretary came on the scene late. He used his briefing room debut to claim, against all evidence, that Trump had drawn "the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period."
The boss was not impressed -- not with Spicer's frantic delivery nor with the fit of his coat. Whispers that he was on the outs have quieted of late, but with the notable exception of son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, top White House staff are all operating on a razor's edge.

The Travel Ban sparks a moment -- and a movement

The anti-Trump protest movement kicked off on the first full day of his presidency, as millions of Americans in hundreds of towns and cities gathered for Women's March demonstrations. The flagship protest in Washington attracted hundreds of thousands of people from around the country.
But it was the original travel ban, signed by Trump a week after the inauguration -- and put into effect without warning to chaotic effect on a Friday night -- that galvanized the progressive left, kicked off a wave of street protests and set the stage for a rash of combative town hall meetings.
Teacher's town hall question goes viral
Teacher's town hall question goes viral

    JUST WATCHED

    Teacher's town hall question goes viral

MUST WATCH

Teacher's town hall question goes viral 02:58
Democrats on Capitol Hill stiffened after being targeted themselves by demonstrators demanding a broader, more robust opposition. Organizers are now threatening to help sponsor primary challenges to lawmakers who play footsie with the President.
The initial travel ban order was effectively blocked after a series of court challenges, but the scar tissue remains. A narrower version, signed Monday, will be more difficult to defeat, but a group of blue state attorneys general are readying their briefs and a Supreme Court fight doesn't seem too far off.

Remember the wall?

Notable so far for its near absence from the public conversation. After a contentious exchange -- and a hastily canceled meeting -- with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on his sixth day in office, Trump and the administration have been mostly quiet on the question.
McConnell blunt on border wall payment
McConnell blunt on border wall payment

    JUST WATCHED

    McConnell blunt on border wall payment

MUST WATCH

McConnell blunt on border wall payment 00:44
So what comes next? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked by Politico on Thursday if he expected Mexico to pay for the wall, a core Trump campaign promise.
His answer: "Uh, no."
The remark passed without mention from Trump, who is -- for now -- focused on the Obamacare fight. But check back a couple months from now, when the White House turns its attention again to what figures to be a very expensive, controversial and diplomatically fraught construction project.