At NYT, Matt Glassman writes:
In his 1960 book, “Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents,” the political scientist Richard Neustadt argued that presidential power is “the power to persuade.” Strong presidents have significant influence over public policy because they wield informal power, developing a reputation for getting their way and punishing those who impede their progress. Weak presidents — like Mr. Trump — fail to persuade, allowing competing political actors in Washington to block their goals and assert their own influence.
Mr. Neustadt identified a second resource that aids in presidential persuasion: public prestige. Political actors in Washington may not fear the president, but they may think twice about standing in his way if they perceive the public response to doing so may hurt them.
On this dimension, Mr. Trump appears to be stronger. His overall approval rating is very poor, but he is extremely popular among Republican voters. And his sizable conservative base is ready and willing to turn on elected Republicans in primary elections should they displease the president. The infrastructure of conservative media — Fox News, talk radio — strongly supports (and influences) Mr. Trump, augmenting this public power. Mr. Trump may not have much ability to sway Democrats, but Republican officials credibly fear crossing him.
Nevertheless, congressional Republicans have found a solution to this challenge: agenda-setting. Political power is not simply the ability to influence the positions citizens or lawmakers take on issues, but also the ability to control what issues are discussed and voted on.