Sunday Political Brunch—April 16, 2017: Trump Changing His Tune

Sunday, April 16, 2017
Mark Curtis, GoLocalProv Contributor

Dr. Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations in West Virginia, and a Political Analyst for “The Brian Copeland Show” on KGO Radio 810-AM San Francisco.

There has been a lot of chatter this week in the news and on talk radio about how many times Donald Trump has changed positions now that he is President, compared to what he said on the campaign trail. In fairness, there have been consistencies, too! Let’s “brunch” on all that the Easter Sunday!

“Serious in Syria” – Last fall, when candidate Trump was asked about taking military action in Syria, he said, “What we should do is focus on ISIS. We should not be focusing on Syria.” Last week, after he ordered missile attacks, he said, "Yesterday's chemical attack against innocent people - their deaths were an affront to humanity. These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated." So, what happened? Well, events and circumstance can change, prompting a policy change. I’d hardly call it a flip-flop. The difference between what was said in October and what was done in April was a chemical weapons attack on civilians.

“NATO No-No” – A year ago on the campaign trail, Trump’s criticism of NATO was a common theme. “My statement on NATO being obsolete and disproportionately too expensive (and unfair) for the U.S. are now, finally, receiving plaudits,” Trump said in a March 2016 Tweet. Trump’s two big beefs with NATO were that the U.S. paid a higher share of the cost and that NATO was not fighting terrorism. This past week, he said, "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." It’s not all coming up roses yet, but you could hear our European allies' collective sigh of relief.

“From Russia with No Love” – In the early days of the campaign, Trump said of Russia, "I was over in Moscow two years ago; and I will tell you — you can get along with those people and get along with them well. You can make deals with those people. Obama can't." Fast forward to April 2017 and he’s changed his tune on the heels of the Syrian gas attack. "Right now, we're not getting along with Russia at all," Trump said, adding that relations with Russia "may be at an all-time low." Trump has also changed his tune regarding China. During the campaign, he was highly critical of China’s trade policies, but has warmed up to the communist nation because he needs their support against North Korean aggression.

“Icing ISIS” – As previously mentioned, not all of Mr. Trump’s recent comments represented a change in position or policy. For example, during the campaign he said of ISIS: “I would just bomb those suckers; and that's right, I'd blow up the pipes, I'd blow up the refineries, I'd blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left.” He may not have hit refineries yet, but dropped the “mother of all bombs” on an ISIS outpost in Afghanistan. On this issue, he is at least holding close to a campaign pledge, though there is much more work to be done.

“Read My Lips; No New Taxes” – George H.W. Bush won the White House in 1988 by famously saying, “Read my lips; no new taxes.” But, two years later, he raised taxes; and it cost him dearly. It is certainly one reason why he did not win a second term. Could Donald Trump’s position on NATO cost him a second term? I doubt it, and here’s why: Taxes are something that affect people personally. A tax increase has a direct impact on our wallets. Things like NATO seem remote from our daily lives. Yes, NATO is there to deter war; but unless it fails in that mission, a lot of its work goes largely unnoticed.

“With That Woman” – It wasn’t a public-policy flip-flop, but it surely was a personal one. Early in 1998, President Clinton denied having an affair with a White House intern: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” In September, 1998, Mr. Clinton addressed the National Prayer Breakfast, saying: “I agree with those who have said that in my first statement after I testified I was not contrite enough. I don't think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned. It is important to me that everybody who has been hurt know that the sorrow I feel is genuine: first and most important, my family; also, my friends, my staff, my Cabinet, Monica Lewinsky and her family, and the American people. I have asked all for their forgiveness.” Yes, he was still impeached, but I always call that the speech that saved his Presidency.

“Why All This Matters” – I often say, “It’s one thing to campaign for President; it’s quite another thing to actually have the job.” A President is privy to far more intelligence data than a candidate. Sometimes, you get to the job and say, “Whoa, I had no idea.” I’ve always suspected that is why candidate Barack Obama said he’d close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but never did. Not only do time and circumstances change policy decisions; so, too, does new information. There is at least one funny twist to this story. A company called is selling Trump flip-flops (photo above) you can wear on your feet! I'm certain that Trump, the entrepreneur, would appreciate that!

