Trump: What do his flip-flops reveal?
“Not yet 100 days into Donald Trump’s presidency, the populist revolution he seemed to promise is already over,” said Doyle McManus in LATimes.com. After vowing to overturn the “rigged” crony-capitalist system, avoid entangling the U.S. in foreign conflicts, and seek an alliance with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Trump has performed a series of “head-spinning policy reversals” that put the president “squarely inside the chalk lines of conventional Republican conservatism.” On China, Trump vowed to label the country a currency manipulator on his first day in office, and said the Chinese had been “raping” the U.S. for decades. After meeting with President Xi Jinping, Trump said they had “great chemistry,” and announced, “They’re not currency manipulators.” For months, Trump declared NATO “obsolete”; now he says, “It’s no longer obsolete.” On Syria, Trump reversed previous warnings about the foolishness and illegality of getting involved in the country’s civil war, and launched a missile attack against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Trump won on vows to take swift, simplistic actions to fix all of America’s problems, said Aaron Blake in WashingtonPost.com. But when this political amateur actually moved into the Oval Office, he realized his promises were “completely impractical.” Trump’s stunning number of flip-flops tells us either that he simply told gullible supporters what they wanted to hear, or that “he’s in way over his head.”
“At least he’s flip-flopping in the right direction,” said Reihan Salam in Slate.com. Trump’s previous populist stance was a product of both his own ignorance and the influence of anti-globalist Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist. Trump, encouraged by Bannon, promised to “get tough on trade.” But the idea that China was a currency manipulator was “an outdated talking point,” while his attempt to “turn back the clock on globalization” was a fool’s errand that would have punished American consumers and damaged the economy. He reversed his vow to get rid of the Export-Import Bank when Boeing’s CEO explained to him that it helps U.S. exporters compete with foreign companies. Trump’s reversals are a sign that the grown-ups are taking charge, said Daniel Henninger in WSJ.com. The power of Trump’s “Cromwellian” adviser, Bannon, is waning, while moderate pragmatists such as son-in-law Jared Kushner, economic adviser Gary Cohn, national security adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are ascendant. As a result, Trump’s presidency has finally “taken a turn for the serious.”
But wasn’t Trump elected because he was going to be dramatically different from other Republicans? asked Kevin Williamson in NationalReview.com. His populist true believers must be feeling buyer’s remorse. Mexico isn’t going to pay for the wall, which will probably never be built. The Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land, with no viable replacement in sight. The reset with Russia has been replaced by what Trump calls “a horrible relationship,” while China is now our friend. Rather than booting out “coastal elitists” and draining the swamp, Trump has filled his White House with Goldman Sachs alumni and other “corporate Democrats” like Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Our president, in other words, is reverting to his New York City Democratic roots. Sorry to break this to you, Trump voters: “Ya got took.”
Trump’s supporters don’t care about his flip-flops, said Jonathan Tobin, also in NationalReview.com. If they wanted consistency, they would never have voted for a man who reversed himself countless times during the campaign and over the decades. They embraced Trump not for some ideological “Trumpism,” but because he promised to be “flexible and unpredictable.” That’s exactly what he’s proven to be. In Trump, we have a president who will do whatever seems to be popular at that moment, “no matter what he had said about the subject previously.”
Does that mean Trump “is capable of learning?” asked Gabriel Schoenfeld in USA Today. Only in one important sense. Like a rodent navigating a maze in pursuit of a treat, Trump has the “primitive neural” instinct to adopt any stance that brings him a reward—which in his case is applause and approval. While Trump followed Bannon’s divisive advice, his White House was beset by chaos and his approval numbers sank to historic lows. So a frustrated Trump turned to the center, and is now getting praise from the media for his maturity—particularly after his missile strikes in Syria. But don’t expect the 45th president to turn into a statesman. He remains “an intuitive creature, avoiding shocks and seeking rewards, turning this way and that” in his single-minded search for the roar of an adoring crowd. ■