Yesterday, Donald Trump reversed several of his long-held positions in an interview with the New York Times. Among the issues he flip-flopped on was torture.
During his run for president, Trump pledged he would bring back waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse.” Back in February, he even called Ted Cruz “a p*ssy” when Cruz suggested during a debate that he would not allow waterboarding for “any widespread use.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, Trump changed his mind on the topic after a meeting with former Marine Corps General James Mattis, who is under consideration for secretary of defense.
In another significant turnabout, he backpedaled from his repeated calls for a return to waterboarding and other discredited torture techniques to fight terrorism. Trump indicated he had reversed his view after a discussion with retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, considered a possible pick for secretary of Defense.
“He said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful,’” Trump said of their conversation on torture.
Trump said Mattis explained his view, shared by experts, that proven methods of interrogation, including building a relationship between interviewer and suspect, yield more useful information. “Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I’ll do better,” Mattis said, according to Trump, who said he was “very impressed” with the answer.
On one level, it’s easy to attack Trump for flip-flopping yet again on an important issue. On the other hand, it’s good to see him change his mind once he’s given information that shows his worldview is wrong. A willingness to grow and be open to new ideas are important characteristics in a leader.
Part of Trump’s flip-flop comes because he’s bowing to political reality. There is little appetite for a return to torture—both the realist Rand Paul and the hawkish John McCain have announced their opposition to it.
Another flip-flop yesterday was on climate change. Trump infamously said during the campaign that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, but in the interview with the New York Times, he now says he has an open mind on both President Barack Obama’s “Clean Power Plan” and the Paris Climate Agreement, which was signed last year and which Trump threatened to tear up.
Trump would not commit to specific courses of action. His transition team on environmental and energy issues also remains full of climate change skeptics. Environmentalists are wary at best.
Trump’s flip-flops on torture and climate change are hopefully an indication that he plans to govern as a reality-based pragmatist instead of the populist ideologue he campaigned as. If America brings back torture, it would cause problems both internationally and in the Senate. Withdrawing from the Paris climate accords, which are nonbinding anyway, would create an unnecessary international incident.
Only time will tell whether Trump maintains his new positions or whether they’re just another con.