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Try to get your brain around this: Trump doesn't care that when he moves off a position, you call it a 'flip-flop'
Because while you think in terms of conventional politics, he thinks in terms of getting to a desired outcome.
We've heard it concerning NATO. We've heard it concerning health care. We've heard it concerning taxes. We've heard it concerning trade with China.
Donald Trump has "flip-flopped" on each of these issues, or so says the conventional wisdom of the Beltway. In a town where almost no problem is ever solved, and no serious issue is ever resolved such that it's no longer an issue, the thought leaders have a particular way of labeling the way politicians manage their issue stances. Say one thing on a given day, modify your stance on a different day, and you "flip-flopped."
In addition to being a very dumb emphemism, this is also an astonishingly stupid way of talking about how policy is made. It's one thing to deride someone like John Kerry, who will sit there and make a statement like, "I actually did vote for the $87 million before I voted against it." That's clearly a case of a politician trying to play both sides of an issue.
But because of the way policy is made and legislation is passed, it's almost impossible to stake out a position on day one of a campaign or a term in office, and end up implementing or voting for that exact same policy.
And that's when you're dealing with a conventional politician. In the case of Donald Trump, the Beltway crowd completely misses what's going on because they insist on viewing him through the lens of conventional politics, when that is simply not how he operates.
Trump makes brash, audacious statements that get people's attention and sometimes leave people aghast. He suggested NATO had become obsolete. He threatened a trade war with China. He threatened to impose tarrifs on companies that move operations outside the United States. These are arguably extreme policy ideas that would have all kinds of negative consequences if implemented. Yet Trump threatened to implement all of them, and showed plenty of willingness to actually do it.
What has happened since then, though, has rendered his original pronouncements largely null and void. NATO is showing resolve and appears willing to thumb its nose at Vladimir Putin by admitting Montenegro as a member. China is getting serious about changing its monetary policies. U.S. companies who were looking at moving operations overseas have decided to expand domestically instead.
And unsurprisingly, Trump has not pulled out of NATO, has not initiated a trade war with China, and has not imposed any new tarrifs.
What happened here is really not hard to figure out. Consider the China question. By pulling out of the Trans Pacific Partnership, Trump made it clear that existing trade deals are not sacrosanct. That got the attention of the Chinese. Would he really start a trade war with them? Maybe, maybe not. But based on his TPP action, you had to take seriously at the very least that he is willing to upset the status quo. So China came to the table.
Obviously, the initial declaration about China being a currency manipulator was designed to provoke a change in behavior. If successful, then no trade war is necessary and no continuation of provocative rhetoric is warranted.
Yet look how Trump's changing talk on China has been viewed. The Washington Post labels it exactly as you might expect. So does the Guardian. CNN's Chris Cillizza kinda sorta gets it, but is so steeped in Beltway thinking that he can't seem to understand they're not primarily driven by politics rather than the pursuit of policy outcomes.
Trump comes from the business world, where you propose big concepts, try to put deals together, make adjustments for the issues presented by other parties involved . . . and ultimately you get to an outcome that you hope will work. To get to that outcome, you often start by taking positions from which you can negotiate. People in business, because they are not stupid fools, understand that this is how it works. They don't throw your original position back in your face and say: Hey! You flip-flopped!
People like Chris Cillizza, who are steeped in the Beltway mindset, think every word out of a person's mouth should become evidence by which to demonstrate their dishonesty or insincerity. In the Beltway world, any variance from a position taken at a point in time becomes cause for those who talk for a living to castigate you and declare your complete lack of conviction. If people in business operated that way, no business agreements could ever be reached. No one would want to deal with the nonsense.
This is ironic because it is this same class of pundits that will complain no one ever works together or compromises, and nothing ever gets done. Yet let a president like Trump retreat from an opening position to get a deal, and he's an unprincipled flip-flopper - even though it's entirely possible his opening position was nothing more than a negotiating stance.
Trump knows the Beltway thinks like this, and finds it irritating. But he also knows he has to pursue goals as president the same way he pursued them in business. He knows the voters elected him because they believed he could do this, and he can't worry about the sniping he gets from people who insist on assessing him as if he were a conventional politician - even though he is certainly not that. Indeed, it seems that not being conventional is Trump's greatest sin to those who wouldn't know what to do without the template of convention to follow.
Dan's new novel, BACKSTOP, is a story of spiritual warfare and baseball. Download it from Amazon here!