Donald Trump signalled, on Tuesday, his campaign trail dismissal of the threat of climate change may have been hot air after all, saying he was "open minded" on supporting global accords.
The US president-elect emerged from cabinet-building talks in his Trump Tower headquarters and travelled ten minutes across town to The New York Times to give a wide-ranging interview on his plans.
He disavowed "alt-right" activists who hailed his election as a victory for white supremacy, distanced himself from calls to prosecute Hillary Clinton and defended his global business empire.
And he appeared to soften his pledge to pull the United States out of accords such as last year's COP21 Paris Agreement, that binds countries to national pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"I'm looking at it very closely. I have an open mind to it," he told New York Times executives and journalists over lunch at their headquarters, according to the paper's own account.
Campaigning ahead of 8 November, Trump repeatedly told crowds of rustbelt and southern voters — factory workers, coal miners and oilmen among them — that he would tear up international climate agreements.
As far back as 2012, he had tweeted: "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive."
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
Now elected and ready to become president on 20 January, when he was confronted by Times columnist Thomas Friedman he admitted there may be a link between human industry and global warming.
"I think there is some connectivity. Some, something. It depends on how much," he said, adding he would nevertheless remain concerned about how much green measures would "cost our companies."
The New York Times sit-down, which followed a reportedly hostile off-the-record clash with TV network chiefs on Monday, appeared to represent a perhaps temporary truce with the hated media.
Trump regularly — as recently as earlier Tuesday — insults the "failing New York Times" in tweets, but distanced himself from threats to toughen libel laws and engaged cheerfully with the paper.
The failing @nytimes just announced that complaints about them are at a 15 year high. I can fully understand that - but why announce?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 22, 2016
"I do read it. Unfortunately," he admitted. "I'd live about 20 years longer if I didn't."
The conversation was in sharp contrast to a day earlier, when the Republican billionaire resumed his onslaught in a closed-door session with high-ranking television executives where, despite expectations of fence-mending, he reportedly gave them a dressing-down over their coverage of the 2016 race.
He also, under repeated questioning, denounced the so-called alt-right, after leaders of the movement met in Washington at the weekend and celebrated his victory with Nazi salutes.
He insisted, somewhat controversially, that his sprawling global business empire does not represent a conflict of interest for a president — at least not according to lawyers he has consulted.
"The law's totally on my side, the president can't have a conflict of interest," he told the paper.
Trump also said that he was reconsidering his position favouring the authorisation of torturing detainees after sitting down with retired general James Mattis over the weekend to discuss naming him as secretary of defence.
The Republican tycoon had previously made bloodcurdling pledges to restore waterboarding and "far, far worse" in US detention centres, scorning President Barack Obama's ban on the practice.
"He said: 'I've never found it to be useful'," Trump said, adding that Mattis advised building a rapport with detainees: "Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I'll do better."
"I was very impressed by that answer," Trump told the Times, in a marked U-turn from his campaign mantra: "Torture works, OK? Believe me, it works."
Trump's rhetoric was cheered to the rafters at campaign rallies, but on Tuesday he admitted that torture is "not going to make the kind of a difference that a lot of people are thinking."
Mattis is reportedly interested in becoming Trump's defence secretary, and Trump said he is being "seriously, seriously considered" despite his opposition to illegal interrogation methods.
He reported that he would "love" to clinch a deal to end the intractable conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, but on the bloodshed in Syria, Trump was more vague, saying "we have to end the craziness that's going on."
"I would love to be the one who made peace with Israel and the Palestinians, that would be such a great achievement," Trump said.
Trump gushed in his admiration for President Barack Obama, whom he will replace in the White House, telling the paper, despite the aggressive tone of his campaign, he had been honoured to meet Obama. And he stepped back from threats to prosecute his defeated rival Clinton.
"I don't want to hurt the Clintons, I really don't," Trump was quoted as saying by the paper's staff. "She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways."
During the campaign, Trump had accused Clinton of illegally destroying email records to cover up wrongdoing and alleged fraud at her charitable foundation — as his fans chanted "Lock her up." Right-wing website Breitbart accused Trump of a "broken promise," in what may be the first visible crack in Trump's coalition of Republicans, the disgruntled middle class and far right extremists.
"I think it would be very, very divisive for the country," Trump said, defending his U-turn. And the conservatives are warning Donald Trump stay firm on his other campaign pledges.
“Well, so much for ‘locking her up,’ I guess,” South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said in a Fox News interview as reported by Politico, arguing that Clinton should be investigated “with an independent view.”
The Politico report also said that other conservatives also highlighted issues such as health care and immigration reform as non-negotiable from Trump once he takes the White House. "My inclination would be for whatever power I have on the matter is to say let's go forward. This has been looked at for so long, ad nauseous."
Trump said he did not think his loyal supporters would be disappointed. "I think I will explain it that we in many ways will save our country," he said.
But detractors are likely to see Trump's comments as yet more evidence that he does not understand or respect the division between the executive and judicial branches.
It would be highly unusual, if not unprecedented, for a sitting president to direct his attorney general to investigate — or to lay off — a political rival.
Trump was asked by The New York Times whether he stood by a threat, made to Clinton's face in their second debate, to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate her.
"I think it would be very, very divisive for the country," the president-elect admitted. In common with his predecessors, the Republican billionaire has been in no hurry to name a cabinet, leaving the reporters gathered under Trump Tower chasing after rumours as he holds court above.
And if the Washington political class was expecting the populist provocateur of the campaign trail to hire a top team from the institutional mainstream, it could well be disappointed. His picks include a chief strategist who is a self-described "economic nationalist" and a national security adviser who — eased into retirement by Obama — went to dine with Vladimir Putin.
And why would Trump, a 70-year-old tycoon and reality television star whose defiance of political norms led him to win the world's highest office in his first foray into an election, change now?
Time to give thanks
According to two opinion polls published Tuesday, a majority of voters are optimistic that his efforts to "make America great again" will lead the nation to a brighter future.
According to data from Quinnipiac University, most voters think he should stop tweeting but, by a margin of 59 to 37, most "are optimistic about the next four years with Donald Trump as president."
A similar CNN/ORC poll found a narrow majority, 53 percent of voters, thought Trump would do a good job. Late Tuesday, Trump arrived for a family Thanksgiving break at his golf resort in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, where onlookers lined the street, taking pictures and cheering as his motorcade pulled in.
With inputs from AFP
First Published On : Nov 23, 2016 13:38 IST