With his historic summit Tuesday with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, President Trump has once again done something astounding and unpredictable.
Yet, the surprise over the sudden summit should not have come as a surprise at all. By now we should be used to President Trump surprising us. Consider his record over the last four years.
Four years ago, in June 2014, almost no one would have dreamed Donald J. Trump would be a serious candidate for president. Then, nearly three years ago, when he announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015, almost no one thought he could be a dominant candidate.
In fact, my own conversion to Trump as a very real contender only occurred after his July 11, 2015 rally in Phoenix, which led my former colleague, Vince Haley, to come in the office and say: “You had better watch what Trump is doing because his Phoenix rally was emotionally powerful when he turned the microphone over to the father whose child had been killed by an illegal immigrant.”
Then, on August 6, 2015, I watched Trump gain the support of nearly a quarter of registered Republican voters (24 percent) in a CNN/ORC poll after the first Republican presidential debate. This was a huge lead in a field of 16 other candidates – especially given that 58 percent of those asked had a favorable view of Trump.
Still, all the elites fervently believed Trump had lost the debate. The gap between the American people and the elites had never been clearer.
Two years ago, in June 2016, all the elite pundits were certain Trump would lose the presidential election to Hillary Clinton. Once again, they were wrong.
Last year, in July 2017, all the elites were sure the collapse of the ObamaCare repeal plan meant the end of the Trump-Republican legislative achievement. Virtually no one predicted President Trump would pivot and five months later win a huge tax, which is now propelling the economy into what would have been unthinkable growth under President Obama.
Now our elites are in utter turmoil.
President Trump was very tough with our oldest allies at the G-7 summit in Canada over the weekend, while he is being apparently cordial to Kim Jong Un. The elites are whirling in confusion at this kind of swirling maneuvering in a three- or four-day period.
Yet, there is a deep consistency in what President Trump is doing. He correctly understands that our allies have been happy because we have carried the allied military burden for 73 years (since the end of World War II), and we have accepted bad trade deals and one-sided protectionist regulations on their part.
Of course, our allies are offended that America now has a president who actually wants them to pay their fair share for defense. Of course, they do not want to change their tariffs and regulations to have honest, open trading that isn’t biased against America.
At the same time, President Trump is being tough with our allies, he has acted on a deep reflection about the failure of Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama with the North Korean dictatorship. From 1994 to the present, the United States has wrung its hands and complained ineffectively as the North Koreans marched resolutely toward having nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
President Trump spent more than a year talking with the leaders of Japan, China, and South Korea. He consulted regularly with his senior foreign policy and national security advisers. He implemented a maximum-pressure campaign of much tougher sanctions – and even tougher language.
Trump administration Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis communicated that a war with North Korea would be “catastrophic.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a strong speech outlining how much tougher sanctions could get if North Korea did not agree to denuclearization. National Security Adviser John Bolton has a long track record of being tough on North Korea.
With firmness set – and an American willingness to get even tougher evident – Kim Jong Un indicated to the South Koreans that he was willing to meet with President Trump.
The impressive thing about President Trump’s reaction was his speed and decisiveness. He saw an opening that might (repeat might) be historic, and he took it.
This decisiveness and willingness to take risks repudiates a deep elite diplomatic tradition of slow, cautious work by subordinates to gradually develop an agenda.
In my new book, “Trump’s America: The Truth About Our Nation’s Great Comeback,” I emphasize over and over that President Trump has consistently been a dealmaker and a very patient, tough negotiator, who sets big goals and then works relentlessly to achieve them. In fact, I first wrote about these traits last year in my book “Understanding Trump.”
My dad fought in the Korean War in 1953. I have been studying the North Koreans for most of my life. I do not know what will happen. It is possible that this one more effort to lie to an American president. However, I doubt it.
President Trump has clearly communicated the U.S. position through sanctions, his own words, key statements by very competent subordinates, and in actions elsewhere.
Consider how the North Koreans might be studying the U.S. military strikes retaliating against the Syrian chemical weapon attack, the moving of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and the tearing up of the Iran nuclear deal. President Trump has also consistently insisted on a substantial military build-up. It’s clear he is a tough guy willing to play a tough role.
Now, I do not believe everything is done. We are not entering a Pollyanna world of being close friends with North Korea.
I do believe, however, that – through a combination of toughness and boldness, aggressiveness and flexibility, and resolution and an amazingly fast grasping of tactical opportunities – President Trump may have begun the process of opening up North Korea and changing history.
President Trump has already accomplished more with North Korea than Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama combined. And this is just the beginning.