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Under pressure, Trump reverses course on big-game trophy hunting

Donald Trump may seem immune to public pressure, but this president can be swayed by a public backlash.
An African elephant is pictured on Nov. 18, 2012 in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. (Photo by Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty)
An African elephant is pictured on Nov. 18, 2012 in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. 

Last week, for reasons that weren't entirely clear, the Trump administration announced the end of an Obama-era ban on hunters bringing the trophy heads of elephants they'd killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia back to the U.S. The move immediately drew fire, even from some prominent Republicans.

On Friday night, as NBC News reported, the president halted his administration's new policy.

President Donald Trump on Friday announced he is suspending a controversial decision to lift the ban on importing trophies of dead elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia into the U.S., which had been assailed by conservation and animal rights groups."Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts," Trump said on Twitter.

He added last night, "Big-game trophy decision will be announced next week but will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal."

It wasn't altogether clear why the administration made the decision in the first place. There was some speculation that Trump World was motivated by a desire to undo every decision from the Obama era, without regard for merit. The Washington Monthly's Nancy LeTourneau had a compelling piece arguing that the decision was intended to be a thumb in Hillary Clinton's eye.

It also wasn't lost on anyone that Donald Trump's sons have a personal interest in the matter. The Washington Post's report noted, "Both of Trump's sons have engaged in big-game hunting, and photos of them posing in 2012 with the carcasses of species including an elephant and waterbuck have circulated widely on social media. In one image, Donald Trump Jr. is wearing an ammunition belt and holding the severed tail of an elephant in one hand, a knife in the other."

Whatever the motivation, the initial policy change was a dramatic step backwards, so the fact that it's now on hold is heartening. There's also a couple of broader takeaways to keep in mind.

First, though many observers tend to think Trump is immune to public pressure -- at times, he almost seems to be trying to become more unpopular -- we're occasionally reminded that this president can be swayed by a public backlash. This isn't true on every issue, of course, but it happens.

Second, those looking for accurate information about the Trump administration probably shouldn't listen too closely to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Just six hours before Trump put the big-game policy on hold, Sanders defended the policy during a briefing.