Do you have a memorable example of a politician flip-flopping or changing a previous position or statement? To share it, just click the comment button at

  • Jennifer Duffy

    Cook Report

    "We don't really know what a Trump presidency means for the nation, never mind the smallest state.  One of the unintended consequences of last night's results is that Sen. Jack Reed won't be chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Chalk that up as a loss for RI."

  • Pam Gencarella

    Head of Ocean State Taxpayers' Association

    "Trump’s win means that his signature issue, illegal immigration, could have a big impact on RI, hopefully reversing our course as a sanctuary state and saving the state taxpayer millions of dollars.  While we agree with his 'repeal and replace' Obamacare stance, we have no idea what that means to the RI debacle known as UHIP.  It is not a stretch to believe that federal funding for this kind of system will be off the table so, will RI be stuck with this massively expensive system that still doesn’t work and that is expected to cost another $124 million to fix?  

    Trump's belief that there is significant fraud in the Food Stamp program and the policies that may come from that belief could have a negative impact on RI's local economy since there are businesses in certain cities that rely heavily on this program, fraud and all. On the upside, we may be able to ditch the UHIP program if there is significantly less need for processing welfare program requests (ie. Medicaid and food stamps) resulting from fewer illegal immigrants and less fraud.  While we are ambivalent about his touted child care policies, if enacted, it may force our legislators to revisit the ever growing state cost of subsidies in this area and possibly reduce the fraud and abuse in this system." 

  • Kay Israel

    Professor at Rhode Island College

    "With a Republican President and Congress, Rhode Island will probably be excluded from the 'fruits of victory."  

    The congressional delegation will be able to vocally make their presence felt, but in the long term it's more symbolic than substantive.  

    For Rhode Island it's a matter of holding on and waiting until '18 or '20 and a surge in Democratic influence."

  • Jennifer Lawless

    Professor at American University

    "The RI congressional delegation just became even less powerful than it was. With unified government, Trump doesn’t need to quell Democrats’ concerns or acquiesce because he’s worried about a Democratically-controlled Senate.

    His appointments will reflect that. His executive orders will affect that. And the conservative policy agenda he puts forward will affect that."

  • Len Lardaro

    Professor at University of Rhode Island

    "Well there's a few things -- because there's not going to be gridlock, that's a big difference if it had been Hillary and a GOP Congress, in which nothing would got done. We'll at least get a half a billion in infrastructure that's going to pass which will have an impact.

    I think you'll see there will be reduced reliance on government nationally -- and that's where we'll stick out like sore thumb. We've relied way too much on government -- and our government is highly inefficient and ineffective.  Maybe, just maybe, in this who cycle of things we might be forced to be small and more efficient for once.

    A couple of other things -- interest rates jumped. The one to follow is the ten year government bond rate -- which is tied to mortgages. It went from 1.7% to 2.05% in one day. The point is -- if the ten year stays high, mortgage rates will start going higher -- and in the short time people will run to re-finance. 

    That's the short term impact -- but then if rates stay hight, that will make mortgages more out of reach. And we just passed a bond issue to limit open space -- housing has limited upside here.
    The next thing -- the Fed Reserve will go ahead with tightening next month. A strong dollar will hurt manufacturing. When the dollar is strong our exports become more expensive overseas. 

    Our goods production sector -- manufacturing and construction -- in the near term will do a little better, but as time goes on will be more limited. But something you won't hear, is there are lags in fiscal policy, of six months to year. So we won't really see the effects until the third our fourth quarter of 2017, going into 2018."

  • Mike Stenhouse

    RI Center for Freedon and Prosperity

    "As the unbelievable turned into reality this morning, it struck me that the presidential election was not really all about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It was about a fed-up people, revolting against a corrupt system - the "beast" - that relentlessly favors insiders. Hillary personified the beast, while Donald personified the slayer.

    Sadly, based on election results in our state, Rhode Island's version of the beast lives on. I fear our political class has not learned the lessons from the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump movements - and will continue with their government-centric, anti-family, anti-business status quo."



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