President Donald Trump knows how to do a press conference leaving the Morning Joe gang—smirks notwithstanding—nodding in approval, Ann Coulter miffed, and both characterizing his string of statements as a flip-flop-o-rama.
Trump, standing next to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the East Room on Wednesday, made a string of statements that seems contrary to what candidate Trump said, but, properly understood, doesn’t make Trump a flip-flopper. Trump was always a post-ideological candidate, elected for management more than any overarching philosophy.
Case in point, Trump said, “The secretary general and I had a productive discussion about what more NATO can do in the fight against terrorism. I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change and now they do fight terrorism. I said it was obsolete; it’s no longer obsolete.”
Well, if NATO is indeed shifting its focus toward terrorism—as Trump has called for—then why would he drill down on his previous description.
The same is true for China, a country he vowed he’d direct the Treasury Department to label a currency manipulator during his first 100 days. Asked point blank about this at the press conference, Trump seemed fairly clear that wasn’t going to happen.
“President Xi [Jinping] wants to do the right thing. We had a very good bonding. I think we had a very good chemistry together,” Trump said. “I think he wants to help us with North Korea. We talked trade. We talked a lot of things and I said, the way you’re going to make a good trade deal is to help us with North Korea; otherwise we’re just going to go it alone.”
In abstaining from a United Nations resolution against Syria, the Chinese signaled they might be more pro-U.S. and could assist on North Korea. So, why would Trump want to launch a trade war?
I previously made a similar point about Trump regarding Syria, but now it’s more pronounced because we’re dealing with a basket full of issues. As he said a day before the Syrian strike, he’s not the type of person who never changes.
He called Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad a “butcher” and seemed disappointed in Russian President Vladimir Putin—whom Trump supposedly has a bromance with—for siding with Assad.
“It would be wonderful, as we were discussing just a little while ago, if NATO and our country could get along with Russia. Right now, we’re not getting along with Russia at all,” Trump said. “We may be at an all-time low in terms of a relationship with Russia.”
Clearly the Cold War, and maybe, specifically, the Cuban Missile Crisis, was the low point, but, even here, he says he’d like to get along with Putin, but isn’t blind to circumstances.
This doesn’t mean Trump was elected without issues. Whether or not senior adviser Steve Bannon remains in the White House, Trump will continue to be an economic nationalist. That means he’ll almost certainly continue strong enforcement of immigration laws. Though he’s softened on China, expect Trump to use the threat tariffs to try to get better trade deals.
One week after the Syrian strike, the U.S. dropped the “mother of all bombs” on an Islamic State target in Afghanistan. Politically speaking, these foreign policy triumphs came after Trump suffered his defeat on replacing Obamacare—a devastating setback on his domestic agenda.
So, it seems as though Trump could be evolving. Or maybe this is just Trump being Trump—the businessman who adapts when necessary.
Fred Lucas is a columnist for Political Storm and the White House correspondent for The Daily Signal. He is the author of Tainted by Suspicion: The Secret Deals and Electoral Chaos of Disputed Presidential Elections (Stairway Press, 2016).