Consistency is not one of President Donald Trump’s strong suits when it comes to many issues of governance, showing numerous times during his first two years that his opinion shifts easily depending on the news cycle or individual with whom he has last spoken.
Defense spending is an excellent example of the shifting winds of Trump’s opinion: three times last year the president altered his stance on increasing or decreasing the military budget — going so far as to call $716 billion “crazy”, only to reverse course and hint at an increase a short time later.
CNN reported in February 2018 that Trump called for boosting defense spending to $686 billion — which the network noted was one of the largest in U.S. history.
At the time, the president boasted that America’s military would be the strongest ever, and the spending would involve "increasing arsenals of virtually every weapon."
"Frankly we have to do it because others are doing it," Trump said. "If they stop, we'll stop, but they're not stopping. So if they're not going to stop, we're going to be so far ahead of everybody else in nuclear like you've never seen before."
By the year’s end, however, Trump was singing a wholly different tune, describing military spending at its current level as “crazy”:
As noted by Forbes, Trump’s turnaround was perplexing:
Clearly, Mr. Trump feels little need to coordinate his policy pronouncements with other members of the GOP. Only days earlier, the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees had co-authored an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal warning the White House not to back away from its plan to spend $733 billion on defense in fiscal 2020. Trump’s tweet adds to mounting evidence he plans to do precisely that – trim the defense budget back to $700 billion.
Forbes concluded that Trump’s views on defense spending and military competition with Russia and China are evolving, predicting that an increase in the budget for 2020 — if it happened — would likely be the last.
Whether that prediction holds true is yet to be seen, but the president did in fact reverse course on his “crazy” stance shortly after and suggested a sizable increase was in store.
According to Foreign Policy, while speaking to U.S. troops in Iraq last month, Trump said:
“You have to have the finest equipment anywhere in the world, and you have that—$716 billion,” Trump said, referring to the defense budget for fiscal year 2019, during a speech at Al Asad Airbase in Anbar Province, Iraq. “This year, again, we’re going to be—don’t tell anybody because nobody else knows—even a little bit higher.”
Whether Trump sticks with this statement will be known for sure next month, when the proposal is handed off to Congress.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan—who is poised to become acting secretary of defense when Secretary of Defense James Mattis departs next week—has said the Pentagon is preparing two budgets for the president to review: a $733 billion proposal and a trimmed-down $700 billion option.