My feelings toward President Donald Trump soared this week when I heard he had agreed to meet with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. In teaching international relations to students, I have my favorite foreign policy presidents — and if President Trump succeeds in eliminating the North Korean nuclear threat, he will go down as one of the greatest presidents. Two days later, my hopes for Trump's presidency plummeted when he suddenly fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — and further demeaned Tillerson by doing it with a tweet. Then the president pulled my feeling about him up significantly by naming Larry Kudlow to his economics staff — Kudlow is a longtime friend of mine, brilliant, a free trader and will bring a sense of integrity to the White House staff. However, he will probably say what he thinks, and that will lead to problems.
And finally, the appointment of Mike Pompeo to secretary of state … this is big news. In fact, the news of this week was like an earthquake which has not yet settled.
I was very sorry to see Secretary Tillerson go — I really like the idea of a businessman as secretary of state, and I thought he was doing a superb job. In fact, he set the table for the Trump meeting with North Korea. For some reason, the president felt uncomfortable with him and has moved on to the secretary designate Pompeo, who graduated first in his class at West Point and graduated from Harvard Law School. I have an immense admiration for his professional capabilities.
Kudlow is a free-trader, while Trump favors protectionism, but I am happy that Trump is hiring some people who disagree with him. I hope that Kudlow continues to argue for free trade — I have some problems with tariffs on steel and aluminum. Kudlow had expressed opposition for such tariffs earlier, and now that he is in the White House he will publicly support those tariffs, though I hope he privately advises against them. The biggest significance of Kudlow's appointment is that it is a signal the president wants some free-trade thinking in his office. Trump and Kudlow will use tariffs, or the threat of them, as a bargaining chip in a constantly fluid international trade negotiation.
But the biggest news is that President Trump has agreed to meet with Kim Jong Un. This is almost as significant as President Nixon going to China. The nuclear capability of North Korea is so overwhelmingly threatening that anything our president can do to lessen tensions is good. President Trump is taking great political risk in meeting with North Korea — anything can happen.
I did not vote for President Trump, but his initiative on North Korea convinced me that I may have misjudged his ability. With this meeting, President Trump is walking onto the world stage of diplomacy in a way that his predecessors were afraid to do. I have been traveling to different points in the nation and talking to average people. A lot of them may say that they don't like certain things about Trump, but if you press them they say they would vote for him again. He is popular with people who will actually vote in the next election. I have predicted he will be president for seven more years if he wishes to run and his health allows it. His North Korea initiative will help him be re-elected.
It is true that Trump's style occasionally has me cringing — like when he fired Secretary Tillerson via Twitter. That was not a classy thing to do, but he did it, and he did it quickly. Our country needs a successful president. It is my hope that the personnel changes now settle down so that we have a set team. Sometimes a coach needs to shuffle things around, and now that it is done I hope his team is ready.
President Nixon met with China's leaders in the year before an election. Nobody recognizes it now, but at the time people saw it as a great political risk because Nixon had to run in 1972, and he went to China in 1971. Now, we are seeing history repeat itself as a president risks his political capital for nuclear peace. In that spirit, I say to Trump, "we citizens are hoping for a successful Trump presidency. We want you to succeed. Stick with your Cabinet now, tweet more carefully and you could go down as one of our great foreign policy presidents."