by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
There’s no question that, prior to last week, President Donald Trump held fairly anti-interventionist views on foreign policy. Breaking dramatically with Bush-era Republican orthodoxy, Trump ran on a message of “America First” and of avoiding spending blood and treasure on adventures overseas. And yet, with last week’s Tomahawk missile barrage against the Syrian government in response to a chemical attack on civilians, this administration took a step in the exact opposite direction from Trump’s earlier rhetoric.
If Trump was elected by voters who supported non-intervention, wouldn’t breaking with that position then cost him support? Online backlash from the “alt-right” certainly led to speculation that the move in Syria would potentially cost Trump his “base.” But this all assumes that Trump’s voters held anti-interventionist views and therefore gravitated toward him, rather than the other way around: gravitating toward Trump for one reason or another and adopting a more complete, weakly-held slate of Trump views only after the fact.
And indeed, polling suggests that last week’s actions in Syria will neither strongly help nor strongly hurt Trump’s position, despite plaudits from Hillary Clinton and skeptical tweets from Laura Ingraham. …
… Fast moving views are not likely to be strongly held views. Instead, they’re much more likely to be about people mirroring back the signals they see coming from the leaders they support. People can resolve dissonance by shifting their own view on issues that aren’t top of mind. So while Trump’s actions may look radically different than what his Twitter feed of the last few years might suggest, don’t assume this is going to mean his voters will abandon him. It’s much more likely that they’ll change their minds about the policy rather than the person.