U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about trade in the Oval Office of the White House March 31, 2017 in Washington, DC.
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The presidential learning curve remains steep for Donald Trump

Updated
One of Donald Trump’s most important early flip-flops came just 11 days into his presidency. As a candidate, Trump broke with Republican Party orthodoxy and endorsed lowering prices on prescription drugs by using Medicare’s negotiating power. That, however, did not last.

On Jan. 31, after a meeting with executives and lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry, Trump denounced the idea he used to support, calling it a form of “price fixing” that would hurt “smaller, younger companies.” Trump had one set of beliefs, he heard conflicting information, so he adopted a different set of beliefs.

The Wall Street Journal noted a similar shift this week on the U.S. Export-Import Bank.
During the campaign, Mr. Trump was skeptical of Ex-Im Bank, which funds U.S. trade deals, calling it “unnecessary.” The bank has been a target of Republican criticism, which Mr. Trump seized on.

But that view changed earlier this year after he talked to Boeing Co. CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who explained to him what role the bank plays, according to people familiar with the matter.
Explaining his new position, Trump told the Wall Street Journal this week that he “was very much opposed” to the Export-Import Bank, but “it turns out [that] lots of small companies will really be helped.”

There’s been quite a bit of discussion this week about Trump’s many 180-degree turns and what the reversals tell us about his presidency. There’s been commentary about Trump “moderating,” “pivoting,” becoming more “conventional,” and choosing sides between the competing factions in his West Wing.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer went so far yesterday as to argue that Trump isn’t really flip-flopping, so much as the issues are “evolving towards the president’s position.” In other words, Trump isn’t changing; the world is.

That’s obviously foolish, but even putting Spicer’s nonsense aside, it seems much of the political world is over-thinking this. Consider the importance of the key phrase in Trump’s Ex-Im Bank explanation: “it turns out.”

Trump, with literally no background in government, politics, or public service before taking the nation’s highest office, took firm stands on a wide variety of issues he knew nothing about. As a rule, this isn’t a wise approach – it’s generally better to rely on some information before coming up with opinions – but this guy threw caution to the wind, and 46% of the American electorate found it compelling.

Now, however, Trump is adopting an entirely different set of opinions on many issues, not as part of some grand ideological rebranding, but because some folks gave him new information he found compelling. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) explained this yesterday by saying, “Some of the things that were said during the campaign, I think he now knows simply aren’t the way things ought to be.”

That’s an exceedingly polite way of saying, “Trump had no idea what he was talking about when he ran for the nation’s highest office, but a variety of people are now guiding him new directions.”

Some sympathetic figures may find all of this vaguely encouraging. Perhaps it’s a good thing, optimists will argue, that the president is acquiring new information and drawing new conclusions. It’s at least preferable to him ignoring evidence and sticking to old assumptions that never really made any sense.

But what this overlooks is the fact that Trump is still lost without a map. Someone told him the Ex-Im Bank is a good idea, and the president effectively responded, “Oh, OK, that sounds good. I’ll think that now.” What’s to stop some other person from persuading him in the opposite direction tomorrow? Nothing.

And that’s the problem. Because Trump has no core beliefs about government or public policy, he’s inclined to listen to the most recent voice he finds credible, but there’s no reason to assume he won’t change his mind again and again.

This isn’t a pivot or a rebranding; it’s chaos borne of ignorance. 

Donald Trump

The presidential learning curve remains steep for Donald Trump

Updated