Did Trump Get Played By His Advisers on Taiwan?

It’s hard to know which scenario is worse: 1) that Donald Trump ignorantly took a call with the president of Taiwan without knowing how badly it would provoke China; 2) that he intentionally took the call to create a provocation with China over a month before even taking office; or 3) that Trump took the call because he wanted to cement business dealings in Taiwan.

Increasingly, it seems it may have been the worst of all worlds: Trump’s advisers strategically planned the call with Taiwan, but Trump may not have known what he was getting into. And yes, Trump has business dealings in Taiwan despite his denials.

First, it’s becoming clear that the Taiwan call was a carefully planned gauntlet thrown down by the most aggressive neoconservatives in Trump’s transition team. Pro-Taiwan language had been inserted into the GOP platform, and Taiwan was apparently among the first priorities of several of Trump’s advisers–specifically in order to dictate a more hostile stance against China.

But did Trump know about that? The most direct evidence we have about Trump’s frame of mind comes from his twitter account. Instead of asserting the equivalent of “damned right I talked to the president of Taiwan, and China needs to get over it,” Trump first pretended that the Taiwanese president had called him out of the blue, and then expressed shock that anyone would be offended by his “accept[ing] a congratulatory call.” Trump is nothing if not overtly aggressive when he wants to be. If he had known that talking to the president of Taiwan indicated a sea change in foreign policy and done with intentionality, he would have said so then and there. But he didn’t. He seemed genuinely confused. Only a day and a half later, once the issue had blown up in his face, did he launch a tweet tirade against China.

As for Trump’s business dealings, after several false denials that Trump agents were scouting for business deals in Taiwan, there seems to be corroboration from numerous sources that the Trump organization was seeking to land a real estate deal there after all.

So here’s what seems to be the likeliest scenario: 1) Donald Trump wanted to talk to the president of Taiwan because it fed his ego and because he could further his own personal enrichment; 2) Trump’s insanely irresponsible advisers set their oblivious boss up to do it because they wanted to punch China in the nose.

Maybe it was all intentional and Trump was just playing coy on Twitter. But that seems highly unlikely. Instead, it looks like we’re in for four years of an unstable, suggestible, ignorant, self-dealing Chauncey Gardiner man-child as President, under the spell of some of the worst characters to inhabit the Oval Office in generations.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.