–Donald J. Trump, February 10, 2016
Of all the statements that caused me to be one of the few conservatives to never give in to the temptation of selling out to the “Republican” presidential candidacy of a liberal conman who was uniquely unqualified for the job, this one has always stood out. As most people intrinsically understand, the devil you know is usually better than the one you don’t. I have always seen Donald Trump as fitting into the latter category.
It has been obvious for quite a while that Trump was never going to being able, or even willing, to fulfill most of his often insanely unrealistic campaign promises. It was also clear that he was very likely to move to the left, just as Arnold Schwarzenegger did here in California if things didn’t immediately work out for him politically.
Now, even after all the back-wrenching flip-flops of his fledging administration, the changes have come at an accelerated pace in past few days. Trump has altered his entire persona as if he is a man in the midst of a mid-life crisis. Like Madonna or Lady Gaga, he has suddenly reinvented himself into an almost completely new character, without even a hint of concern for what he consistently promised previous to taking office.
The campaign version of Donald Trump is officially dead. Having catastrophically crashed against the jagged rocks of reality, not even 100 days into his presidency, Trump is clearly abandoning his original ship and setting a new course in a vastly different direction.
Just this week Trump drastically altered his position on:
- China and the prospect of his promised a trade war with them
- The importance of NATO
- Steve Bannon’s role in his White House
- Whether Wikileaks is good, or bad
All of this was quite shocking, even to media veterans who have been highly skeptical of Trump in the past. Meanwhile his press secretary, taking a page right out of George Orwell’s 1984, actually claimed, with a straight face, that Trump isn’t the one who is “evolving,” but rather, it is the issues that are moving towards him!
On top of all of this, the man who ran of a platform of “America First” and who routinely mocked an interventionist foreign policy, specifically in Syria, has instigated immediate military action in… Syria, apparently at the behest of his… daughter. He has also gotten credit (dubiously) for dropping a huge bomb on Afghanistan and has been rattling his saber with regard to North Korea.
Oh, and apparently Russia is now our enemy again and we even seem to be bragging about how horrible relations with them suddenly are. Of course, that all does seem a bit like a man going out of his way to distance himself from his mistress once he realized that his wife was getting too suspicious.
There have been many interpretations of this remarkable transformation. The Washington Post says that Trump is now a “conventional” Republican. Glenn Beck believes that he is looking like another Republican who didn’t keep his promises. Politico suggests that Trump is now basically just like Hillary Clinton.
I think that there is truth in all of that analysis. However, there seem to me to be a few things missing from what appears to be the emerging (and almost always wrong) “conventional wisdom” about this (not really) stunning turn of events.
Part of why Trump is so “capable of changing into anything” is that he believes in absolutely nothing except what he thinks is good for him at that moment. So, while some in the media have given him credit for some sort of instant maturation or recognition of the realities of governance, I see him simply adapting via his finely-honed survival instincts.
It seems clear that he had no idea what he was infor with regard to how impossible it is to get things done in Washington. As a guy who has been a dictator most of his business career, he was very poorly suited for this job. The healthcare debacle made him realize this and he quickly, somewhat to his credit, turned exclusively to things over which a president has almost complete control.
Consequently, renegotiating trade deals, building massive walls, draining the swamp, repealing Obamacare, putting Hillary in jail, and maybe even drastically reducing taxes, are all out. What remains are, usually vastly overblown executive orders and military strikes.
Effectively, Trump is feeling impotent in most of the job, so he is now going to basically ignore the areas where he lacks real power and simply focus on the parts where people pretty much have to do exactly as he says. Military strikes also happen to be super fun and probably really good for his already sadly sagging poll numbers.
Now, to be clear, some of this is good. As long as we don’t go too far, a strong show of US military force can pay dividends elsewhere around the world. Trump’s rhetoric on illegal immigration has, on its own, apparently drastically reduced the flow across the border (at least until they realize that it’s all a bluff). A trade war with China would have been an economic disaster.
“Never Trump” conservatives like me have been ridiculed because Neil Gorsuch was, thankfully, confirmed to the Supreme Court, thus ensuring that no matter what Trump does from here, it can’t be worse than what we would have gotten with Hillary. However, this denunciation from our “conservative” critics is extremely shortsighted.
The upgrade from Merrick Garland to Gorsuch may indeed be significant for many years to come. But much like a sports trade where one team gives up its future for a small immediate gain, I believe that “conservatives” will be paying a very dear price for Trump in ways which most of us haven’t even fully contemplated.
Obviously, since that won’t be known for quite some time, this isn’t the reason that this week was a vindication for the “Never Trumpers.” That happened because we warned the Trump cult that he would never be able to deliver what he promised and that he would change in unpredictable and potentially very unsatisfactory ways if he was ever somehow elected.
We now know that we were indeed right. The Trump who got elected didn’t even last 100 days. Now we will all find out which form this chameleon takes on next and how many more transformations there will be between now and the end of his time in office. You can be pretty sure that this one won’t be the last.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.