The Trump pivot is the Bigfoot of politics in 2016: often spotted, never verified. Yet despite warnings—from Mark Leibovich, from S.E. Cupp, from Jonathan Chait—the temptation to stake a claim as the genuine discoverer of the mythical Trump pivot remains powerful.
Now there’s another chance. Here’s Trump, meeting with Al Gore. Here’s Trump, saying maybe torture isn’t a tremendous idea. Here’s Trump, telling Time that he wants to find an accommodation for DREAMers, the unauthorized immigrants brought here as children and raised in the United States.
So with an eye toward recent history, here’s some advice: Don’t be tempted.
Take the Gore meeting. There’s no good way to know what motivated the summit, which was arranged by Ivanka Trump. Gore gave a tight-lipped statement when he emerged. Whatever the point of the meeting, as Robinson Meyer notes, the balance of Trump’s statements and his concrete actions on climate change point in a clear direction. There are his repeated claims that climate change is a Chinese hoax, and there is his appointment of Myron Ebell, an outright denier of global warming, to head his EPA transition team.
What about the torture question? This one came out of Trump’s interview at The New York Times, but it’s actually much less than has been reported. Trump was asked whether he still supported torture, and he described a meeting with General James Mattis, who he on Tuesday nominated as secretary of defense. Here’s the transcript:
I said, what do you think of waterboarding? He said—I was surprised—he said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful.’ He said, ‘I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.’ And I was very impressed by that answer. I was surprised, because he’s known as being like the toughest guy. And when he said that, I’m not saying it changed my mind. Look, we have people that are chopping off heads and drowning people in steel cages and we’re not allowed to waterboard. But I’ll tell you what, I was impressed by that answer. It certainly does not—it’s not going to make the kind of a difference that maybe a lot of people think. If it’s so important to the American people, I would go for it.
In other words, he’s not really backing off. To summarize, Trump now thinks maybe torture doesn’t work, but he hasn’t changed his mind and will happily yield to his interpretation of political exigency. Of course, why might some Americans think torture was effective? It could be because the man who won the presidential election spent months saying things like, “Torture works, okay folks? … Believe me, it works.”