Donald Trump is breaking campaign promises left and right. Usually that’s a bad thing for a politician. But Trump is no typical politician, and the worst of his promises badly needed breaking.
The course corrections – if that’s truly what they are – came during a meeting Tuesday with journalists at the New York Times. Perhaps most notable on his walk-away list was his pledge to order an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email troubles and potential conflicts of interest at the Clinton Foundation.
When he issued the threat to Clinton during one of their debates, he sounded like some unsavory tinpot strongman trying to turn a political opponent into an enemy of the state.
But in the meeting with the Times, he backed away from the threat. “I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t,” he said. “She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways, and I am not looking to hurt them at all.”
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Breitbart News, the alt-right website previously run by Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, wasn’t happy. Its headline blared: “Broken Promise.”
Trump never should have made such a promise. But while we applaud his conciliatory impulse, we also remind the president-elect that the FBI and the attorney general’s office should conduct investigations free of political interference from the White House. Trump is entitled to his opinion – or to issue a pardon – but he should resist any impulse to directly command that any criminal inquiries be started or stopped.
Trump also told the Times that he is not inclined to push for water-boarding of terror suspects, as he had indicated during the campaign. He said retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, a candidate for defense secretary, convinced him that torture doesn’t yield good intelligence.
Sen. John McCain and other highly respected military figures have consistently said so. Trump wasn’t listening during the campaign, apparently. It is good that he is finally taking such counsel more seriously as the future commander in chief.
Also on his walk-away list: His campaign pledge to scrap the Paris accord on climate change. He’s also edged away from promises of a border wall financed by Mexico and a Muslim registry.
Given how unpredictable Trump can be, it is unclear whether he’s truly walking away from these campaign pledges. Still, these are encouraging signals. One thing that hasn’t softened, however, is his stubborn refusal to use a blind trust to resolve the serious conflicts between his international business empire and his role as president.
“The law’s totally on my side. The president can’t have a conflict of interest,” he said. “In theory, I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly.”
If he doesn’t put his holdings in a blind trust, influence-seekers foreign and domestic will come calling with sweetheart business deals. Trump’s voters overlooked his many indiscretions and flaws in part because he pledged to “drain the swamp” in Washington.
If he simply refills it with his own personal swamp of conflicts, that’s one broken promise they should never forgive.