On Thursday, President Trump told The Wall Street Journal that despite rumors of factions in his White House – a nationalist populist faction led by Steve Bannon, an establishment Republican faction led by Reince Priebus, and a Democratic-Goldman Sachs faction led by Jared Kushner and Gary Cohn – all was well. Why? Because he contains multitudes:
Mr. Trump dismissed talk about a split inside his White House between aides with a nationalist or globalist orientation. “Hey, I’m a nationalist and a globalist,” he said. “I’m both. And I’m the only one who makes the decision, believe me.”
Like Faye Dunaway in Chinatown, he’s a sister and a mother, a man of many attributes. Never mind the fact that he railed against “globalists” on the campaign trail for well over a year, characterizing free trade as “globalist” and saying that the media was in thrall to “globalist” manipulators. Never mind that he said that nationalism was inherently opposed to globalism – he tweeted this during the campaign, for example:
Hillary says things can't change. I say they have to change. It's a choice between Americanism and her corrupt globalism. #Imwithyou— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2016
His spokesperson, Hope Hicks, was quite specific about what Trump meant when he ripped “globalism” during the campaign:
An economic and political ideology which puts allegiance to international institutions ahead of the nation-state; seeks the unrestricted movement of goods, labor and people across borders; and rejects the principle that the citizens of a country are entitled to preference for jobs and other economic considerations as a virtue of their citizenship.
In other words, nationalism was about big government interventionism on behalf of citizens while shutting borders and trade. Globalism was about free markets and open immigration. These two ideas were in conflict.
But Trump can do anything he wants. He has no governing ideology.
Presumably, his most ardent supporters will ignore such language. But Trump is bound to disappoint somebody here. Already, his Bannon base is growing increasingly annoyed with him. That’s deserved, since Trump apparently fibbed to them.
Trump truly is a man who will decide, in knee-jerk fashion, what he thinks on a particular issue. That may be somewhat of a problem when it comes to governing the executive branch, but it’s a far greater problem when it comes to negotiating with Congress. It turns out that political deals, like business deals, require some skin in the game. And that skin is typically ideological commitment. If the president has none, it’s now up to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to provide leadership.