When Donald Trump first announced his candidacy during the infamous escalator ride of June 16, 2015, his speech was unconventional, to say the least. In fact, as the primary went on, “unconventional” practically became Trump’s calling card when it came to campaigning. The ways that Trump managed this at the level of communication have been endlessly analyzed, and there is no need to rehearse them here.
What people seem to forget in the flood of analysis and agonizing over Trump’s unrehearsed Twitter-fied style is that candidate Trump was also unconventional when it came to ideas. Despite his much-advertised skills as a builder, it would be more accurate to say that Trump took a wrecking ball to the epistemic closure that had permeated the Republican Party since the election of Barack Obama.
Pre-Trump candidates stood unilaterally in favor of a dogmatic sort of free trade, for example. Trump openly and loudly proclaimed his support for tariffs. Pre-Trump candidates refused to say anything in favor of legalizing drugs. Trump favored medical marijuana. Pre-Trump candidates favored slashing entitlements. Trump quite fiercely did not. Pre-Trump candidates attacked any attempt to use government power to check abuses by major actors in the healthcare sector as pleas for socialized medicine. Trump charged those companies with “getting away with murder” and suggested he might negotiate with them using Medicare as a cudgel. Pre-Trump candidates were uniformly in favor of foreign policy adventurism to “spread democracy” and court war even with major superpowers like Russia. Trump was just the opposite.
For much of his first year after taking office, to the disappointment of his supporters, Trump abandoned most of these differing views. His penchant for trade protectionism was the one arguable exception, but even there, Trump was more frustrated by his staff than talked out of his opinion. Those of us who hoped for a new Republican party resigned ourselves to being happy that at least Trump was changing the GOP’s tone-deaf style of communication, but this was cold comfort.
Until this year.
Although the media remains largely fixated on the most superficial drama in the Trump White House, the past few weeks have seen President Trump take serious steps to shift away from his GOP establishment handlers, and back toward the things on which he campaigned. The press’s only response has been to hyperventilate about Trump being “unleashed,” but really, the better term for what looks to be happening in the White House is “realignment,” with Trump’s political instincts leading the way.
As a starter, Trump has apparently decided to stop outsourcing his drug policy to the extremely anti-drug Jeff Sessions, and seems to be returning to his original position. As Reason reported last week, Trump has overruled Sessions’ decision to prosecute those who distribute drugs in states that have chosen to legalize drug use and resale, and now favors a “states’ rights” bill that would codify this as the law of the land.
True, Trump is still promising to execute drug dealers, but the people he seems to have in mind for that are more the sorts who sell illegal opioids, rather than potheads who run medical marijuana shops. And, to be fair, the former are far more dangerous.
Speaking of dangerous groups who sell drugs to vulnerable people in unscrupulous ways, that’s another area where the Trump Administration has shifted gears. A recent story in the New York Times reveals that President Trump’s Food and Drug Administration head, Scott Gottlieb, has begun aggressively pushing back on pharmaceutical companies’ attempts to strangle competition by shutting out generic drug manufacturers from creating competing products under increasingly dodgy pretexts.
Further, the Trump White House now appears fully to support the CREATES Act, a bill that would permit generic drug companies more effectively to hold their brand name competitors’ feet to the fire over anticompetitive behavior and guarantee their right to acquire drug samples for clinical trials, once the FDA approves those trials. It’s a common-sense bill that has managed the incredible task of uniting the likes of Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah). Naturally, the anticompetitive giants in Pharma hate it.
Where this kind of about-facing can lead, we can only guess. Perhaps Trump will force his Health and Human Services Department to stop seeking to cripple the 340B drug pricing program, which uses a voluntary version of his negotiation-through-Medicare strategy to obtain lower prices for the very people who mostly live in Trump country? Perhaps his apparent one-off missile strike against Syria will turn out to be a pretext to withdraw from the country now that Assad has been reminded of the United States’ resolve to combat the use of chemical weapons? Perhaps Trump will even make good on his promise to go in imposing tariffs until America’s most crooked competitors reform themselves, as Xi Jinping’s China seems inclined to do as of late?
Who knows? But whatever else happens, these pivots are good news. Count me on the side of letting Trump be Trump—or, in this case, let primary Trump be President Trump.
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