The most convince-able President in recent memory

Earlier this week, I posted a piece on LinkedIn discussing how the failed Republican health care push showed how much President Donald Trump is willing to let others handle the details for even his biggest policy goals.

This business in Syria makes that even more obvious.

President Trump’s shift on Syria – from isolationist to hawk – isn’t something typically seen of politicians. But it tracks pretty closely with the way plenty of Americans view the situation. It also fits with his over-arching message of renewing the perception of America’s strength on the international stage, even if the specific policy (military involvement in Syria) runs against what he has previously advocated.

None of this is necessarily a bad thing. Cynics will note – correctly – that such willingness to change course suggests a President who lacks grounding in a set of deeply held core beliefs. We typically long for elected leaders who take bold stands and stick to their guns.

Look at the Senate this past week to see how those qualities don’t always work out as planned.

But there is a positive side to having an opportunistic deal maker in the big chair. It means that if you can make your case for your cause – regardless of party or philosophical lines – you might just win an ally.

First with healthcare, and now with Syria, President Trump is showing he’s more pragmatist than ideologue. Will anyone take advantage?





Distrust and Trump

It’s funny to watch talking heads on television news ponder why Donald Trump enjoys apparent popular support, even while making controversial comments that draw criticism from across the political spectrum.

Victor Davis Hanson has as good an analysis as anyone:

The first reaction of Attorney General Loretta Lynch after the recent San Bernardino terrorist attack was to warn the country about Islamophobia. Her implicit message to the families of the dead was not that the government missed a terrorist cadre or let Islamic State sympathizers carry out a massacre. Instead, she worried more about Americans being angry at the inability of the tight-knit Muslim community to ferret out the extremists in its midst…

The government reports that a record 94.4 million Americans are not in the labor force. That is almost a third of the country. How can the same government declare that the official unemployment rate is only 5 percent?

Aside from a government so obviously unmoored from reality, most people watch a 24-hour cable news media where facts are equally alien. Consider that in the 16 hours after the San Bernardino shooting, early Twitter-fueled reports the attack on misguided anti-Planned Parenthood activists, white supremecists, and a workplace dispute, before the facts actually came out. The need for speed has surpassed the need for accuracy.

There’s also a willful tone-deafness to opposing views which creates distrust. Megan McArdle got it right in a column about the public discussion about Syrian refugees that sprang up right after the Paris attacks. McArdle, who supports taking in more refugees, had plenty of criticism for the holier-than-thou voices from her own side of the argument:

Perfectly reasonable people are worried that a small number of terrorists could pretend to be refugees in order to get into the U.S. for an attack. One response to these reasonable people has been: “How dare you say people fleeing terrorism are terrorists!” This is deeply silly. Obama administration officials have admitted that they can’t be sure of screening terrorists out from asylum seekers.

As a result, media and politicians wringing their hands over Trump lack any moral authority to do so. It’s no wonder negative news stories and condemnations from his oppoenents don’t affect this guy’s polling numbers.

(Sidebar: There’s also the whole question about whether the poll numbers translate into a viable campaign. Some media outles have started asking those questions now. Why now? Why wasn’t that considered relevant four months ago?)


Instant Credibility on Syria in Three Easy Words

America may or may not go to war in Syria.  There are compelling, valid arguments for and against military action.  That’s a good debate to have.

Less useful – but still valid – is the infusion of political positioning.  The anti-war left has predictably been quieter for President Obama than they were for President Bush, and some neoconservative hawks who banged the war drum for invading Iraq in 2003 are now rather dovish.  Both sides will point to the other and cry “Hypocrisy!”

For Republicans, who spent the early 2000s arguing so vociferously for war, changing positions is especially tough, as Obama repeats the Bush arguments of a decade ago.  But it should really be an easy pivot, consisting of three words:

“I was wrong.”

It’s a humbling message, but one with some resonance.  Remember that in March 2003, 72% of Americans supported the Iraq war.  A lot of us were wrong about that.  Before 9/11, the concept of war was abstract for most Americans – the stuff of Tom Hanks movies or History Channel documentaries.  Iraq and Afghanistan introduced the public to the realities of young service men and women shipping off to war and sometimes not coming home.

Between the first flashes of shock and awe and the final grudging withdrawal, an awful lot of minds changed.

And Republicans paid a political price for it, too: the Congress flipped in 2006 and the White House in 2008.  (And Joe Lieberman, who supported the war, was all but drummed out of the Democrat party.)  A Republican looking to change his or her mind now will find a public that has trod the same path.