The president of the United States has some of his diehard campaign supporters — who loved his extremist rhetoric on the trail — asking, “Who are you, and what have you done with Donald Trump?”
Trump has backed away from some of his hard-line nationalist rhetoric on the economy — reversing his stance on China being a “currency manipulator,” backing away from eliminating the Export-Import Bank, softening on the priority (an unrealistic one) of eliminating the national debt and even indicating he might reappoint Janet Yellen as chairwoman of the Federal Reserve when her term ends.
No one expects the bombastic Donald Trump, the one who delighted his fire-breathing, anti-government, anti-Obama supporters, to vanish, of course. And now he’s talking again about a health care overhaul after a failure to install what would have been, for millions of defenseless Americans, a catastrophic Republican health care plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.
And the dropping of a megabomb on ISIS in Afghanistan might have been as much politically strategic as it was a military maneuver. The president’s allies and critics seemed to be struggling, days later, to make sense of it. The bomb was justified by the administration as needed to break up a tunnel system ISIS was using to connect various terrorist elements. And Trump does have two highly respected people at his right hand in such matters — National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis. They will defend such action.
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But the president also doubtless was trying to show decisiveness after spending a year criticizing President Obama for what Trump said was inaction against ISIS.
Is there a new Trump? Likely not. The president seems uninterested in day-to-day chores of governing, and his attention span is short. His election was as big a surprise to him as it was to all the pundits and politicians who climbed out on the prediction limb and fell off.
But it does appear that some of the more practical Republicans around him, described by some as “mainstream” Wall Street financial people, are winning the day over his once-closest adviser, Steve Bannon, the ultra-right wing CEO of Trump’s campaign. Bannon got and then lost a seat at the National Security table and his ill-defined ideas on the economy worried even some of the president’s most conservative advisers.
Make no mistake: Trump is not good news financially for lower-income Americans and working families and despite the success of the Affordable Care Act that has helped millions of those people get health insurance, Trump’s going to play to the darkest instincts of his supporters and continue to go after the ACA. He’s also going to support deregulation of business and Wall Street, something that helped lead to the collapse and near-Depression of 2008-09.
And he’s no friend to the environment, evidenced by the ridiculous appointment of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as secretary of the Department of Energy. In addition, he’s sticking with Betsy DeVoss in Education, despite her being more supportive of vouchers and charter schools than she is of mainstream public education.
So Trump’s critics have little reason to sleep easier on many counts.
But if his moving around — in a positive way — on some of the economic issues where he appeared to be entrenched indicates the president is listening to wiser voices, that’s good. And if there is little reason to give Trump much credibility in matters of foreign affairs and national defense, there is ample reason to recognize and appreciate the judgment of Mattis and McMaster.
Trump was in danger of having his first 100 days judged only by the nervousness and uncertainty an inexperienced, shoot-from-the-hip sort of new president brings to office. If there is cause for some hope — limited though it may be — it’s that Trump is listening to more of the right people.