Those who truly wish to take President-elect Donald Trump at his word also may wish to find out which of his words to take him at.
Other people can’t read his mind. They only hear the words, and watch the actions, and try to divine their meaning.
Yes, politicians’ statements are perishable. Politicians change courses and postures. Voters know this, including backers of the 70-year-old Republican who like him because he isn’t a politician and tells it like it is.
Trump’s latest hedging and shifting might not stand out as sharply, though, if his campaign language had not been so personal, acrid and over-the-top, month after month.
Back in March he tweeted about South Carolina’s governor, “The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!” He called her stance on immigration “weak.” Right-wing Trump-touter Ann Coulter even suggested Haley be deported.
A daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley warned against the “angriest voices” among Republicans and supported Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz before saying she’d vote for Trump.
Now Trump has picked her as UN ambassador.
Back in 2012, Trump declared that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.” He later sought to call it a joke. On Tuesday, he told the New York Times there is “some connectivity” between human behavior and climate change.
In May, he pledged to “cancel” the Paris accords meant to fight the phenomenon. On Tuesday, he told the Times he’s keeping an “open mind” on whether to do so. Would he have said the same thing in a meeting with editors of the more environmentally skeptical Breitbart or Fox News? We can guess, but only he can say for sure.
In February, he struck a visceral chord by saying that if elected president, “I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” But this week he told his audience at the Times he was “impressed” when Ret. Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis told him torture is ineffective.
The Clintons have long been a hot-and-cold preoccupation for Trump, who gave their campaigns and foundation money and even chatted with the ex-president on the phone in May 2015.
Back in 2008, he said: “ … I think Bill Clinton was a great president. A lot of people hated him because they were jealous as hell. Hillary Clinton is a great woman and a good woman.”
But in 2016, Trump said of Hillary Clinton, then his Democratic opponent: “She has tremendous hate in her heart. Bill Clinton was abusive to women; HC attacked those same women ... She is as crooked as they come.”
And barely two weeks after he was elected, Trump said: “I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t. She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways.”
Hours earlier his aide Kellyanne Conway said he “doesn’t wish to pursue these charges” of wrongdoing and would expect other Republicans to listen.
Are his shifts to be praised as broad-minded reconciliation? Criticized as knee-jerk moves? As his backers seem to insist, they can only consider the words and deeds as they become relevant and see what the man and his administration actually do in the months ahead.