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Saturday is Trump's 100th day in office

He's changed throughout the presidency

Washington CNN  — 

What is Trumpism?

One hundred days into President Donald Trump’s time in office, the answer seems less clear than ever.

Despite fueling intense partisan rancor and torqueing up the divisions his candidacy helped lay bare, Trump never tethered himself to the kind of coherent ideological framework that most presidential candidates vow to never abandon. And at the first mile marker of his presidency, he has shown no signs of fitting into an ideological box or reconciling the political inconsistencies of his administration.

Instead, Trump has held up his “flexibility” as a virtue and continued to regard deal-making as the ultimate achievement – no matter the cost.

Within hours of scrapping a scheduled House vote to repeal and replace Obamacare, Trump cast aside the conservative-minded reform efforts and said he’d be willing to instead cut a deal with Democrats.

On the world stage, Trump’s foreign policy actions have been inconsistent. He’s broken with the anti-interventionist views of his campaign by launching a strike against the Syrian regime while affirming that he doesn’t see a role for the US in Libya.

And while he’s taken a series of executive actions to implement the populist trade agenda at the core of his campaign, he’s held back on delivering the biggest blows to the free trade economy he has so vigorously demonized – from taking major action against Chinese trade abuses to renegotiating or withdrawing from NAFTA.

Trump has yet to formally launch the process to restart talks with Canada and Mexico over NAFTA and presented this week with the option of making a bold declaration of his intention to withdraw from the trade deal altogether, Trump retreated.

It was a moment that highlighted the ideological inconsistencies within the rungs of his top advisers – a mix of nationalists and globalists, conservatives and moderates – and the influence of those advisers on a president who prides himself on pragmatism more than ideology.

But rather than shirking away from the contradictions, Trump is embracing them.

“I’m a nationalist and a globalist,” he told the Wall Street Journal in an interview on Thursday. “I’m both.”

Trump has touted himself as a conservative time and again, but he’s often taken action to support conservative causes more out of political obligation than deep-rooted belief.

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Past 100 day moments on CNN
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‘Practical conservative’

But after 100 days of Trump, Republicans also can’t seem to agree what Trumpism means and what ideology he is most closely aligned with.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an ally of Trump’s, rattled off a list of positions he felt best described Trump’s ideology when asked.

“Anti-left, anti-PC, anti-stupidity and very passionately American,” Gingrich said. “And he operates within that model all the time.”

“Philosophically, he is an entrepreneur,” Gingrich added.

Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, said he would call Trump a “practical conservative.”

Schlapp insisted Trump is guided by a core set of principles – for example, that US economic interests and national security interests are interconnected – but conceded that Trump is not ideologically driven.

“I just don’t think he’s someone that approaches things by saying what ‘s our philosophical basis. I think he’s someone that approaches policy issues and says, ‘What’s going to work? What’s going to work for the American people?’ ” Schlapp said.

And Trump made clear during the campaign that that is how he would operate.

Assailed by his campaign rivals for lacking an ideological core, Trump responded by holding up his pragmatism and lack of ideological grounding as an asset.

“The word compromise is not a bad word to me,” Trump said during his presidential campaign.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - APRIL 25: (AFP-OUT) US President Donald Trump signs the Executive Order Promoting Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in America during a roundtable with farmers in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on April 25, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
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But many of those who cried out that Trump lacked the conservative bona fides to lead the Republican Party have not let up. After 100 days, they remain convinced Trump has no ideological – let alone conservative – core.

Beyond “impulsivity” and “deal-making,” the Republican strategist Rick Wilson, a vocal Trump critic, argued there is no ideology driving Trump’s presidency – and it has hurt him as he’s approached a Republican caucus rife with key conservative players.

“There’s no discernible ideological consistency to what he’s doing,” Wilson said. “He believes he can approach every problem like a real estate deal and I think that was one of the shocking things for him.”

That was a core complaint of conservative members of Congress who argued that Trump failed to dive into their policy concerns as he sought to win them over during the initial health care reform push, instead encouraging them to vote for the bill for politics’ sake.

But it’s on foreign policy where Trump has been most scattershot.

He pledged during the campaign to focus on the fight against ISIS in Syria without getting bogged down in the country’s civil war by targeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But a chemical weapons attack on civilians by Assad prompted Trump to strike a Syrian air base with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The decision flew not only in the face of his desire to keep the US laser-focused on ISIS, but also against his desire to work with Russia, the primary sponsor of the Syrian regime, to target ISIS and tackle a range of diplomatic issues.

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Where Trump's campaign promises stand
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‘Enormous inconsistency’

Joseph Nye, an expert on US foreign policy at Harvard University, said while it’s still too early to judge Trump’s ideological moorings on foreign policy, so far “there’s enormous inconsistency.”

“He moves back and forth on ideological positions,” he said.

Rather, Nye said Trump appears to be taking a case-by-case approach to foreign policy decisions. It presents concerns of a lack of broader strategy, but Nye said Trump’s more pragmatic approach to global affairs could be a boon.

“There doesn’t seem to be a solid ideological core there. Maybe that’s a good thing,” Nye said.

Trump’s top aides concede the Trump Doctrine is not yet fully formed, but insist that there are general principles to US foreign policy in the Trump era.

Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff, said Trump has set “certain lines of where we’re not going to allow people like (Assad) to go, but at the same time making it clear that we’re not interested in the long term, you know, ground wars in the Middle East, but obviously focusing in on ISIS.”

Another senior administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity said the administration is “working on” crafting broader strategic goals, but said Trump has already demonstrated that while he is weighing the risk of action, “what he’s also done in these first few weeks is he’s weighed the risk of inaction.”

But the official made one point clear. While a more fleshed out Trump Doctrine may emerge, the outlines of one already have.

“The other thing I would say, though, about the Trump doctrine, is it’s not doctrinaire at all,” the official said. “It’s very pragmatic.”