Doing the policy zigzag
Trump’s positions have been anything but consistent
It’s not wrong for a president to change his mind as circumstances warrant, but Donald Trump is setting a record for ditching major positions he staked out in his 2016 campaign. With his job approval scores sinking to 40 percent in the Gallup Poll’s daily tracking surveys, President Trump is abandoning campaign positions and promises with all the speed of a quick-change artist.
Mr. Trump excoriated China throughout his campaign for its currency manipulation that he said was undermining our economy, stealing our jobs and driving up the U.S. trade deficit.
But this week he told The Wall Street Journal that he will no longer brand China a “currency manipulator.” It turns out China dropped the manipulative practice years ago.
Heading into the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump singled out the Export-Import Bank as a wasteful example of corporate welfare at its worst, one that bankrolled America’s biggest and richest corporations with cut-rate loan subsidies to sell their products overseas. It’s long been one of the agencies that congressional conservatives have had on their priority list to abolish.
It was one of many agencies I singled out for the axe in my first book on wasteful spending, “The Federal Rathole.”
There was no way anyone “could persuade us that wresting capital away from Americans, then forcing it abroad through the subsidy mechanism, does anything but distort relative prices, misallocate resources and diminish revenues, with zero effect, at best, on the trade balance,” The Wall Street Journal said at the time.
But this week, Mr. Trump said he has changed his mind and now backs the program to help his rich buddies at Boeing and other big corporations, telling The Journal that “lots of small companies are really helped” and that “it’s a good thing.”
He also told the newspaper on Wednesday that he was open to reappointing Federal Reserve Board Chairman Janet Yellen, who was appointed by President Obama. Needless to say, she rarely had a discouraging word to say about his underperforming economy.
No matter how bad the economy was, Ms. Yellen always made the case that recovery was just around the corner, and the Fed became notorious for bullish forecasts that never fully materialized.
Last year, Mr. Trump said that Ms. Yellen should be “ashamed” of how she was handling the economy, but now he seems open to giving her another four-year term.
Throughout his campaign, Mr. Trump attacked NATO as a failed organization that he said had become obsolete, a charge that must have been music to the ears of the Kremlin’s chief thug, Vladimir Putin.
But this week, after a sales pitch meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Mr. Trump abruptly changed his views, saying “It was once obsolete; it is no longer obsolete.”
Throughout the 2016 presidential primary campaigns and the general election, Mr. Trump couldn’t bring himself to utter a critical word about Russia or Mr. Putin. On the contrary, he went out of his way to cover for him and to defend him at times.
Despite Mr. Putin’s military incursions into the Crimean peninsula, which he annexed, and then drove further into eastern Ukraine, Mr. Trump insisted in an interview on ABC News that there were no Russian troops in Ukraine.
But when pressed on the issue, he admitted that, well, yes, they were there “in a certain way.”
Now, in the wake of Russia’s stepped-up military role in Syria in support of its dictator and war criminal Bashar Assad, and his lethal gas attacks on civilians there, Mr. Trump seems to have sharpened his criticism of the Kremlin, too.
Indeed, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s tough posture toward the Russians in his first direct talks with Mr. Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appears to have hardened the Trump administration’s position. Like Mr. Obama, Mr. Trump is now calling for Assad’s removal, a position he never took during his campaign.
“There is a low level of trust between our countries,” Mr. Tillerson said at a news conference with Mr. Lavrov, as he ticked off a long list of grievances with the Putin regime.
Meantime, there is growing evidence of changes among the West Wing’s key policymakers. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, the former president at Wall Street’s Goldman Sachs, is reported to be getting a much larger policy portfolio, while Stephen Bannon is becoming increasingly “marginalized” as Mr. Trump’s so-called chief strategist.
In Tuesday’s New York Post, the president pointedly said Mr. Bannon “was not involved in my campaign until very late.” And in The Wall Street Journal interview, he played down Mr. Bannon’s policy influence, saying he is “a guy who works for me” and that he’s his own “strategist.”
This is an administration in the throes of growing pains. Expect more shakeups to come.
In the wake of Russia’s stepped-up military role in Syria in support of its dictator and war criminal Bashar Assad, and his lethal gas attacks on civilians there, Mr. Trump seems to have sharpened his criticism of the Kremlin, too.