The Atlantic Daily: MAGA Cowed Trump on Afghanistan

Donald Trump’s flip-flopping on Afghanistan is a reminder that the core values of Trumpism are whatever Trump needs them to be.

Trump yelling. Sound is Afghanistan flag.
Getty; The Atlantic

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Donald Trump knows he’s against President Joe Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. He’s been saying as much, in harsh words, in the prolific statements he’s been emailing out since he got banned from Twitter.

His problem: The withdrawal follows a template that Trump himself set out. As I wrote earlier this week, Biden and Trump have both chosen to emphasize America’s narrow national interest by exiting Afghanistan as quickly as possible. Now the former president needs to figure out why exactly he hates Biden’s approach

On Monday, Trump railed against the United States for leaving behind civilians who’d helped American troops, a position that placed him in alignment with my colleague George Packer, many progressives, and some Republicans. “Can anyone even imagine taking out our Military before evacuating civilians and others who have been good to our Country and who should be allowed to seek refuge?” Trump wrote.

That humanitarian concern, however, placed him at odds with the MAGA movement. Tucker Carlson delivered nativist warnings about Afghan refugees (“First we invade, and then we are invaded”). Steve Cortes, a Newsmax host and Trump 2020 aide, tweeted a picture of Afghans on a transport plane with the caption, “Raise your hand if you want this plane landing in your town?”

Suddenly Trump changed his tune. He emailed supporters the same photo that Cortes tweeted, saying, “This plane should have been full of Americans. America First!”

The about-face is a reminder that although Trump holds a few core values (racism, anti-immigration, protectionism), he is otherwise ideologically flexible. His insight in 2016 was to endorse views widely held by Republican voters but rejected by other GOP politicians as deplorable, politically unwise, or both. But Trump sometimes misreads his supporters—and when he does, he often moves quickly to get back in line.

Trump is still trying to find the right angle to reconcile his xenophobia with his attacks on Biden. In yet another statement today, he offered a critique of the administration’s military logistics: “First you bring out all of the American citizens. Then you bring out ALL equipment. Then you bomb the bases into smithereens—AND THEN YOU BRING OUT THE MILITARY. You don’t do it in reverse order like Biden and our woke Generals did.”

In tactical terms, this makes zero sense. But then coherence has never been a requirement for Trump—or Trumpism.

Two people blowing bubbles
Jan Buchczik

The news in three sentences:

(1) Demonstrations against the Taliban are spreading across Afghanistan. (2) The Federal Trade Commission filed a new antitrust claim against Facebook. (3) A man who claimed to have a bomb in a pickup truck near the U.S. Capitol surrendered to authorities after an hours-long standoff.

What to read if … you’re looking for practical advice on how to manage your risk in light of the Delta variant:

Have questions about the virus or this pandemic moment? Ask us.

Tonight’s Atlantic-approved activity: In the latest episode of the Experiment podcast, the Uyghur teen Aséna Tahir Izgil describes her life in America after escaping genocide.

More of a reader than a listener? Aséna’s father, the Uyghur poet Tahir Hamut Izgil, chronicled his family’s experience in a five-part series last month.

A break from the news: Forgiving someone—really forgiving them—is hard. But doing it halfway is toxic for relationships, our happiness columnist explains.

Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.