In the just two weeks (oh my god, I cannot believe it has just been two weeks!) since Donald Trump was elected president, he has already been showing signs of breaking some of his most emphatic campaign promises. After promising to "repeal and replace" Obamacare, Trump seemed willing to keep Obamacare's most popular provisions (while apparently getting rid of the parts that make it affordable). After promising to fight special interests in Washington and "drain the swamp," his transition quickly staffed up with many of the lobbyists and old Washington hands he decried. And Trump's pledge to separate his business interests from his work as president seems to already be gone.
But none of these flip-flops from Trump seem to be the ones that are giving his most ardent supporters pause. Instead, it was Trump backing down on his pledge to prosecute Hillary Clinton if he became president that has sparked outrage among his base. "It's just not something that I feel very strongly about," Trump said when asked by The New York Times' editorial board on Tuesday about whether he'd pursue charges against Clinton. Earlier in the day, Kellyanne Conway conveyed similar sentiment's about Trump's lack of desire to pursue charges against Clinton on MSNBC's Morning Joe.
One thing to get out of the way: Trump never actually had that power to begin with — while presidents can set overall policy goals for the Justice Department, they are not able to intervene in specific cases, and the FBI had already recommended that "no reasonable prosecutor" would bring charges against Clinton. But that hasn't stopped many of Trump's fans among the populist right from being disappointed.
Breitbart News, the far-right news source known for promoting Trump (its former executive chairman, Steve Bannon, has recently been appointed chief strategist to Trump's administration) and controversial headlines, used the words "broken promise" in its headline about Trump not pursuing prosecuting Clinton. The article was quickly replaced from the front page within hours, with the only mention of the story being Rudy Giuliani's explanation that Trump's decision was for the sake of uniting the nation.
Joe Walsh, a former congressman and current right-wing radio host who had been very pro-Trump during the election and tweeted about how he'd grab his musket if Clinton won, tweeted this:
Trump told The New York Times' editorial board Tuesday afternoon that his supporters would understand that he was backing away on prosecuting Clinton for the sake of the country.
In an interview with The New York Times shortly after the election, Alex Jones, the radio host behind Infowars, who interviewed Trump on his show in December, said he was prepared to be disappointed by Trump, but that "if he gets 20 percent done, people will be happy." Specifically, as the New York Times report noted:
Mr. Jones said he planned to hold the incoming president to his campaign promises. That includes appointing cabinet members who will pursue investigations of Hillary Clinton, he said.
If that does not happen, Mr. Jones said, "yes, people will be upset." It will be an indication of a return to politics as normal, he added.
Trump promised a lot of things during the campaign that he will likely have trouble fulfilling. It will be difficult for him to hold on to all the disparate groups rooting for his candidacy. And now it seems like even his most devout loyalists are realizing they bought more than he could sell.