This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on 20170312.
His biggest weakness is that he has no idea how to get what he wants, which leaves him vulnerable.
Since the American election, commentators have been bemused, and even amused, by President Donald Trump’s alleged inconsistencies.
On immigration, Trump has been on all sides of the issue. His position has drifted from ‘figure it out later,’ to ‘deport bad hombres,’ to ‘let the good ones stay,’ and so on.
Trump has also mused about every strategy in the books to deal with Daesh, also know as ISIS. He has insisted any plan had to remain a secret, but then hinted at the need for Russian co-operation. He later updated that to include possibly sending ground troops. He reconsidered ground troops in short order, but now Marines have been deployed in Syria.
All that being true, I believe Trump is the most consistent president in recent memory — not because of his ‘consistent inconsistency,’ but rather for his unwavering commitment to the fundamental policy positions he has maintained since he launched his presidential campaign in June 2015.
Cast your mind back 21 months to that infamous moment when Trump descended by escalator to the Trump Tower lobby and was welcomed by a small crowd of paid talent.
His campaign launch speech highlighted four key ideas — four commitments that to this day remain non-negotiable, foundational pieces of Trump’s policy. These are the commitments that will not only define his presidency but the American political discourse for years to come.
Trump vowed to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, and he declared that Mexico would pay for it. He has not wavered on that. Today, the U.S. Congress is exploring funding options for the wall and pursuing ways to ask Mexico for reimbursement.
Since the beginning, Trump has also been adamant that the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, had to go. He committed to repealing and replacing the law with ‘something terrific.’ His position has not vacillated; repealing and replacing Obamacare remains at the top of his agenda.
Perhaps most troubling for Canada, Trump has long questioned America’s trade deals. In his campaign launch, he noted: ‘Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people, but we have people that are stupid. We have people that aren’t smart. And we have people that are controlled by special interests. And it’s just not going to work.’
Since he became president, he has killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, signalled his intention to renegotiate NAFTA, and taken an aggressive stance toward China. In his recent address to Congress, the president spoke about trade five separate times.
Trump also announced he would be the leader who could bring back America’s manufacturing jobs. He promised that he ‘would be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.’ And since taking office, Trump has remained steadfastly focused on this task, and has been gloating that his first full month in office has sparked a massive ‘optimism’ and employment boom.
On these four foundational policy pillars, highlighted 21 months ago, Trump has remained remarkably consistent. In short, for him, nothing has changed.
That said, Trump has no realistic plan to accomplish any of these objectives. Indeed, his biggest weakness is that he has no idea how to get what he wants.
He has no experience in getting policies through to the finish line. His Twitter-centric communications style reveals a lack of the restraint and patience needed to shepherd a policy through the machinations of government.
While Trump’s intended goals may well be immovable, his ‘means to his ends’ remain bizarrely in flux.
And this is precisely where Trump is vulnerable. It is here where the courts, Democrats in Congress, social activists and others can most effectively oppose Trump’s policies and propose other solutions.
While the Trump train knows its destination, it doesn’t know which track to use or how fast to go. This is where moderates can exercise influence and minimize damage. We’ve already seen this with the dialed-down ‘Muslim ban 2.0’ introduced last week.
While he is in office, Trump will focus on delivering these four key pillars. The test of success, however, will not come until he leaves office and we can all see what is actually left behind.
Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.