Trump defies globe to claim a political win

Story highlights

  • Donald Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accord
  • Its one of the few major campaign promises on foreign policy he's kept

(CNN)In the end, Donald Trump stayed true to himself.

Beset by appeals from foreign leaders and corporate titans to put the planet first, he pulled out of the Paris climate accord Thursday. It's a decision that upheld his political instincts, nationalistic economic vision and dark view of a predatory world with one unified goal -- to rip America off.
In fact, the move to leave the climate pact, endorsed by almost 200 countries worldwide, is one of the few international promises Trump has actually followed through on.
    The White House choreographed Thursday's announcement as a triumph for Trump after a turbulent debut to his presidency in which he has struggled to translate the populist, anti-elite promises of his campaign into real change and has railed against the limits of his office.
    Never mind that much of the world reacted with horror to his repudiation of a deal that was hailed when it was reached in 2015 as a stay of execution for a warming planet. Trump will not worry either about American critics who bemoaned a departure from the nation's historic global leadership role.
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    After weeks besieged by the Russia scandal, his Twitter-triggered firestorms and backstabbing in his own West Wing, the President was back in charge, holding court in the White House Rose Garden, vowing to "Make America Great Again."
    The disdain of foreign elites just made the moment all the sweeter for Trump and his core supporters who have been waiting for such a moment to enshrine his "American First" philosophy.
    "We don't want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore, and they won't be. They won't be," Trump said, styling the Paris accord as a global plot to rob America of his freedom and its riches.
    "I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris."

    Appealing to his base

    It was an eloquent encapsulation of the political creed that powered his rise to the presidency and his belief that he is delivering for what Vice President Mike Pence called the "forgotten men and women."
    "This is Trump. This is Trumpism, I would say this is Trump at his best," said Stephen Moore, a former economic adviser to the president's campaign, who is now a CNN commentator.
    "When he talked about pulling out of the Paris accord, it was met by thunderous ovations from Trump voters."
    While he did install a conservative Supreme Court justice and pulled out of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact, Trump has had a hard time enacting many of the promises that animated his campaign, from repealing Obamacare to making Mexico pay for a wall.
    That's one reason his allies, like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, drove home the line Thursday that the President was fulfilling the mandate of his supporters.
    "He promised he would defend the American worker and defend American jobs," Paul told CNN's Jake Tapper.
    "Donald Trump promised the voters he was going to keep American jobs here and he wasn't going to sign crazy agreements that don't have our best interests at heart."
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    But the moment, at 3:35 p.m. ET, when Trump announced the United States would line up alongside Nicaragua -- which rejected the accord because it felt it was too lenient -- and Syria as the only global holdouts from the climate pact, may in years to come be remembered for other reasons.
    Trump's foes believe he has put America on a dangerous, isolationist path, that cannot but energize its rising great power rivals.
    "Trump has isolated our country on the world stage, ceding our leadership position and our economic advantage on clean energy to India and China, and justifying it all by chanting a slogan from a baseball hat," warned Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.
    Instead of seeing the world as an opportunity for US leadership and power, as all of his recent predecessors have done, Trump laid out a vision of a globe seeking to tear American greatness down.
    "The President who promised 'America First' has taken a self-destructive step that puts our nation last," said former secretary of state John Kerry.
    "This is an unprecedented forfeiture of American leadership which will cost us influence, cost us jobs, and invite other countries to walk away from solving humanity's most existential crisis."
    French President Emmanuel Macron, who spoke to the Trump Thursday, reflected the rest of the world's view, trolling the US leader in a live television broadcast to the French people by throwing his campaign mantra back at him.
    "We all share the same responsibility to make our planet great again."
    Trump made an economic rather than a scientific argument against the Paris agreement, saying it unfairly punished the US at the expense of other nations and would cost millions of steel, coal and manufacturing jobs.
    It is a theory consistent with the highly transactional view Trump harbors of agreements, alliances, and institutions like NATO. To him, these are not instruments that express US power and enhance American security. They are entanglements in which everyone else gets the best deal.

    Backing down on pledges

    Trump fueled his campaign with a cocktail of promises that were all about bucking a status quo in Washington and overseas that has proven far more robust than he expected.
    He said he'd renegotiate NATO, ditch the Iran nuclear deal, walk away from NAFTA and label China a currency manipulator, among a slew of other domestic and political pledges.
    "When I say something, I mean it, I mean it," Trump declared in December 2016.
    That's not turning out to be true.
    Internationally, Trump has run into the headwinds of geopolitical reality, the national security imperative to work with global partners and the need to honor legal obligations.
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    Largely lost in the political heat of the climate announcement Thursday, Trump also announced that he would not, after all, move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
    The vow represented a calculated appeal to Jewish voters made at the December 2016 annual gathering of the powerful American Israel Political Action Committee.
    Trump wasn't the first presidential candidate to make the promise and he isn't the first to break them either. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush said they intended to move the embassy from Tel Aviv.
    A senior administration official explained Trump wanted to make the most of a "hopeful" moment for peace and that an embassy move could tarnish that by causing an uproar among Palestinians and across the Arab world.
    But the official hastened to argue that "it is not a permanent thing."
    "For him, it is a matter of when, not if, the US embassy is moved to Jerusalem," the official said.

    Iran, NATO, China

    It's just the most recent international pledge that Trump has watered down.
    Trump declared in December 2016 that his "number-one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran." Throughout the campaign he'd boasted that he'd rip the deal up and negotiate a much better one.
    Not only has that not happened, but in April, the Trump administration reported to Congress that Iran was complying with the pact. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not junk the deal, resorting instead to upping the rhetoric about Iran's misdeeds in the region.
    In April, Trump also reversed positions on NATO. Standing beside the alliance's Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, at the White House, Trump said "it's no longer obsolete."
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    The President did go some way to placating supporters who might have been thinking he was going soft on the alliance, when he visited its headquarters in Brussels last week and delivered a dressing down of NATO leaders he said had failed to pay their fair share for their own defense.
    He also changed his tune on another campaign promise in April: about China after pledging as a candidate to brand Beijing a "currency manipulator" on his first day in office.
    That didn't happen. Instead, he declared the opposite in an April interview with the Wall Street Journal, saying "they're not currency manipulators."
    It wasn't the first flip-flop on China.
    After his election, Trump roiled Beijing by taking a phone call from the leader of Taiwan, which China views as a breakaway province. The US has recognized the so-called "One China policy" in 1979, but in a January interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump said "everything is under negotiation."
    By February, he'd climbed down, committing in a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping to honor the policy. 
    Given that catalog of reversals, it was not surprising that the White House worked so hard to bill the climate change announcement as a massive victory -- and a core promise kept.