Following his military strike on Syria, many Donald Trump supporters wonder if this is the same man they voted for.
When President Trump was just candidate Trump, he often criticized President Obama and Hillary Clinton for getting America involved in overseas wars that weren’t worth the risk.
Regarding Syria, he noted that President Assad was fighting against ISIS. He generally supported a hands-off policy, noting, in the second Republican debate, “Let them fight each other and pick up the remnants.”
And as he later told Fox News’ own Chris Wallace in the third Presidential debate, “we don’t know who the rebels are [...] but if they ever did overthrow Assad [...] you may very well end up with worse than Assad.”
It’s statements like this that have erstwhile allies asking what happened.
For instance, pro-Trump blogger Mike Cernovich tweeted And widely noted conservative commentator Ann Coulter wrote “Trump campaigned on not getting involved in Mideast. Said it always helps our enemies & creates more refugees. Then he saw a picture on TV.”
But maybe it was more than just seeing a picture on TV. As Trump noted, in explaining his attack “Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically. As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen, and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies.”
And, in fact, it’s not as if he campaigned on no attacks ever. Indeed, he made clear his eyes were open. Whenever the subject of Syria came up, he didn’t hedge on his feelings about Assad. From the fourth Republican debate: “Assad is a bad guy. [...] I don’t like Assad. Who’s going to like Assad?”
And he was no patsy for Putin, either. As he stated in the third President debate, “I never met Putin. This is not my best friend.”
His larger point was America, under President Obama, had been outplayed, partly due to its indecision. Obama had told Syria to back down and didn’t follow through—as Trump put it in the second Presidential debate: “Obama draws the line in the sand. It was laughed at all over the world what happened.”
His point, then, was that while he’d rather get along with others, he’d stand up to aggression if necessary.
And, strategically, the strike was perfectly consistent with the way candidate Trump promised to fight—when he did act, it would come as a surprise to the enemy. As he said in an interview last September “I’m tired of watching these people get up, these politicians, and tell the enemy exactly what we’re going to do, when we’re going to be there, when we’re going to leave.”
In other words, if he ever became Commander-in-chief, don’t be surprised if he did something surprising.
Time will tell if Trump’s attack on Syria was a smart move, or a huge mistake. But if former Trump fans are displeased, at the very least, they shouldn’t be shocked.
Martin Hinton is Executive Producer for the Fox News Reporting Specials and Documentary Unit as well as Political Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @MartinFHinton.