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Why do political pundits still believe we haven’t seen the real Trump?

Nicholas Kamm/Getty

The president is on vacation in Florida, but that has never stopped him from manufacturing news. The last 24 hours have brought: a tweet denying the existence of global warming because it’s cold outside; a lengthy, improvisational interview with The New York Times in which he made 25 false claims; and attacks on China that were provoked by a Fox News segment. None of this is out of character for Trump, but an Axios report on Friday suggests that it may be just a prelude: “If you ask some close to President Trump what worries them most about 2018, it’s not Robert Mueller’s probe. It’s that establishment guardrails of 2017 come down—and Trump’s actual instincts take over. Next year will bring ‘full Trump,’ said one person who recently talked to the president.”

What is “full Trump”? However belligerent, Trump mostly played by the typical conservative Republican playbook in 2017: governing with an emphasis on supply-side economics, rolling back regulations, and appointing conservative justices. But according to Axios reports, next year’s Trump will be a throwback to 2016. The president is yet again itching to start a trade war with China, and keeps asking advisers about placing tariffs on steel and aluminum. He is insisting that a deal to protect Dreamers include funding for a wall between the United States and Mexico. And he’s increasingly pushing the U.S. closer to war in the Korean peninsula.

It’s not clear, however, if “full Trump” differs from the Trump we’ve seen in office for the last year. That Trump explored the possibility of a trade war, pushed the U.S. toward hardline immigration policies, and was belligerent toward North Korea. But he also ultimately governed like a conservative Republican, largely because he was surrounded by conservative Republicans. There’s no indication yet that this dynamic—Trump being Trump rhetorically, while governing like a conservative Republican—is going to change any time soon. Instead, this seems like an inversion of the phantom “pivot” that obsessed pundits in 2016. Now, instead of waiting for Trump to act “presidential,” pundits are waiting for him to start governing with utter abandon.