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Issues & Insights

Donald Trump’s ‘Nixon-to-China’ Moment(s)

Donald John Trump did something surprising last week. Even shocking.

He appeared at the annual March for Life that for 46 years has protested legalized abortion.

His pitch-perfect address touched upon his audience’s priorities – in their language.

The gathering’s size (always a sensitive subject in the “can-you-top-this” nation’s capital).

The turnout of young people and women’s leadership in the movement.

The Mexico City Policy. Religious liberty for “doctors, nurses, teachers, and groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor.” Appointing pro-life judges.

Horror stories of Democratic extremism – from celebrating late-term abortion in New York to every presidential candidate’s support for taxpayer-funded abortion.

Code phrases: “a child is a precious and sacred gift from God.” “The sanctity of every human life.” Even the obligatory Psalm 139 reference: that humans are “wonderfully made.”

Now the real shocker isn’t, as one might think, that a twice-divorced, admitted serial adulterer and casino mogul would deliver such an oration.

It’s that no previous president had appeared before the marchers to do so.

Not Ronald Reagan, “Religious Right” icon.

Not George H.W. Bush, zealous pro-life convert.

Not Dubya, “compassionate conservative” and born-again Christian.

Back in the day, a commentariat cliché was that only a foreign-policy hawk such as Richard Nixon – secure in the support of his right flank – could risk rejiggering the global balance of power with a diplomatic opening to Maoist China.

In the same way, only The Donald, who stormed into the Oval Office by smashing every idol of political protocol, could continue his own Shermanesque March razing business-as-usual once in the presidency.

And not just on abortion. On moving America’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a promise predecessors from both parties abandoned. Appointing authentic constitutional conservatives instead of populating courts with David Souters and Anthony Kennedys. Questioning the value of NATO and other “alliances.”

One can just hear advisers whispering:

“Mr. President, you can’t afford to be photographed on stage with these March for Life crazies. It’ll kill us with the women’s vote.”

“Mr. President, you can’t actually move the embassy. It will spill blood in the Arab Street and set the ‘peace process’ back a generation.”

“Mr. President, you can’t really appoint judges from that Federalist list. They – and you – will get crucified on the Hill.”

Then there’s the premier – if not altogether pretty – example of Trump’s willingness to machete the Washingtonian knot, highlighted in a recent Washington Post book excerpt.

The segment from “A Very Stable Genius,” by snottily self-important Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, relates how the military-national security complex, led by Cabinet officials and members of the Joint Chiefs, summoned their commander in chief for an “intervention” to “preserve the world order.”

In a  Pentagon sanctum reportedly viewed by flag officers with “reverence,” former Defense Secretary James Mattis intoned that “(t)he post-war international rules-based order is the greatest gift of the greatest generation.”

The high-and-mighty clique apparently then lectured their boss on how global deployments and alliances “fended off the threats of terror cells, nuclear blasts, and destabilizing enemies” in places including Afghanistan, and how free trade agreements “work(ed) … to solidify U.S. economic and national security.”

The problem: This president – never having been captive to the “international rules-based order” – realizes it’s no “gift” when only America plays by those rules. And alliances such as NATO won’t fend off anything when member nations so breach their spending commitments that they run out of ammunition in minor deployments.

So Trump naturally exploded, and his biggest eruption was calling Afghanistan a “loser war,” insisting, “I want to win.” (Of course, Trump being Trump, seemingly took things too far, adding, “I wouldn’t go to war with you people. … You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”)

The reaction, as channeled through the authors by the assembled pink-frosted, rainbow-sprinkled-cupcake leakers masquerading as military officers and national security aides: “(T)his was the gravest insult he could have delivered to these people, in this sacred space.”

No, the real “insult” is for senior officers and cabinet secretaries, in the presence of subordinates lining the walls in a show of force, to patronize their commander in chief and openly contradict his long overdue questioning of an 18-year war. One which even the New York Times admits has left “little to show for it” – and where the goal is not to win but to “train locals to maintain a stable government so that eventually the United States could pull out.”

And what is “sacred” is not the generals’ special space but the more than 2,600 lives sacrificed in Afghanistan, and 700,000-plus destroyed here in an opioid epidemic while some $2 trillion was squandered – and opium production there quadrupled.

Not to mention 60 million unborn babies massacred since 1973.

Trump may be a “coarse and cavalier” “draft dodger” and a womanizing, four-time bankrupt game-show host. Even, in this commentator’s view, often “graceless under no pressure.”

But if his presidency keeps offering Nixon-to-China moments upending convention on abortion, Israel, judicial appointments and national security, here’s hoping that The Gipper’s 1984 promise for his second term holds true for The Donald’s:

“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Maistros, a messaging and communications strategist and crisis specialist, is of counsel with Strategic Action Public Affairs, and was chief writer for the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign, three U.S. Senators, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at bob@rpmexecutive.com.


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Bob Maistros

Bob Maistros, a messaging and communications strategist and crisis specialist, is of counsel with Strategic Action Public Affairs, and was chief writer for the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign, three U.S. Senators, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at bob@rpmexecutive.com.

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Issues & Insights is a new site formed by the seasoned journalists behind the legendary IBD Editorials page. Our goal is to bring our decades of combined journalism experience to help readers understand the top issues of the day. We’re doing this on a voluntary basis, because we believe the nation needs the kind of cogent, rational, data-driven, fact-based commentary that we can provide. 

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