Every U-turn from Trump's first year as President, from China to 'The Wall'

The wall looks set to be a smaller beast and it appears he can’t make his mind up on healthcare

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 18 January 2018 18:17
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Donald Trump's major u-turns since becoming President

Presidents are defined by the direction they take the country. Donald Trump might be defined by his ability to turn that direction around.

He has changed his mind on some of the most popular policies that he spoke about during his election campaign. Here’s a selection of some of those changes of mind, from the President who has become the master of the volte-face.

The Wall

There was nothing more prominent during Trump’s campaign: some formulation of building a big wall at the southern US border and forcing Mexico to pay for it was said or shouted at each of his campaign stops. And there has come to be nothing more demonstrative of the President’s difficulties.

For his part, Mr Trump has continued to be committed to the wall. Not only does he still want to build it, he says, he has promised to succeed in forcing the Mexicans to put up the money.

“The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it,” he recently tweeted. “Parts will be, of necessity, see through and it was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wastelands or tough rivers or water.

“The Wall will be paid for, directly or indirectly, or through longer term reimbursement, by Mexico, which has a ridiculous $71 billion dollar trade surplus with the US. The $20 billion dollar Wall is ‘peanuts’ compared to what Mexico makes from the US. NAFTA is a bad joke!”

But as Mr Trump’s tweet makes clear, he is already making some concessions.

The reference to the “see through” nature of the wall is an admission that parts of the wall might need to be transparent. It’s not clear what that means – the President has said it will need to happen so that people don’t get hit on the head by packages of drugs being thrown over the wall. But it’s more than likely that it means that some parts of the wall will need to be equipped with sensors and other kit that can track people crossing the border, rather than materials that get in the way.

Part of the point of the wall was that it would stretch the entire way across the border – that was part of the criticism of the existing fence – but it seems that this will not happen.

And the President’s suggestion that Mexico will pay “directly or indirectly” might be an attempt to cover up the fact that any payment won’t be coming straight from Mexico. It’s most likely that the US will have to pay for the wall and then try to get the money back. One suggestion, for instance, has been a tax on Mexican imports that would go to the US government.

China

Another one of Mr Trump’s favourite tactics during his campaign was to attack China. The country became such a commonly discussed enemy that even Mr Trump’s pronunciation was mocked, and he made a series of claims – that it was trying to destroy the US, that it was a currency manipulator, that Americans were failing to defend themselves from the coming threat.

But soon after Mr Trump took office it became clear that the views of the President were different from those of the candidate.

His tone has softened and he has taken back his remarks about the country being a currency manipulator. He has claimed the U-turn is the result of the two countries working together on the North Korea situation – but it seemed to emerge after Mr Trump met China’s President.

Nato

During the campaign, Mr Trump regularly said that Nato was obsolete and that it was unfair that the US were still being forced to pay for it. It wasn’t doing enough to counter terror, he suggested, and the US might even pull out.

But President Trump has had an entirely different view. “I said it was obsolete,” he said in a moment of honesty about the U-turn. “It’s no longer obsolete.”

He said he had changed his mind because Nato had changed, including a new commitment to fight terrorism. It isn’t clear whether this is true – much of Nato’s work has been focused on terror both before and after the U-turn – but it is one of the few U-turns that Mr Trump has been open and explicit about.

Russian meddling

There’s one thing Donald Trump is very clear on with respect to the Russians: there was no collusion between his campaign and the country. Everything else is a little less clear.

During the campaign, Mr Trump dismissed suggestions that Russia was involved in the election. It was just as probable that hacks were being launched by people in their parents’ basement, he suggested, and there was no reason to suspect that the attacks were coming from another country.

He changed his mind in November: he agreed with the intelligence agencies who had suggested that Russia was involved in the election.

The U-turn wasn’t complete. He has continued to attack the claim that he was involved in any of that meddling, and used his Twitter to blast “haters and fools” who have questioned attempts to become friendlier with Russia.

Syria

During his candidacy and before, Mr Trump was staunchly opposed to the US getting involved in affairs abroad. It needed to focus on itself, he said, insisting that the kind of interventionism that had led to foreign wars was unnecessary.

All that changed when the President decided to launch missile strikes on Syria. When Bashar al-Assad carried out chemical attacks on his own people, Mr Trump decided to strike back. He said he had done so in response to seeing children die, and Michael Wolff reported in his book Fire and Fury that people in the White House had put together PowerPoints to try to tug at his emotions.

It was a marked change not just in the administration’s approach to Syria but to intervention everywhere. The US has not launched any attacks with the same kind of symbolism, but the decision to do so in Syria set the stage for similar decisions in the future.

Obamacare

Perhaps the most quiet and divisive of Mr Trump’s U-turns was a U-turn on a U-turn – one that, in effect, left him exactly where he’d started but gave a great deal of hope to those wishing for a change.

Mr Trump campaigned on repealing and replacing Obamacare. But as soon as he got into office, and had a meeting with Barack Obama, he suggested he might have a change of mind.

“Either Obamacare will be amended, or repealed and replaced,” Mr Trump said in the wake of his election. “I told him I will look at his suggestions, and out of respect, I will do that.”

But what some had hoped would signal a U-turn – or at least a change of heart – never arrived. The work to repeal Obamacare has begun, and while it has run into problems like the rest of the President’s legislative agenda, any hope that Mr Trump might work to keep the healthcare provision around has mostly been lost.

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