Trump tones down talk, shifts poli­cies to­ward es­tab­lish­ment

Re­verses rhetoric on mil­i­tary, NATO, China

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVE BOYER

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.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

MAK­ING PEACE: Pres­i­dent Trump, meet­ing Thurs­day with first re­spon­ders from At­lanta, called mem­bers of the me­dia “very hon­or­able peo­ple.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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.

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