September 19th, 2020


Republicans want Trump to 'evolve' on foreign policy

Josh Rogin

By Josh Rogin Bloomberg View

Published May 12, 2016

Donald Trump may eventually find some common ground with Congress on economics, but there's less hope for unity between the Republicans and their presumptive presidential nominee when it comes to foreign policy.

Some senior party figures hope Trump's views will "evolve" to the point where the party can feel comfortable defending his competence to be commander in chief. There are no signs of evolution.

On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman said that he had been working with members of the Trump campaign to help them get up to speed on foreign policy and national security. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, has had a series of phone calls with Paul Manafort, whom Corker referred to as Trump's campaign manager, and Corker's office is supplying information to the campaign.

Corker told reporters that the Trump campaign is entering a new phase, focusing more on policy, and that he thought it only right that he help when asked. He played down Trump's often controversial statements on national security and called on his Republican colleagues to give Trump some time to study up.

"Chill and let the campaign evolve a little bit and see where the candidate ends up," he said. "When people enter an arena and questions are asked for the first time, you evolve and you learn. It appears to me that the campaign is evolving."

Last month, Corker was among the first to praise Trump's foreign policy speech, hosted by the Center for the National Interest, a realist foreign policy think tank. The speech set out a foreign policy agenda that diverges sharply from the hawkish stance the Republican leadership has maintained for many years. Corker said it harkened back to where Republican foreign policy was 25 years ago.

"What I heard in that speech was a candidate trying to espouse views not unlike Bush 41 and Jim Baker," he said. "I heard some realism creeping back into foreign policy."

But Corker acknowledged that some of Trump's proposed policies, like increased use of torture and killing the families of terrorists, violated international law and simply can't be accepted by the party.

Trump's former rival Marco Rubio said Tuesday on CNN that he also is hopeful Trump can get up to speed on national security issues. He said more information could only help Trump make better decisions. As the presumptive nominee, Trump could soon begin receiving daily intelligence briefings from the Obama administration, in addition to information from his allies in Congress.

But on the issues, Rubio said there's not much overlap between him and Trump. Rubio and other Republican hawks advocate for increased intervention in Syria, tougher pressure on Russia and expanded free trade. (Hillary Clinton happens to share these views.)

Rubio said he would try to convince Trump and Trump supporters that an "America first" foreign policy is counterproductive and can have negative economic and security consequences.

"My hope is that he can be persuaded away from those sorts of positions," Rubio said. "As of now that's not the case."

Rubio doesn't agree with Corker that Trump will see the world differently after he learns the details of the issues. But he acknowledged that Republican voters are increasing sympathetic to the doctrine Trump is putting out.

"My sense is he's going to continue to be who he is," said Rubio. "That's who the Republican voters nominated, and that's the direction we're moving."

Another former Trump rival, Senator Lindsey Graham, told me that the problem with Trump's foreign policy was not just his worldview but also that he seems to change his positions day by day.

"He talks like Ronald Reagan one moment and then embraces Putin the next," Graham said. "The contradictions are just overwhelmingly to me. I hope he listens to someone like Bob Corker."

Leading Democrats are already using some of Trump's most controversial foreign policy ideas against him. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that the Republican effort to get Trump to evolve was doomed.

"You can't rehabilitate Donald Trump on foreign policy. What he has said so far is against the ideals of America," Cardin said. "It's going to be a challenge for his campaign. I don't think anybody can rein in Donald Trump."

When Trump meets with House Speaker Paul Ryan in Washington on Thursday, they are expected to announce a set of broad agreements on principles they share. Some national security issues, such as the need to fight terrorism and the imperative of stopping illegal immigration, could be included in that list.

But on many issues including trade, the U.S. commitment to alliances like NATO, the U.S. adherence to the Geneva Conventions, the commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, and the rights of Muslim foreigners to enter the U.S., Trump and the Republican congressional leadership seem unlikely to ever agree. Unless Trump evolves.

Comment by clicking here.

Josh Rogin, a Bloomberg View columnist, writes about national security and foreign affairs. He has previously worked for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, Foreign Policy magazine, the Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly and Asahi Shimbun.


05/11/16: Washington doesn't work the way people think it does. And when the public gets a peek, there's a lot of outrage
04/26/16: When it comes to Russia, what's good for the Trump Organization isn't necessarily good for U.S.
04/19/16: U.S. is scrambling to keep Saudis in the fold
03/29/16: Russia 'weaponizing' migration to destabilize Europe
03/08/16: National Security all-star team backs Rubio
03/07/16: Hillary takes aim at another government watchdog
02/18/16: Congress wary of Chinese deal for Chicago Exchange
02/16/16: Obama weighs looser rules for Iranian travelers
02/15/16: Revealed: Hillary building her own national security council
02/02/16: Revealed: The Trump foreign policy doctrine
01/27/16: Bergdahl defense could call his loudest foe, Trump
01/07/16: Why when North Korea forces Obama's Washinton to pay attention all the U.S. government can do is grieve
01/06/16: Obama's Mideast balancing act tilts to Iran
12/28/15: Assad is reaching out to Washington power brokers
12/23/15: U.S. quietly negotiating to free Americans in Syria
12/21/15: Russian arms in Syria keep U.S. grounded
11/17/15: Assad's Paris win
11/12/15: The Pentagon's lonely war against Russia and China
11/05/15: Iran, Saudi Arabia clash inside Syria talks
10/28/15: U.S. is driving Mideast allies to Putin
10/26/15: Source of Hillary's Libya data a mystery
10/21/15: Team Jeb calls out Trump for trashing Freedom Tower
09/23/15: Xi visit marks downturn in US-China relations
08/31/15: Walker stakes his territory on foreign policy
06/08/15: Hillary just lost one of her only selling points
03/02/15: An Obama deal with Iran could die with his days in office
02/23/15: Shock, awe and Jeb Bush's foreign policy dream team
01/22/15: At GOP pow-wow 2016 front-runners pledge, lay out vision to restore America's world leadership role