Do­ing the pol­icy zigzag

Trump’s po­si­tions have been any­thing but con­sis­tent

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Don­ald Lam­bro Don­ald Lam­bro is a syn­di­cated colum­nist and con­trib­u­tor to The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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.

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