January 20, 2019

On Syria, It's Trump Versus the GOP

“The most surprising thing about President Trump’s decision to overrule his top advisers and withdraw U.S. forces from Syria and Afghanistan isn’t that it was improvised and disruptive. Sudden shifts are part of Mr. Trump’s method, and disconcerting senior officials is one of his favorite management tools.

The surprise is that for the first time, Mr. Trump made a foreign-policy decision that divides the coalition that brought him into the White House and risks his control of the GOP. Mr. Trump has frequently challenged and infuriated his political opponents, but his Syria decision risks alienating allies he can ill afford to lose.

Mr. Trump’s greatest political asset has been his feel for the priorities of his populist base. The importance of this skill is sometimes underrated, but his ability to unite and energize his voters gave him control of the Republican Party and the White House. If he loses his bond with the base, he will quickly find himself isolated in a Washington that loathes him.

Nowhere has Mr. Trump’s sense of populist America been more important than in foreign policy. As a candidate in 2015-16, he showed that he understood something his establishment rivals in both parties did not: that the post-Cold War consensus no longer commanded the American people’s support.”

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