President Trump was never believable as a dove.
He insisted repeatedly on the campaign trail that he had opposed the war in Iraq; the public record made clear that, to the contrary, his views of the war basically aligned with public opinion on the whole. The one exception was in March 2004, when the subject came up right after a big drop in the stock market. Otherwise, Trump’s position was generally similar to the percentage of people who said the war was worth fighting in Washington Post-ABC polling.
What’s more, his rhetoric is not the sort of thing you’d hear from most opponents of military intervention. He talked on the campaign trail of crushing the Islamic State by matching the extremist group’s brutal tactics. Since his inauguration, he has threatened war with North Korea and, this month, he refused to rule out a military option against Venezuela.
Nonetheless, he repeatedly insisted that, in fact, he had fervently opposed the Iraq War from the outset. The rationale for this was simple: Hillary Clinton supported it, and he used his stated (and untrue) opposition as a way to dig at her judgment.
He also used the war in Iraq and the conflict in Afghanistan as foils for his broader argument about the poor decision-making of Washington politicians. Our Aaron Blake collected a slew of past comments Trump made about Afghanistan, most of which, like the one below, were focused on the money and lives he said that the United States wasted in the country.
We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let's get out!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 21, 2013
Yet again, though, Trump is learning that his campaign-trail rhetoric was far easier than the decisions he needs to make as president.
On Monday night, Trump will address the nation and outline his vision for a path forward in Afghanistan. Among the possible proposals, we reported, are an increase of 3,800 American troops in the country, added to the 8,400 there. It’s the sort of proposal that would not be unexpected from an U.S. president post-Sept. 11, 2001, or from a guy who supported the Iraq War at the outset. But it’s out of keeping with the priorities Trump presented over the course of the 2016 election.
Most Americans, in fact, oppose the idea of increasing troop levels in Afghanistan. In June, Fox News polled Americans and found that the proposal was opposed by a 2-to-1 margin. The good news for Trump, though? There are a few demographics that support a troop increase — and those demographics overlap strongly with his base.
Republicans and those who voted for Trump in 2016 are the only groups in which more people say they support a troop increase than oppose it. White evangelicals are evenly split.
Sure, a troop surge in Afghanistan contradicts the noninterventionist worldview Trump presented upon his entry into politics (even though that presentation was itself insincere). But at the very least, Trump can reassure himself, the people who brought him to the dance would be the most supportive of a push to expand the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.
As we’ve noted before, Trump’s policy focus has consistently been to make decisions based on what his supporters hope he’ll do. If on Monday he announces that he’s sending more troops to Afghanistan, that announcement would be very much in keeping with his behavior.
Even if it’s at odds with the person he insisted he was in his tweets and in his campaign rhetoric.