During Margaret Thatcher’s reign of terror in the UK, she and her allies condescendingly referred to those who opposed her hardline polices as ‘wets’. One of the features that so endears Donald Trump to his most ardent supporters is that he sticks to his guns and appears to them to never back down, i.e., that he is not a ‘wet’. This is because he simply denies that he has ever changed his mind or reversed himself on anything, whatever the facts are.
But recent events may have belied that image. One is that he has not forcefully dismissed the allegations against Roy Moore outright as fake news manufactured by the liberal media, instead adopting the mealy-mouthed language of the wets in the Republican leadership that ‘if Moore is guilty, he should withdraw’. This seems to me to be a false step on his part, going against his base’s expectations that he will reject any charge against the GOP.
His Asia trip also saw him praising China for being able to negotiate trade deals to their benefit against the US. This was completely contrary to his campaign rhetoric that China was being unfair in its trading practices and that on his first day in office he would brand them as currency manipulators and reverse that trend. China may have successfully fed his ego by giving him a lavish welcome, knowing how susceptible Trump is to flattery. Trump’s deference to China took observers by surprise.
President Donald Trump heaped praise on President Xi Jinping of China on Thursday, blaming past U.S. administrations for China’s yawning trade surplus with the United States and saying he was confident that Xi could defuse the threat from North Korea.
In public, Trump projected an air of deference to China that was almost unheard-of for a visiting U.S. president. Far from attacking Xi on trade, Trumpsaluted him for leading a country that he said had left the United States ”so far behind.” He said he could not blame the Chinese for taking advantage of weak U.S. trade policy.
It was a remarkable moment in the story of China’s rise and the United States’ response to it, with Trump’s performance suggesting a tipping point in great-power politics. By concluding that the United States can better achieve its goals by flattering a Chinese leader than by challenging him, Trump seemed to signal a reversal of roles: the United States may now need China’s help more than the other way around.
”You’re a very special man,” he told Xi in an appearance before reporters, at which they did not take questions.
Xi, for his part, did not return Trump’s personal praise, seeming to treat him like any other U.S. leader.
Trump’s conciliatory words on trade were particularly striking, given his protectionist threats during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump waited until he left China to revert to his old tough rhetoric on trade, hardly the profile in courage that his supporters expect.
But maybe these two examples of wetness by Trump are too subtle to be noticed by his supporters and that it will take a fairly heavy downpour to disillusion them.