Trump’s ‘Nixon goes to China’ moment

President Trump is scheduled to visit El Paso and Dayton today in the aftermath of mass shootings that left 31 people dead and many more injured.  White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said the President “has wanted to go there since he learned of these tragedies.”

Several Democrats have said Trump should not go to El Paso because they blame him, in part, for the attack.  They cite the language of the shooter’s manifesto, where he described his pending assault as “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” as similar to Trump’s frequent use of the word “invasion” to describe illegal border crossings.

Let’s be clear. The person responsible for the horrific attack at the Walmart is the shooter himself.  Tens of millions of Americans hear what Trump says and don’t go on a homicidal rampage.

However, Trump has a long record of Twitter rants against enemies—real and perceived—and language that incites to gin up crowds at rallies.  The defenders of his language argue that he is simply fighting back against a biased media, while also channeling the anguish of Americans who are frustrated with the left and elites.

It is likely that Trump will stick with the script today in El Paso and Dayton just as he did in his 10-minute address Monday—it’s when he goes off-script that the goading and vitriol flow.  But Trump also has a once-in-a-presidency opportunity to do something completely unexpected.  He could announce that he will tone down his own rhetoric and attempt to take all debates to a higher level.

He could say the tragedies, the hurt and the scathing discourse in the country have caused him to reflect on the words of President Ronald Regan speaking about the capacity for renewal in America.

“Some may try and tell us this is the end of an era. But what they overlook is that in America, every day is a new beginning, and every sunset is merely the latest milestone on a voyage that never ends. For this is the land that has never become, but is always in the act of becoming. Emerson was right: America is the land of tomorrow,” Reagan said.

If Trump said that, or something like it, and turned over a new leaf, naturally he would be pounced on by his critics. They would say he has admitted that he was responsible for El Paso.  CNN would start a countdown clock to see how long it would take before he broke his pledge.

But many great moments in American history are about defying the expected.  This year is the 47th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China. It took an about face for the one-time strongly anti-communist Nixon to open the door to diplomacy after two decades of hostile relations with “Red China.”

If a liberal Democrat had tried it, he would have been labeled as soft on communism, but this was Richard Nixon, which led to the axiom “Only Nixon could go to China.”

A few years ago, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote about the trip: “Great presidential decisions are often ones that escape the boundaries of what a leader may have said in the past, or what his political advisers recommend, or what the conventional wisdom of the day seems to support.”

Candidly, I don’t believe Trump will change. As my grandmother used to say, “You can’t beat out of the flesh what’s born in the bone.” However, it is intriguing that the opportunity is there. To borrow from Nixon’s example, “Only Trump can tone it down.”


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