Trump tones down talk, shifts policies toward establishment
Reverses rhetoric on military, NATO, China
Abandoning his tough talk on China and reversing himself on several other campaign themes, President Trump’s 12th week in office could go down as the moment he showed himself to be another establishment Republican, not the unconventional crockery-smashing raging bull he played on the stump.
In the past week, Mr. Trump ordered missile strikes against the Syrian military after telling voters during the campaign that the U.S. was involved in too many military operations overseas.
Mr. Trump proclaimed Wednesday that NATO is no longer obsolete, after questioning the U.S. commitment to the alliance on the campaign trail.
Also this week, Mr. Trump declared that he will not label China as a currency manipulator, after campaigning relentlessly on a promise to do just that.
The president also expressed support for the Export-Import Bank, which guarantees loans for U.S. companies. During the campaign, Mr. Trump sympathized with conservatives who said the bank
is an example of “crony capitalism.”
Mr. Trump even called the members of the media “very honorable people” Thursday during a meeting with first responders at the White House.
It amounted to at least four major reversals or policy shifts in seven days, which could be a record for a president in his first 100 days.
“If there was only one of them, it would be seen as a rather remarkable shift,” said Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. “The fact that there are several at once is what’s unusual about the amplitude of the moment. The careening aspects of this are pretty unsettling.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer, asked Thursday whether the president intends to follow up on his tough campaign talk about China’s deceptive practices that contribute to huge U.S. trade deficits, suggested that the election rhetoric was a negotiating tactic.
“The president’s tough talk was on a variety of subjects to get results for the American people,” Mr. Spicer said. “That’s what he has pledged to do: to get more jobs here, to grow more manufacturing, to keep our country safe.”
China this week abstained in the U.N. Security Council on a resolution condemning Syria for bombing its own civilians with sarin gas in its long-running civil war. The move isolated Russia, which vetoed the resolution, and administration officials said it was a major diplomatic victory for the U.S. that resulted from Mr. Trump’s negotiations with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Mr. Trump also said he needs China’s help in pressuring North Korea to curtail its nuclear weapons program. Toward that goal, China reportedly has stopped accepting shipments of coal from North Korea.
“At the end of the day, this is always about developing a better situation for the American people, and I think he’s done that,” Mr. Spicer said.
Democrats have jumped on Mr. Trump’s flip-flopping on China.
“On the campaign trail, Donald Trump loved telling us how tough he would be on China, and many of my constituents believed him,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, Ohio Democrat.
“But since taking office he hasn’t taken a single action to stand up to them. President Trump’s weakness on U.S.-China relations and lack of a coherent trade policy will result in more job losses in communities like mine all across the country who cannot compete fairly with Chinese companies who do not have to abide by the environmental and labor standards we have in the U.S.,” Mr. Ryan said.
American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp said Mr. Trump isn’t moderating his positions as much as seeking pragmatic solutions for the economy and national security.
“I don’t see this as a pivot. I see this as governing,” Mr. Schlapp said on MSNBC. “He’s trying to bring change to Washington.”
On NATO, Mr. Spicer said the president had not shifted his support for the alliance as much as NATO has moved closer to Mr. Trump’s priorities.
“He talked about the need of countries to pay their fair share, to live up to their commitments of 2 percent of GDP,” Mr. Spicer said. “He talked about the need for NATO to focus more on terrorism. NATO has done just that.”
A Republican aide who is close to the White House said Mr. Trump’s shift to more traditional establishment party positions reflects an emerging alliance of two factions in the West Wing.
The first is presidential son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump. The second is White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who is aligned with Mr. Spicer, and their allies, many of whom worked at the Republican National Committee.
“They’ve joined forces, and I think they’re going to get things done,” the source said. “That’s going to be a center/ right coalition of policy and ideas that Republicans on the Hill will be able to swallow.”
Competing with them is a third faction led by chief presidential strategist Steve Bannon, who pushes the kind of populist “America First” approach that got Mr. Trump elected.
“At the end of the day, the president will remind himself and remind his staff that he’s not an ideologue, that he’s not beholden to any constituency and that he wants to get things done,” the Republican source said. “He’s a deal-maker.”
Some observers say the evolution in Mr. Trump’s positions is an inevitable result of transitioning from the campaign to governing.
“The Bannon voice was the lead voice in the campaign,” Mr. Grumet said. “It’s less effective if one wants to be the president of a divided country in a complex world. The elevation of the folks who want to govern is happening pretty quickly.”
He said Mr. Trump’s background as a Washington outsider means that he is “fundamentally unencumbered from predictable ideology, from political debt, from a policy history and from a rigid commitment to consistency.”
“You had two strains from the campaign that are fundamentally at odds: aggressive absolutism, and the assertion that the president is a deal-maker,” Mr. Grumet said. “Those are fundamentally contradictory ideas. So he ran on absolutism successfully, and now is certainly signaling that he intends to govern as a deal-maker. It’s a little bit disorienting.”
A senior administration official said this week that the administration’s moves reflect a developing agility in the White House, especially with the president’s national security team, on problems including Syria, North Korea and the Islamic State group.
“What we’ve been able to do in just a few short weeks is frame those problems and opportunities to understand the situations in each of these areas, to view those situations through the lens of our vital interests and the vital interests of the American people, the security of the American people and the nation’s interest, and then to establish objectives,” the official said.
“What you’re seeing is a team now I think that’s able to achieve a much higher degree of agility in the area of foreign relations and the area of national security. And I think it’s going to continue to pay off in the weeks and months ahead as well,” the official said.
MAKING PEACE: President Trump, meeting Thursday with first responders from Atlanta, called members of the media “very honorable people.”
President Trump has made at least four major reversals or policy shifts in seven days, which could be a record for a president in his first 100 days. The top White House spokesman suggested Thursday that his election campaign rhetoric was a negotiating tactic.