Trump frequently criticized NATO during the campaign, arguing the alliance had outlived its usefulness and threatening to pull back if other members did not increase their defense contributions. After entering office, he kept up the criticism, pressing German Chancellor Angela Merkel on German defense spending during her visit to the U.S.
At a White House press conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday, Trump sounded a different note, saying the alliance was a “bulwark of international peace.” The president added, “I said it was obsolete. It's no longer obsolete.” Trump attributed the change of heart to what he said was a renewed focus on terrorism. NATO officials have said the change was long planned. Trump’s change of heart here resembles his team’s shift on Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment numbers it previously criticized. “They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now,” spokesman Sean Spicer said in March.
When Trump entered office, he decided to keep FBI Director James Comey in place, to the chagrin of some Democrats, who were upset at the director’s public comments on the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton, which they blamed for costing her the election.
In March, however, Comey confirmed that the FBI was investigating Russian interference in the election, and whether Trump aides colluded with Russia. He also refuted the president’s claim that he was surveilled before the election. That seems to have annoyed Trump. In an interview with Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo that aired Wednesday, Trump said he had confidence in Comey but also said it was not too late for him to fire the director. (He is likely correct about that, as a matter of law.) Trump criticized Comey for letting Clinton off the hook and said, “We'll see what happens. You know, it's going to be interesting.”
During the campaign, Trump stood with many Republicans in opposing the Export-Import Bank, a government agency that encourages purchases of U.S. goods. “I don't like it because I don’t think it's necessary,” he told Bloomberg. “It’s a one-way street also. It’s sort of a featherbedding for politicians and others, and a few companies.... And when you think about free enterprise it’s really not free enterprise. I’d be against it.”
Since entering the White House, Trump has had a change of heart. Democrats claimed in February that the president had privately reversed his stance on the Ex-Im bank, and he confirmed it to the Journal, saying he intended to fill two empty seats on the board. “Instinctively, you would say, ‘Isn’t that a ridiculous thing,’” he said. “But actually, it’s a very good thing. And it actually makes money, it could make a lot of money.”
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It is too early to say what sort of political price Trump might pay for his flip-flopping. The Syria strikes frustrated some of his most ardent supporters, but these core backers are also the ones who agree with Trump on the most and are less likely to find another champion. Many of the others are the sorts of nuts-and-bolts issues that few voters have especially informed opinions about. Voters care a great deal about how their own pocketbook is faring, and less about the specific monetary policies that are producing that result. Trump’s harsh words for NATO and China during the campaign were never deeply rooted in fact, as Beijing’s efforts to prop up its currency showed; they were more about showing toughness.