As quickly as President Donald Trump ordered up missile attacks in Syria, leaders on the populist right recoiled, while top elected Democrats cheered.
It was an astonishing moment — the magnetic field of Washington chatter changing direction almost instantly.
“As a firm Trump supporter, I say, yes, the pictures [of gas attack victims] were horrible, but I’m surprised,” said Trump’s biggest British booster, Neil Farage. “Whatever [Bashar] Assad’s sins, he is secular.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said: “Military action is not in our national security interest and should not be authorized.
“Our prior interventions in this region have done nothing to make us safer, and Syria will be no different.”
That’s consistent with positions Paul took during the Obama administration.
Laura Ingraham, a well-known conservative radio commentator who spoke at the Republican National Convention for Trump, kept a sober stance, retweeting this news on Friday:
“National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster says the strike in Syria did not stop Assad’s ability to carry out future attacks.”
Out on the fringe, Paul Joseph Watson of the conspiracy-crazed website InfoWars, who had been cheerleading for Trump, called the president a puppet and the gas attack fake.
“I’m officially OFF the Trump train,” he tweeted.
They did have reason to hope Trump would have sworn off all Middle East intervention. Two of the president-to-be’s Twitter messages stand out remarkably in this regard.
“DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA,” he warned Obama in September 2013. “IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN & FROM THAT FIGHT THE U.S. GETS NOTHING!”
Less than a year earlier, Trump declared: “Now that Obama’s poll numbers are in tailspin — watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.”
And yet, here we are now. On the eve of his Syrian response, Trump’s approval ratings plunged lower than Obama’s ever were.
Perhaps only a mind reader could say if Trump had subconsciously tipped off his own motive for attack four years in advance. The president said photos of the chemical attack casualties moved him.
Here at last was the Trump “pivot” toward accustomed “presidential” habits that certain pundits had been prattling about for more than a year.
Despite Trump’s battered prestige on other fronts, a chorus of approval suddenly sounded from the other side of the aisle.
“Making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
The American attack “appears to be a proportional response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement.
And there, out in public, was Hillary Clinton, in the hours before Trump’s airstrikes, calling for bombing Syrian airfields.
It was the same night, Thursday, that Clinton appeared before the Women of the World Summit and blamed Russia, WikiLeaks, misogyny and FBI Director James Comey for her election defeat.
For obvious reasons, the Syria remarks got much more attention.
She’d come full circle, in a way, by effectively endorsing another Republican president’s Mideast intervention, however limited.