Once again, President Trump has done something astounding, unpredictable, and historic.
Yet, the surprise over the sudden Singapore summit should not have come as a surprise at all. By now we should be used to President Trump surprising us. Consider his record over the last four years.
Four years ago, in June 2014, almost no one would have dreamed Donald J. Trump would be a serious candidate for president. Then, nearly three years ago, when he announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015, almost no one thought Trump could be a dominant candidate.
In fact, my own conversion to Trump as a very real contender only occurred after his July 11, 2015 rally in Phoenix, which led my former colleague, Vince Haley, to come in the office and say, “You had better watch what Trump is doing because his Phoenix rally was emotionally powerful when he turned the microphone over to the father whose child had been killed by an illegal immigrant.”
Then, on August 6, 2015, I watched Trump gain the support of nearly a quarter of registered Republican voters (24 percent) in a CNN/ORC poll after the first Republican presidential debate. This was a huge lead in a field of 16 other candidates – especially given that 58 percent of those asked had a favorable view of Trump. Still, all the elites fervently believed he had lost the debate. The gap between the American people and the elites had never been clearer.
Two years ago, in June 2016, all the elite pundits were certain Trump would lose to Hillary Clinton. Once again, they were wrong.
Last year, in July 2017, all the elites were sure the collapse of the Obamacare repeal plan meant the end of the Trump-Republican legislative achievement. Virtually no one predicted President Trump would pivot and win a huge tax cut five months later – which is now propelling the economy into what would have been unthinkable growth under Obama.
Now our elites are in utter turmoil.
President Trump was very tough with our oldest allies at the G7 Summit while he is being apparently cordial to Kim Jong-un. The elites are whirling in confusion at this kind of swirling maneuvering in a three- or four-day period.
Yet, there is a deep consistency in what President Trump is doing. He correctly understands that our allies have been happy because we have carried the allied military burden for 73 years (since the end of World War II), and we have accepted bad trade deals and one-sided protectionist regulations on their part. Of course, they are offended that America now has a president who actually wants them to pay their fair share for defense. Of course, they do not want to change their tariffs and regulations to have honest, open trading that isn’t biased against America.
At the same time, President Trump is being tough with our allies, he has acted on a deep reflection about the failure of Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama with the North Korean dictatorship. From 1994 to the present, the United States has wrung its hands and complained ineffectively as the North Koreans marched resolutely toward having nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
President Trump spent more than a year talking with the leaders of Japan, China, and South Korea. He consulted regularly with his senior foreign policy and national security advisors. He implemented a maximum-pressure campaign of much tougher sanctions – and even tougher language. His Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, communicated that a war with North Korea would be “catastrophic”. His new Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, gave a strong speech outlining how much tougher sanctions could get if North Korea did not agree to denuclearization. His new National Security Advisor, Ambassador John Bolton, has a long track record of being tough on North Korea.
With firmness set – and an American willingness to get even tougher evident – Kim Jong-un indicated to the South Koreans that he was willing to meet with President Trump.
The impressive thing about President Trump’s reaction was his speed and decisiveness. He saw an opening that might (repeat might) be historic, and he took it.
This decisiveness and willingness to take risks repudiates a deep elite diplomatic tradition of slow, cautious work by subordinates to gradually develop an agenda.
In my new book, Trump’s America: The Truth About Our Nation’s Great Comeback, I emphasize over and over that President Trump has consistently been a dealmaker and a very patient, tough negotiator, who sets big goals and then works relentlessly to achieve them. In fact, I first wrote about these traits last year in my book Understanding Trump.
My dad fought in the Korean War in 1953. I have been studying the North Koreans for most of my life. I do not know what will happen. It is possible that this is their fourth effort to lie to an American president. However, I doubt it.
President Trump has clearly communicated the U.S. position through sanctions, his own words, key statements by very competent subordinates, and in actions elsewhere. Consider how the North Koreans might be studying the U.S. military strikes retaliating against the Syrian chemical weapon attack, the moving of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and the tearing up of the Iran nuclear deal. President Trump has also consistently insisted on a substantial military build-up. It’s clear he is a tough guy willing to play a tough role.
Now, I do not believe everything is done, and we are entering a Pollyanna world of being close friends with North Korea.
I do believe, however, that through a combination of toughness and boldness, aggressiveness and flexibility, and resolution and an amazingly fast grasping of tactical opportunities that President Trump may have begun the process of opening up North Korea and changing history.
He has already accomplished more with North Korea than Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama combined. And this is just the beginning.