Opinion

Why Can’t Biden Triangulate Like Trump?

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For anyone with sincere and absolute convictions on abortion, pro-life or pro-choice, Donald Trump’s attempts to reposition himself this week should be somewhere between depressing and infuriating.

For pro-lifers, the problem is the cynicism — the reminder that Trump is purely transactional in his relationship to their ideals, a lousy spokesman for the cause of unborn human life and a willing betrayer when politics requires it.

For pro-choicers, the problem is the chutzpah — the man who did so much to overturn Roe v. Wade trying to disavow responsibility for its policy consequences.

But Trump’s cynicism is also one of his political strengths. What he does crudely, with naked calculation and comic transparency, is what successful politicians used to do more normally: triangulate between your base and the general public, make showy moves to reassure swing voters that you’re not just an ideologue, suggest that you’re willing to negotiate when public opinion is against you.

Trump often does this with symbolism rather than substance, with dishonest framings of his own record and promised policy innovations that don’t actually materialize. But still, he does it all the time, not just on social issues like abortion. The public doesn’t like his opposition to Obamacare? Next thing you know he’s promising to mend the program rather than ending it. Middle-of-the-road voters seem uneasy about Israel’s war in Gaza? There’s Trump, Mr. Israel in his first term, suddenly sounding notes of caution and concern.

What’s non-negotiable with Trump are his personal grievances, his amour-propre, his election-fraud narratives, his authoritarian style. That kind of intransigence is his major political weakness (in addition to being a source of danger for the country). But on policy, he’s always ready to perform flexibly, even if there isn’t a clear plan underneath the posturing.

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