OFF TO THE RACES

Trump’s Policies Are a Result of On-the-Job Training

As the president’s knowledge increases, his positions are drifting toward the mainstream.

President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping reach to shake hands at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on April 7.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Charlie Cook
Add to Briefcase
Charlie Cook
April 17, 2017, 8 p.m.

The me­dia and crit­ics on the Left are hav­ing a field day at­tack­ing Pres­id­ent Trump’s rather nu­mer­ous and of­ten dra­mat­ic changes of heart on policy—wheth­er China ma­nip­u­lates its cur­rency, the ne­ces­sity of the U.S. Ex­port-Im­port Bank and NATO, and the U.S.’s stra­tegic pos­ture in Syr­ia. And then there is the ques­tion of wheth­er health care re­form is really easy or really hard.

The New York Times on Sunday ran an in­ter­est­ing graph­ic of Trump’s past and cur­rent state­ments on vari­ous is­sues. On NATO, the evol­u­tion star­ted on March 23, 2016, when he told Bloomberg Polit­ics, “I think NATO may be ob­sol­ete.” He re­it­er­ated the claim on April 4, 2016 to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, again on ABC’s This Week on Ju­ly 31, and to The Times of Lon­don on Jan. 16 of this year. But at a news con­fer­ence last week, he took a very dif­fer­ent tack. “I said it was ob­sol­ete,” he said. “It’s no longer ob­sol­ete.”

Trump re­peated the same pat­tern on China’s cur­rency. “They’re de­valu­ing their cur­rency to a level that you wouldn’t be­lieve,” he said in his cam­paign an­nounce­ment speech on June 16, 2015. “It’s im­possible for our com­pan­ies to com­pete.” In a cam­paign speech on Aug. 24, 2016, he said, “I am go­ing to in­struct my Treas­ury sec­ret­ary to la­bel China a cur­rency ma­nip­u­lat­or, the greatest in the world.” Less than a month ago, he pro­claimed, “When you talk about cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tion, when you talk about de­valu­ations, they are world cham­pi­ons.” But 10 days later, on April 12, he told The Wall Street Journ­al, “They’re not cur­rency ma­nip­u­lat­ors.” But maybe things are more com­plic­ated. This past week­end, he tweeted: “Why would I call China a cur­rency ma­nip­u­lat­or when they are work­ing with us on the North Korean prob­lem?”

On the Ex­port-Im­port Bank, he was against it be­fore he was for it, telling Bloomberg Polit­ics last Au­gust: “I don’t like it. I think it’s a lot of ex­cess bag­gage. I think it is un­ne­ces­sary.” But by April 12 of this year, he pro­claimed to The Wall Street Journ­al that the bank is “a very good thing. And it ac­tu­ally makes money; it could make a lot of money.”

Crit­ic­al of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s policies on Syr­ia, on May 29, 2013, Trump tweeted, “Syr­ia is NOT our prob­lem.” An­oth­er tweet on Sept. 5, 2013: “Do NOT at­tack Syr­ia, fix U.S.A.” On Oct. 26, 2016, he told Re­u­ters: “What we should do is fo­cus on IS­IS. We should not be fo­cus­ing on Syr­ia.” But earli­er this month, after Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al-As­sad’s mil­it­ary’s used sar­in gas on its own ci­vil­ians, Trump said, “To­night I ordered a tar­geted mil­it­ary strike on the air­field in Syr­ia from where the chem­ic­al at­tack was launched. … I call on all civ­il­ized na­tions to join us in seek­ing to end the slaughter and blood­shed in Syr­ia.”

After months of say­ing that the U.S. should pres­sure the Chinese to get North Korea in line, he then met with Pres­id­ent Xi Jin­ping and heard the Chinese per­spect­ive. “After listen­ing for 10 minutes, I real­ized it’s not so easy,” said Trump. “It’s not what you think.”

Then there was his edu­ca­tion on health care. At an Oc­to­ber cam­paign rally in Flor­ida, can­did­ate Trump said, “To­geth­er we’re go­ing to de­liv­er real change that once again puts Amer­ic­ans first. That be­gins with im­me­di­ately re­peal­ing and re­pla­cing the dis­aster known as Obama­care. … You’re go­ing to have such great health care, at a tiny frac­tion of the cost—and it’s go­ing to be so easy.”

