As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump railed against President Barack Obama for failing to utter the words “radical Islamic terrorism.” He accused the foundation run by Bill and Hillary Clinton of corruption for accepting charitable contributions from Saudi Arabia and chastised first lady Michelle Obama for not covering her head during a visit to the Kingdom.
Now that he’s president, Trump has changed his tune.
The president now finds himself adjusting to the nuances of Middle East diplomacy, where inflammatory campaign slogans — no matter how popular among some voters — can be the cause of major disruptions now that he holds office.
Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, at the start of his first trip abroad as president, has produced a number of statements that run counter to the harsh, anti-Muslim rhetoric from his 2016 campaign. While many presidents adjust their commentary once they depart the campaign trail and travel abroad, Trump’s speech to Gulf Arab leaders featured a much softer tone than his large-scale rallies last year.
Here are the most glaring contradictions:
“Radical Islamic Terrorism”:
Then: Trump routinely railed against Obama and Democratic campaign rival Hillary Clinton for failing to use the specific phrase, “radical Islamic terrorism.” In an August 2016 speech, for example, Trump said Obama’s 2009 speech to the Muslim World in Egypt lacked “moral courage” and was replete in naiveté. “Anyone who cannot name our enemy is not fit to lead this country. Anyone who cannot condemn the hatred, oppression and violence of radical Islam lacks the moral clarity to serve as our president,” he said. Obama had declined to use the term because he said he didn’t want to connect terrorist groups like the Islamic State to the religion of Islam and said it would unnecessarily anger Arab allies fighting terrorism and alienate Muslims at home.
Now: Trump called on Muslim leaders to address “the crisis of Islamic extremists” and referenced “the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds.” But he failed to the use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” in his major speech on Sunday in front of more than 50 leaders of Arab and Muslim-majority countries. Trump spoke about the devastation that violent extremists have unleashed across the Middle East, but made clear that he believes it’s up to leaders of those countries to act to contain the problem.
Then: Trump declared in a March 2016 interview with CNN that, “I think Islam hates us” adding that, “there’s a tremendous hatred there.” It was just one of a series of inflammatory statements about one of the world’s major religions that included a call to surveille mosques and a proposal to ban all foreign Muslims from entering the US “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
“Frankly, look, we’re having problems with the Muslims, and we’re having problems with Muslims coming into the country,” he told Fox Business Network last March following a series of attacks in Brussels.
“You need surveillance, you have to deal with the mosques whether we like it or not,” he added. “These attacks, they’re not done by Swedish people, that I can tell you.”
Now: Trump struck a far less caustic tone in Sunday’s speech, expressing that “young Muslim boys and girls should be able to grow up free from fear, safe from violence, and innocent of hatred. And young Muslim men and women should have the chance to build a new era of prosperity for themselves and their peoples.”
He said, the biggest victims of terrorism are the “innocent people of Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern nations. They have borne the brunt of the killings and the worst of the destruction in this wave of fanatical violence. Some estimates hold that more than 95 percent of the victims of terrorism are themselves Muslim.”
Then: During his 2016 campaign, Trump frequently assailed rival Hillary Clinton’s ties to the Clinton Foundation, which received millions in donations from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and several other Mideast nations. In a June 2016 posting on Facebook, Trump said, “Saudi Arabia and many of the countries that gave vast amounts of money to the Clinton Foundation want women as slaves and to kill gays. Hillary must return all money from such countries!” During an October general election debate in Las Vegas, Trump went further: “It’s a criminal enterprise,” he said of the Clinton’s charitable foundation. “Saudi Arabia giving $25 million, Qatar, all of these countries. You talk about women and women’s rights? So these are people that push gays off business — off buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly. And yet you take their money….” ″on’t you give back the money you’ve taken from certain countries that treat certain groups of people so terrible?”
Now: The World Bank announced Sunday at an event with Trump’s daughter and White House adviser, Ivanka Trump, that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had pledged $100 million for the bank’s proposed Women Entrepreneurs Fund, which was first proposed by Ivanka Trump.
Then: Trump had plenty of harsh words for Saudi Arabia before his election. He accusing the kingdom of wanting “women as slaves and to kill gays” in a Facebook post and suggested they were being behind the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
“Who blew up the World Trade Center?” he asked during one Fox News appearance. “It wasn’t the Iraqis, it was Saudi — take at look at Saudi Arabia, open the documents,” he demanded. “If you open the documents, I think you’re going to see that it was Saudi Arabia, it wasn’t Iraq.”
Now: Trump heaped praised on the Saudis Sunday, describing the country as a “magnificent kingdom.”
“I am honored to be received by such gracious hosts,” he said in his opening. “I have always heard about the splendor of your country and the kindness of your people, but words do not do justice to the grandeur of this sacred place.”
Then: Trump lashed out at Michelle Obama on Twitter in 2015 when she opted against wearing a headscarf on her visit to Saudi Arabia.
“Many people are saying it was wonderful that Mrs. Obama refused to wear a scarf in Saudi Arabia, but they were insulted. We have enuf enemies,” Trump tweeted at the time, including a short-hand spelling for “enough.”
Now: First lady Melania Trump and the president’s eldest daughter Ivanka showed off their locks, following in the footsteps, not only of Michelle Obama, but of female leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Melania even opted to show a little leg on day two of their trip, wearing a dress that ended just below the knees.