Who Is That Man in the Oval Office, and What Has He Done with President Trump?
Analysis

Who Is That Man in the Oval Office, and What Has He Done with President Trump?

YURI GRIPAS

Even for a man known to adopt policy positions more out of convenience or circumstance than principle, Donald Trump has produced a tidal wave of public flip-flops on major issues over the past two days -- some of them bedrock campaign promises.

On topics as varied as the continued usefulness of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the future of Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen, Trump publicly reversed himself on Wednesday, adopting stances that were precisely the opposite of what he told his supporters on the campaign trail.

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The reversals come on the heels of Trump launching a missile attack on Syria, after spending years complaining that the United States should stay out of conflicts in the Middle East, and should avoid attacking Syria in particular. He also publicly trashed White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, declaring, “I’m my own strategist” and suggesting that the man he once said he has known “for many years” was just “a guy who works for me.”

For those suffering from policy whiplash, here is a quick guide to where Trump now stands.

China as a Currency Manipulator

 Trump, during his campaign, repeatedly claimed that the Chinese government is actively interfering in the foreign exchange markets to keep the yuan weak compared to other global currencies, thereby giving its exporters an unfair advantage over manufacturers in other countries. On the campaign trail, he repeatedly promised that on “day one” of his presidency he would officially declare China a currency manipulator. He failed to do so but still continued to accuse Beijing of interfering in the foreign exchange markets.

Trump then: “Well they, I think they're grand champions at manipulation of currency,” he told Reuters in February.

Trump now: “They’re not currency manipulators,” Trump said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

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Chinese Influence Over North Korea

Trump has consistently pointed the finger at China for its failure to rein in the rogue regime of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, insisting that Beijing has the power to get the young strongman to abandon his stated plans to build a nuclear missile capable of striking the mainland United States, but simply won’t use it.

Trump then: “China has great influence over North Korea,” he told The Financial Times last week.

Trump now: Trump said that after speaking with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he changed his mind, he told The Wall Street Journal. “After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy. I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power. But it’s not what you would think.”

NATO’s Obsolescence  

On the campaign trail, Trump hammered the post-World War II alliance that has helped maintain peace in Western Europe for generations. He declared that NATO was no longer useful for protecting the US against modern threats like terrorism.

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Trump then: “I took such heat when I said NATO was obsolete,” Trump said shortly before his inauguration in January. “It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror.

Trump now: “I said it was obsolete,” he said Wednesday in a press conference that followed a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg It’s no longer obsolete.”

Trump insists that NATO responded to his initial criticisms and changed its focus, though there is no evidence that the 28-nation alliance has substantially altered its policies in response to his complaints.

Janet Yellen

Trump was a harsh critic of Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen during his campaign. He accused her of being in the pocket of the Obama administration and manipulating interest to benefit the previous president politically. While he vacillated between condemnation and praise during the campaign, it was his attacks on the leader of the central bank that stood out the most.

Trump then: “When her time is up, I would most likely replace her,” Trump said last year. “I think she is very political and to a certain extent, I think she should be ashamed of herself,” he said after his election in November, referring specifically to her efforts to keep interests rates low during the protracted recovery from the Great Recession.

Related: Four Reasons Trump’s Promise of Tax Reform Is Fading Fast

Trump Now: In his interview with The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, though, Trump was asked if Yellen was “toast” when her term as Fed chair expires in February. (Her term as a board member extends until 2024.) "No, not toast,” he said, indicating that he is open to re-appointing her to another term. “I do like a low-interest rate policy, I must be honest with you,"

Export-Import Bank

Trump repeatedly trashed the Export-Import Bank of the United States on the campaign trail, lambasting it as an example of the crony capitalism that he was running against. The bank, which provides export finance loans and guarantees, is widely hated by the hard right elements of the Republican party. As time went on, Trump began softening his rhetoric, leading some to think he was changing his position. On Wednesday, he confirmed it.

Trump then: “I don’t like it. I think it’s a lot of excess baggage. I think it’s unnecessary,” he told Bloomberg in 2015. “And when you think about free enterprise, it’s really not free enterprise. I’d be against it.”

Trump now: “I will tell you what, I was very much opposed to Ex-Im Bank because I said what do we need that for IBM and for General Electric and all these,” he told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. “It turns out that, first of all, lots of small companies will really be helped, the vendor companies, but also maybe more importantly, other countries give it. And when other countries give it, we lose a tremendous amount of business.

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“So instinctively you would say it’s a ridiculous thing but actually it’s a very good thing and it actually makes money. You know, it actually could make a lot of money.”

Given Trump’s extraordinary series of about-faces over the past few days, it would be quite understandable if his most fervent supporters were looking at each other today and asking, “Who is this guy, and what has he done with our president?”

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