As the Republican Party struggles to embrace Donald Trump as its presidential nominee, it seems Donald Trump is also struggling to cater to what Republican leadership wants to hear from him. His latest response about the Obama administration’s guidance on respecting transgender students and patients suggests an incoherent desire to toe the Republican Party line while also staying true to his own seemingly more inclusive beliefs — to the extent those beliefs are even discernible.
In an interview with the Washington Post Monday, Trump said that if elected president, he would rescind these directives protecting transgender people. With Republicans leaders across the country overwhelmingly opposing the trans student protections in particular, this is no doubt what the Party wants to hear from their candidate.
But everything else Trump said in the interview sounded like he actually supports transgender people. He made the segue in a line denying that trans protections were a civil rights issue: “I don’t view it as civil rights or not civil rights. I think it’s something where we have to help people — and hopefully the states will make the right decisions.”
The Post summarizes that Trump “repeatedly said transgender people should be protected under the law.” He even seemed understanding of why it’s become a big issue. “You’ve got to protect all people, even though it’s a tiny percentage of 1 percent. I think from that standpoint, [states] should come up with a policy that’s going to work for everybody and protect people.”
This represents Trump’s second ping-pong on the issue in as many months. In April, he said on Today that “there’s a lot of problems” with North Carolina’s anti-LGBT HB2, which prohibits trans people from using the restrooms that match their gender identities in public buildings. “People go; they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble,” he said. He even acknowledged that Caitlyn Jenner could enter Trump Tower and use whatever bathroom she felt most comfortable in — which she then did.
But his talking point since that interview is that this “this should be a states’ issue.” As he said on Good Morning America last week, “I believe it should be states’ rights and I think the states should make the decision, they’re more capable of making the decision.”
With Republican governors decrying that the guidance from the Department of Justice and Department of Education constitute “federal overreach,” Trump might be trying to blow the dog whistle Republicans want to hear. He’s been asked about trans issues pretty consistently for the past month, and yet he still claims ignorance about what’s really at stake.
“I have not had any exposure to it at all,” Trump told the Post, indicating he was unaware of having ever met or worked with a transgender person. “It’s actually a very interesting subject to me. It’s certainly an issue that’s getting a lot of play and it’s an issue that I’m studying very closely.”
Like so many of Trump’s positions, it’s difficult to parse exactly what position he’s taking, like last year when he said, “I would end Obamacare and replace it with something terrific, for far less money for the country and for the people.” He seems to agree with Democrats on what the outcome should be (trans protections), but he will cater to the Republican approach (state policies) to arrive at that outcome. In this case, Republicans have made it clear that not only do they oppose protections for the trans community, but they support policies like North Carolina’s HB2 that enshrine discrimination into law. By appealing to both, it thus becomes apparent that Trump has no real position at all.