There is no rule that politicians must remain consistent in their policies. Circumstances change, both economically and politically, and a skillful politician certainly can adjust his or her positions accordingly.
But politicians need to explain to voters why they changed their minds. At The Fact Checker, we award an Upside-Down Pinocchio when a politician shifts position on a policy without acknowledging that they did so.
Perhaps no politician is a bigger flip-flopper than Donald Trump. During the 2016 campaign, we counted flip-flops on four issues, but in some cases (H-1B visas and the minimum wage), Trump flip-flopped so often that it was just about impossible to determine his actual policy position.
After Trump won the electoral college vote while losing the popular vote, he flip-flopped on the unique American system of electing presidents. Whereas he had once called the electoral college “a disaster for a democracy,” he began to celebrate it as “genius.”
The pattern has continued during his presidency. It’s hard to keep up with all of Trump’s changes in position, but here are some major ones in recent weeks.
– No “cuts” to Medicaid
When Trump started running for president, on several occasions he asserted that he would not reduce funding for Medicaid, the health-care program for the poor. It was a key part of his strategy to show that he was different from other Republican candidates. Here are some examples:
In his announcement speech, on June 16, 2015, Trump said: “Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts. Have to do it.”
In an interview with the Brody File on the Christian Broadcasting Network on May 20, 2015, Trump declared: “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican. I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid. Every other Republican is going to cut. Even if they wouldn’t they don’t know what to do because they don’t know where they money is. I do.”
Granted, Trump does not appear to have made such promises about Medicaid since the early days of his presidential campaign. But it was in his announcement speech and he has never explained why he suddenly decided Medicaid was not worth mentioning again.
This is relevant now because the president has embraced the House Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, which would change the financing of Medicaid to a block grant system.
Currently, Medicaid financing is open-ended, depending on how many people are enrolled and what care they need; states have to match a percentage of the federal funding. But under the proposal, states would just get a set amount of money per beneficiary, and thus would have to make up any additional costs. Most experts say this shift would put such a burden on the states that they would be forced to reduce Medicaid enrollment. (The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that $116 billion in costs would be shifted to the states over 10 years, not including the ACA expansion.)
The GOP proposal also would effectively end the expansion of the Medicaid program, encouraged under the ACA, starting in 2020.
House Republicans have long pushed to convert Medicaid to a block grant system, so their proposal is not especially surprising. But clearly, this is a flip-flop on Trump’s previous pledges not to cut Medicaid – which he had even touted as an example as to why he was not like other Republicans. Yet now he is embracing a plan that reflects a key GOP goal.
(The White House did not respond to a request for an explanation for Trump’s shift. Asked March 12 on CNN’s “State of the Union” if Trump was breaking a promise, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney replied that “just because you spend less money on something doesn’t mean it can’t get better.” But House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that “we are sending Medicaid through a per capita block grant to the state and capping its growth rate. This is the most historic entitlement reform we have ever had.”)
– The “big bubble” in the stock market
During the presidential campaign, Trump frequently derided the performance of the stock market under President Barack Obama.
During the first presidential debate with Democrat Hillary Clinton, on Sept. 26, 2016, Trump said: “We are in a big, fat, ugly bubble. … The only thing that looks good is the stock market. But if you raise interest rates even a little bit, that’s going to come crashing down.”
Similarly, in an Aug. 9 interview with Fox News Channel, Trump said: “If rates go up, you’re going to see something that’s not pretty. It’s all a big bubble.”
And, campaigning in Ohio on Sept. 5, Trump said: “We have a very false economy. … The only thing that is strong is the artificial stock market.”
Yet now that he is president, Trump has repeatedly celebrated the continued rise of the stock market as evidence that his presidency is having a positive effect on the U.S. economy.
And in an interview on Feb. 28 with “Fox and Friends,” Trump said: “You take a look at what’s going on with the stock market. Trillions of dollars of value have been created since I won the election – I mean, trillions.”
Trump is right that the stock market performance has been unusually good. MarketWatch calculated that the first 50 days of Trump’s presidency is the best for a Republican president since the Great Depression 84 years ago, and the sixth best overall. It is also the best 50-day return since Bill Clinton’s start in 1993.
But if the stock market was in a bubble and artificial before, why can’t the same critique be made of the market under Trump? The president has not explained what changed. So that’s another clear flip-flop.
– The “phony” employment numbers
During the campaign, Trump often questioned the accuracy of the employment numbers published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the official unemployment rate was about 5 percent, Trump claimed it was really 22 percent or even as high as 42 percent. In a speech to the Economic Club of Detroit on Aug. 8, Trump said the unemployment rate was “one of the biggest hoaxes in modern American politics.” On many other occasions, he derided the figures calculated by career economists as “phony.”
Indeed, this was not just a position he held during the campaign, but something he had expressed forcefully on Twitter for years.
But all of that seemed to be forgotten once the jobs report of the first full month under Trump was released on March 10. Trump quickly retweeted a Drudge Report headline:
“GREAT AGAIN: +235,000”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked about this contradiction at a news briefing after the report’s release. His response: “I talked to the president prior to this and he said to quote him very clearly. They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.”
Very funny. But given that Trump has not explained why he has changed his position on the accuracy of BLS reports, he earns yet another Upside-Down Pinocchio.