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Analysis: Migrants, ‘Rocket Man’ and Trump’s Ever-Changing Mind

Executive order another contradictory move in an ever-changing presidency

President Donald Trump is at war with the conservative megadonor Koch brothers. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
President Donald Trump is at war with the conservative megadonor Koch brothers. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Donald Trump is a hardliner. Until he’s not. Donald Trump is open to compromise. Until he’s not.

The president — yet again — on Thursday reversed himself on a major issue by ending his administration’s practice of separating migrant families. In doing so, he bowed to all kinds of pressure: from his wife and daughter, from human rights groups, from Democratic members — and even from his fellow Republicans.

“We want to keep families together. At the same time, we have to be strong on the border,” Trump told reporters Wednesday, sounding very much like a chief executive who wants to have it both ways.

The president often says one thing only to contradict it hours or a day later. And when Trump realizes he cannot have it both ways — or that he has tweeted or said something potentially damaging — he simply heads in the opposite direction.

The crisis set off by the “zero tolerance” policy of splitting migrant children from their parents so the adults could be detained awaiting trial for the misdemeanor of attempting to enter the country illegally is merely the latest example of Trump’s penchant for contradiction and flip-flops. Here are some other top examples.

‘Fire and fury’

Before Wednesday’s reversal, perhaps the starkest Trump reversal was his stance on North Korea and threats to unleash America’s nuclear arsenal on “Little Rocket Man.”

He no longer refers to Kim Jong Un by that derisive moniker. Nor does Trump any longer — for now, at least — threaten to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on the North. For months, if reporters asked the commander in chief if he planned to attack the Asian country, he refused to rule it out. “We’ll see,” he often replied when not threatening a nuclear attack that would “destroy” Kim’s country.

But then Trump abruptly — after saying talking would not work — accepted Kim’s invitation to meet. The president canceled that meeting in late May — only to reschedule it six days later. Once the two leaders spent several hours negotiating and getting to know one another in Singapore, gone were the “Rocket Man” and other digs, replaced by declarations that Kim is “talented and “loves his country” despite a spate of human rights abuses.

DACA Debacle

Trump on Jan. 9 told this to a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers during a White House meeting that was carried live by the cable news networks about immigration overhaul legislation: “You guys are going to have to come up with a solution [for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program]. And I’m going to sign that solution.”

He assured that bipartisan group he would “take the heat” if they caught flak for the contents of a bipartisan immigration bill. But weeks later, after he and hardliners in the White House concluded a bill that group came up with failed to live up to their demands, the president and his team helped sink it as a floor vote neared.

Health Care Heartburn

Trump at first first appeared very much on board last October as Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., searched for rare bipartisan common ground to find a short-term fix to some flaws in the Obama-era 2010 health care law. He said as much during remarks in the Rose Garden.

But the next day, he reversed himself.

“While I commend the bipartisan work done by Senators Alexander and Murray — and I do commend it — I continue to believe Congress must find a solution to the Obamacare mess instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies,” Trump said.

And in a tweet the same day, the president, despite saying he and his team had been involved in the Alexander-Murray process, said he could not “support bailing out ins co’s who have made a fortune w/ O’Care.”

‘Moving the goalpost’

The list goes on, from the president’s signal of support for a government shutdown-averting spending bill then his threat to veto it, to his denial of dictating a July 2017 memo about a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian attorney one of his sons and son-in-law attended, to his admission-turned-denial about why he fired FBI Director James B. Comey. 

There are other policy flip-flops, too: His decision to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Syria, and his more recent suggestions he could rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an Obama-era pact he slammed as a candidate, then withdrew the country from after elected.

The effect is a Congress often left with its collective head spinning. And that includes members of both parties, who often are left wondering whether Trump will hold the same stance he just expressed by the time they’re scheduled to vote.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., described himself Wednesday as “someone who works tirelessly across the aisle, who tries to move bipartisan legislation.” He pointed to the aforementioned immigration compromise measure for which Trump & Co. first signaled support as an example of how the president’s penchant for frequent changes of heart affect policy.

“We thought we had a deal that would get the administration’s support until it got to the floor,” he told CNN. “And frankly, it is hard to keep negotiating with folks who keep moving the goalpost farther and farther.”

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