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Politics

Why Trump has stopped bashing Japan

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Donald Trump has stopped bashing Japan.   © Reuters

WASHINGTON -- Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has stopped attacking Japan in his campaign speeches.

In a speech on Aug. 22 in Ohio, Trump criticized his Democratic rival by saying, "No state has been hurt worse by Hillary Clinton trade policies than Ohio. ... She backed the job-killing trade deal with South Korea and backed the Trans-Pacific Partnership [trade deal]."

Clinton was President Barack Obama's first secretary of state. Trump also criticized China and Mexico in the speech but did not mention Japan.

During the primaries, the 70-year-old real estate mogul and TV personality would often blast Japan as though he were still living in the 1980s, when cross-Pacific trade disputes were especially fierce.

But his Japan-bashing days appear to be over. The last time he included Japan in a speech was Aug. 5, when he was in Wisconsin, another Midwestern state. "Trade is a disaster with China, with Japan, with Mexico [and] with Vietnam," he said at the time.

An emasculated Trump?

Japan seems to have disappeared from Trump's speeches about the same time the candidate began using a teleprompter. Trump had been averse to using the speaking aid, saying people running for president should not be allowed to use the devices. During the primaries, he criticized Clinton and his Republican rivals for being teleprompted.

In March, however, he relented, following his campaign team's advice. Some of his handlers opposed the idea out of concern that his appearances would lose their edge.

Before March, the team had few substantial advisers. That month, as Trump all but secured the nomination, old-boy politicians and campaign strategists began entering his camp.

One of these insiders was Jeff Sessions, a Republican senator from Alabama who oversees Trump's foreign policy planks.

Sessions, who at one point was even rumored to become Trump's running mate, piqued Japanese diplomats' curiosity. At his rallies, Trump often emphasizes the importance of fighting terrorist organizations like the Islamic State group. The U.S., