Ground Game

On Puerto Rico, a familiar whiplash from Trump

Men worked repairing a partially destroyed bar three weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Men worked repairing a partially destroyed bar three weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.

Exactly two weeks after President Trump said the federal government wouldn’t forget or leave Puerto Rico until residents had fully recovered from a devastating hurricane, Trump said Thursday that, actually, no, the United States wouldn’t be there “forever.”

The switch of positions was a classic Trump whiplash.

On Sept. 29, during a visit to the US territory, Trump said, “We will not rest . . . until the people of Puerto Rico are safe.”


“We will be there every day until that happens,” he said.

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Since then, three things have happened: Trump has been back on the mainland, his feud with some local leaders in Puerto Rico has continued — and the island has moved to the verge of a full humanitarian crisis.

Nonetheless, Trump sent a series of tweets Thursday morning suggesting that the response from the federal government was not open-ended.

“Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend,” Trump wrote. “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”

We have seen this before with Trump. He pushed a populist message specifically against banks like Goldman Sachs, though he plucked a number of people from Goldman into his Cabinet and staff. He said he would tackle the opioid crisis, though he has yet to name it a national emergency, even though his own commission said to do so. He said the rich should pay more in taxes, though his proposed tax plan lowers them.


The recurring theme is Trump publicly playing to his base. The peak moment this week was his appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News television show, taped in front of Trump supporters in the middle of Pennsylvania.

These efforts might make Trump feel good, but there is no indication that it is working politically. The latest Gallup poll shows that 37 percent of Americans approve of the way Trump is doing his job, while 57 percent disapprove.

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