But by Feb. 27, Pres­id­ent Trump was telling the na­tion’s gov­ernors, “Now, I have to tell you, it’s an un­be­liev­ably com­plex sub­ject. Nobody knew health care could be so com­plic­ated.”

But think about where Don­ald Trump was com­ing from. This is not a guy who ever spent days at­tend­ing sym­po­sia or read­ing white pa­pers from the Amer­ic­an En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions, or, for that mat­ter, the con­ser­vat­ive Her­it­age Found­a­tion or the liber­tari­an Cato In­sti­tute. This is not someone who over the years spent hours per­us­ing For­eign Af­fairs magazine or The Eco­nom­ist. Even The Wall Street Journ­al and The New York Times ap­pear to have got­ten curs­ory reads at best.

Pri­or to his elec­tion, it would seem Trump’s main source of in­form­a­tion was tele­vi­sion, spe­cific­ally cable news. While there are some very tal­en­ted journ­al­ists who have shows on cable, too many cable news shows have heavy ideo­lo­gic­al lean­ings to the right or left and serve only to en­ter­tain and to per­suade. You will rarely hear any of these hosts use the phrase “on the oth­er hand” to make a point that doesn’t sup­port their gen­er­al world­view.

Every 30 days or so since his elec­tion, Trump has more or less doubled or tripled his know­ledge and un­der­stand­ing of pub­lic policy, eco­nom­ics, and the way the world works. This policy stuff is a lot more com­plic­ated than it looked sit­ting on a Bar­caloun­ger with a TV re­mote in hand. In base­ball, it’s long been said that things look a lot easi­er from the cheap seats in the up­per deck. Be­ing the man­ager is hard. So is deal­ing with pub­lic policy.

Not on every is­sue, but on many, we are gradu­ally see­ing Pres­id­ent Trump re­vert to the mean, mov­ing from wild and simplist­ic po­s­i­tions to ones that fit with­in the con­fines of main­stream Amer­ic­an polit­ics. Amer­ic­ans voted for an out­sider, someone who would ap­proach the pres­id­ency with new eyes. On many is­sues, those eyes are grow­ing more in­formed, as policies gradu­ally move more to­ward the norm. But that’s what hap­pens.

What We're Following See More »
SAVE THOSE PERTAINING TO EXEC BRANCH
Sessions: DOJ Will No Longer Issue Guidance Documents
18 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

"Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Friday the Justice Department will revamp its policy for issuing guidance documents. Speaking at the Federalist Society’s annual conference in Washington Friday, Sessions said the Justice Department will no longer issue guidance that 'purports to impose new obligations on any party outside the executive branch.' He said DOJ will review and repeal any documents that could violate this policy." Sessions said: “Too often, rather than going through the long, slow, regulatory process provided in statute, agencies make new rules through guidance documents—by simply sending a letter. This cuts off the public from the regulatory process by skipping the required public hearings and comment periods—and it is simply not what these documents are for. Guidance documents should be used to explain existing law—not to change it.”

Source:
STARTS LEGAL FUND FOR WH STAFF
Trump to Begin Covering His Own Legal Bills
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS
DISCUSSED THE MATTER FOR A NEW BOOK
Steele Says Follow the Money
3 hours ago
STAFF PICKS

"Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer who wrote the explosive dossier alleging ties between Donald Trump and Russia," says in a new book by The Guardian's Luke Harding that "Trump's land and hotel deals with Russians needed to be examined. ... Steele did not go into further detail, Harding said, but seemed to be referring to a 2008 home sale to the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. Richard Dearlove, who headed the UK foreign-intelligence unit MI6 between 1999 and 2004, said in April that Trump borrowed money from Russia for his business during the 2008 financial crisis."

Source:
BRITISH PUBLICIST CONNECTED TO TRUMP TOWER MEETING
Goldstone Ready to Meet with Mueller’s Team
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The British publicist who helped set up the fateful meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a group of Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016 is ready to meet with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's office, according to several people familiar with the matter. Rob Goldstone has been living in Bangkok, Thailand, but has been communicating with Mueller's office through his lawyer, said a source close to Goldstone."

Source:
SPEAKING ON RUSSIAN STATE TV
Kislyak Says Trump Campaign Contacts Too Numerous to List
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak said on Wednesday that it would take him more than 20 minutes to name all of the Trump officials he's met with or spoken to on the phone. ... Kislyak made the remarks in a sprawling interview with Russia-1, a popular state-owned Russian television channel."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login