In what will almost certainly be the defining foreign policy decision of President Donald Trump’s first 100 days is a significant shift from his noninterventionist rhetoric on the campaign trail in facing down Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, longtime critics of the president, praised Trump’s decision to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Syrian government’s Shayrat airfield, where a chemical weapons attack was launched that killed more than 70 Syrian civilians, including children.
Conversely, Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah stressed that Trump should have sought congressional approval before the strikes. Meanwhile, conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham noted the major policy shift.
Missiles flying. Rubio’s happy. McCain ecstatic. Hillary’s on board. A complete policy change in 48 hrs.
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) April 7, 2017
While some Trump supporters on the pundit side might have been surprised by the strikes, it’s not likely to hurt the president with his supporters throughout the country, said Richard Benedetto, an adjunct professor of government at American University.
“Some Trump folks will be disappointed,” Benedetto told The Daily Signal. “Many of the so-called blue-collar Trump supporters backed him because they did not like to see America get pushed around.”
As a candidate, Trump heavily criticized George W. Bush, a former president of his own party, for launching the Iraq War, while in 2013, he tweeted that President Barack Obama shouldn’t intervene in Syria.
President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your “powder” for another (and more important) day!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 7, 2013
This doesn’t necessarily mean Trump has shifted away from a cautious attitude toward foreign entanglements, said Benedetto, a former White House correspondent for USA Today.
“He could still be a noninterventionist compared to Bush, but at the same time, wants to make it clear he is not Obama,” Benedetto said. “It doesn’t mean he will be an interventionist in other things. But this means he takes chemical weapons seriously and he believes he had to do something.”