Year of Graduation


Level of Access

Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period


Department or Program

Government and Legal Studies

First Advisor

Andrew Rudalevige


Many Americans believe that the president is an omnipotent figure who can achieve any political or policy objective if they try hard enough. On the contrary, the presidency was intentionally crafted by the Framers of the Constitution to have limited legislative powers to mitigate the risk of despotism. Thus, this paper seeks to answer the question, when is change possible?, to try to bridge the gap between popular belief and Constitutional powers. Three questions guide this research: 1) What conditions are conducive for change? 2) What Constitutional tools help a president facilitate change? And 3) What skills can a president bring to office to help create change? This thesis seeks to answer these questions by reviewing the existing literature on political context, tools, and legislative skills. Case study analyses of the Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan presidencies are then presented to assess their legislative successes and failures, and the factors behind them. Finally, the thesis concludes by evaluating President Joseph Biden’s first 100 days in office and uses the theory and findings from the cases to predict Biden’s ability to affect change. This research reveals that the political context is the most important factor in determining the possibility of change – successful change relies on open policy windows, resilient ideological commitments, and a mandate to stimulate congressional action. Within the constraints of the case studies, Constitutional tools were not important. Legislative skills helped to pass legislation, however, they were not potent enough to overcome a bad political context.