If you're looking for a stretch of time in a political campaign that can get a little frantic and disorienting, how about right after the nomination is finally sewn up, but before the party conventions, vice presidential picks, and full-fledged general election campaign have fully kicked in? It's when you see how a candidate comes to grips with facing scrutiny on an even larger national platform, and which positions near and dear to their base they decide to cling to or discard. For example: Donald Trump already made a bunch of flip-flops this week, and some of them could actually spell trouble for him as the campaign rolls along.
Virtually every presidential candidate ends up sliding around on something at this stage in their campaign, even if only rhetorically. So it's no surprise that Trump (who probably knows full well that his nomination-winning act won't fly in the summer) is starting to give some indications that maybe, just maybe, his opinions and policies aren't quite as hardened, iron-clad, and reliable as he's made them out to be. Whether any of it will matter to the people who've already handed him their support, of course, is still an open question. Here are four examples of Trump flip-flops from this week. If history is any judge, you can probably assume these are just the first of many.
1. He Says His Tax Returns Are His Own Business
During the primaries, Trump was pointedly questioned over and over about the matter of his tax returns ― namely, why he hadn't released them, as is standard practice for presidential candidates in the modern era. Trump has been insisting that the only reason he hasn't done so is because he's being audited by the IRS, and that he'll release them when he's able to, which could be after the election.
And, while he is still claiming he'll release them eventually, the deferential tone (even by his standards) he used in making this excuse has apparently vanished as the media scrutiny has heated up. As the presumptive nominee, Trump has been pressured about his tax returns on a whole new level recently, and that seemed to boil over a bit during a Friday interview with ABC News' George Stephanopolous. Trump told Stephanopolous that his tax rate was "none of your business," and went even further, saying that he didn't actually think the American public had a right to see a candidate's returns.
He also reiterated his intention to release them once his audit is over, although for the record, an IRS audit doesn't actually prevent him from doing so. It'll be interesting to see whether there's more of an about-face on this, especially considering that Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has already released hers.
2. He Said His Muslim Ban Was Only "A Suggestion"
What's that, you say? Donald J. Trump is backing off of his wildly inflammatory, inhumane Muslim travel ban proposal? That's actually not entirely true, as he hasn't signaled any meaningful shift in his support for the policy just yet, but he did start making the kind of slightly squirmy explanations that suggest he's willing to sell out his voters on this. While speaking to Fox News' Brian Kilmeade on Wednesday, Trump said that the ban was "just a suggestion," insisting that "nobody's done it" and "it hasn't been called for yet."
That last part, obviously, is untrue ― Trump himself called for it back in December, in very unapologetic terms. You can still read the statement on his campaign website, which explicitly calls for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." Seriously, the first six words are "Donald J. Trump is calling for."
It'd be a very positive development if the heat of the general election actually got Trump to drop this proposal, because it's very dangerous. Even if he did, however, it wouldn't undo the damage already done by this idea taking hold in the public consciousness as a valid point for argument ― all throughout the race, the exit polls on how many GOP voters support his Muslim ban have been nothing short of horrifying.
3. He's Not (Claiming To) Self-Finance His Campaign Anymore
If you made a list of Trump's most important, central claims about himself since he entered the political process, you'd definitely have a case for putting his repeated (although not entirely true) statements about self-funding his campaign near the top. He's been citing this for months, despite the fact that he has been taking donations through his campaign website all the while, and there's been a breadth of reporting to suggest that it has resonance with his supporters.
But now, perhaps feeling the sticker shock of actually having to run a presidential campaign ― although he's reportedly shooting for a $1 billion-goal, which is well within his own claims about his personal wealth ― he's firing up the same old fundraising machine that every candidate uses. If someone's enthusiastic about Trump because they believe his massive wealth and self-funding renders him immune to outside influenced, this is something that could reasonably turn them off.
4. He's Not So Sure About Taxing The Rich Anymore
If there's one thing the Republicans usually aren't keen on, it's hiking taxes on the rich. So much so that when it briefly seemed like Trump would defy party orthodoxy in that way too, telling NBC's Meet The Press that taxes on the wealthy were "going to go up," it was a pretty seismic political event. It's nothing new for Trump, of course ― he's built his political niche by taking stances at the edges, regardless of whether they cut left or right.
But it didn't last very long. As Peter Eavis of The New York Times detailed on Wednesday, it turns out that Trump only meant the rich might be taxed higher than his own proposed top rate, which itself is a full 14.6 percent lower than the top rate right now, as a consequence of negotiation. In other words, their tax rate would be going up from where it currently sits as a hypothesis inside Trump's brain, but in our present reality, it'd go down. Nice, huh? You have to give him this much, at least: When you don't seem terribly interested or passionate about policy, it's a lot easier to turn on your heel and head the other way.