Culture

Tracking Donald Trump’s Ongoing Stream Of Policy Reversals


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No one expects a president to candidate who’s running for office — including the grand position of U.S. president — to fulfill every promise once they’re elected. The bigger backtracks cause waves, however, and most notoriously, President George H.W. Bush ran on the promise of “no new taxes” before implementing several new taxes (which were, to be fair, roundly supported by Democrats) during his term. The discarded promise transformed into an SNL punchline and caused his “read my lips” speech (penned by Peggy Noonan) to echo until this day.

President Barack Obama had his share of broken promises as well, and it’s useful to remember that there are other mechanisms at play. For example, struggles with Congress mean that a president can’t always nail down every vow he made while seeking the gig. However, Trump’s flip-flops — as we outline below — have proven so far to have arrived almost unilaterally and according to whim. And the result has been a string of very public reversals that could make it hard for Trump to rally members of Congress to his side and sell his agenda to the American people in the future.

While Trump has insisted that he’s keeping his promises, a new Gallup poll indicates that the Americans who believe this claim have fallen from 62% in February to just 45%. With that in mind, here’s a running list of Trump’s biggest changes of heart and what may have caused them.

China

What was said?
One of Trump’s recurring themes during his campaign was how America was losing its competitive edge. Trump placed the blame largely on China and even referred to the country as a “currency manipulator” that had undercut our trade agreements. As recently as April 2, Trump told the Financial Times that “our country hasn’t had a clue” about the handling of their currency.

Then, just ten days later, he told the Wall Street Journal that he was backing away from the label of “currency manipulator” because it could jeopardize his upcoming talks with China on how to deal with North Korea.

Why the change?
While an abrupt change of position for Trump, it’s one that makes a certain amount of sense if he’s willing to put aside international squabbling over trade in an effort to focus on the bigger issue of North Korea. An issue that, after ten minutes of conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he realized was “not so easy.”

NATO

What was said?
Another of Trump’s repeated gripes was his insistence that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was obsolete, which he first tweeted about in March of 2016, and repeated as recently as March of this year. His reasoning was two-fold: NATO didn’t do anything to help fight terrorism, and the U.S. was getting “ripped off” by overpaying their share, which allowed other countries to benefit without chipping in.

On April 12, the same day he changed his opinion on China, Trump also reversed course here, explaining in a joint news conference with Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that NATO was something he complained about “a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism.”

Why the change?
It’s unclear what exactly changed Trump’s opinion on the matter, though the presence of Stoltenberg could indicate his realization that NATO is an important aspect of U.S. defenses. His back-peddling included a claim that NATO had made a change, and now is involved in the fight against terrorism, but there’s nothing new in their attitudes relating to terrorism, which they’ve been fighting since the ’80s. Nonetheless, Trump stood by his claim that the U.S. was overpaying their share (NATO contributions are based on a country’s annual gross income), before adding, “We’ll be talking about that.”

Syria

What was said?
Dialing back the clock to 2013, Trump was adamant that then-President Barack Obama was “foolish” for wanting to intervene in Syria, believing that domestic issues should’ve taken precedent. It was this attitude that evolved into his “America First” rhetoric during his campaign. However, on April 6, Trump authorized a strike against Syria with 59 tomahawk missiles, citing Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s chemical attack on the citizens of his own country as justification for the action.

Why the change?
While no one in his administration mentioned the president’s prior position in the article, his son, Eric Trump, told The Telegraph last week that he was sure the decision was made after his daughter, Ivanka Trump, had been affected by the images coming out of Syria in the wake of Assad’s attack, which is what caused the president to order the strike.

Healthcare

What was said?
Trump’s been a critic of Obamacare since its inception, and by the time he was in campaign mode, he repeatedly assured his supporters that he’d develop a healthcare plan that would “save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts.” He even went so far as to boast that he’d create a plan that would provide “insurance for everybody.”

However, by the time the Congressional Budget Office released their analysis of the American Healthcare Act (ACHA) last month, estimates indicated that Trump’s long-awaited Obamacare replacement plan would kick 24 million people off of their health insurance and slash roughly $880 billion from Medicaid over the next 10 years. There was so little support for the bill that it never even went to a vote, despite the efforts of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

Why the change?
Trump’s remarks here were surprisingly sparse, though it’s unclear if it was because he knew he didn’t have the support in the Senate to get it passed, and wanted to avoid the public spectacle of defeat. He did lament the lack of support for the Democrats, which was true, but given the Republican majority in the House and Senate, it was a moot point.

Russia

What was said?
The president’s relationship with Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, is an incredibly complicated one, as we’ve already pointed out. When on the campaign trail, he spoke highly of Putin, explaining the sentiments away with remarks like “if he says nice things about me, I’m gonna say nice things about him.” Since his inauguration, several people associated with the Trump campaign and subsequent administration have been tied to Russia directly, all of which is currently under federal investigation.

In early April, though, Trump explained that “we are not getting along with Russia at all. We may be at an all-time low in terms of relationship with Russia.”

Why the change?
This reversal could have to do with the fact that Trump not only acted aggressively in Syria, but that he’s now fostering a more hostile outlook toward North Korea — two countries that have direct ties to Russia.

The Wall

What was said?
One of Trump’s most consistent applause lines was promising a “big, beautiful wall” across the U.S. southern border, which he said would put a stop to any and all illegal immigration. He topped it off by insisting that he’d make the country of Mexico pay for it.

But before the election rolled around, it became clear that taxpayers would end up being stuck with the bill (at least initially), as Trump intended to ask Congress for the funds to get things started.

Why the change?
From natural barriers to eminent domain and the prohibitive costs involved and the threat to natural wildlife, there are a lot of things that could make the construction of the wall Trump’s biggest unfulfilled promise.

Perhaps that’s why Trump’s wall-related rhetoric has changed so often, with the aforementioned financial back and forth and even what, exactly, the wall will look like and what areas it will cover.

Interest Rates and Janet Yellen

What was said?
Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen has been a subject of Trump’s ire since October 2015, regularly accusing her of keeping interest rates low as a way to protect then-President Obama from ending his second term during a recession. Six months later, he said he’d most likely replace her when her term was up in February 2018, and that she should be “ashamed of herself” for using her political leanings to influence the market. But in early April, Trump told The Wall Street Journal that he liked Yellen and her low-interest rate policy.

Why the change?
These remarks could stem from the fact that Wall Street remains content with Yellen’s approach while at the economic helm, and that an abrupt interest rate hike wouldn’t do Trump’s economic policies any favors. Whether or not Trump’s kind words toward Yellen translates into her staying in her position is unknown, especially in that she has 10 months left on the job.

We’ll keep track of the issues when President Trump contradicts his past positions and remarks. Check back for updates.

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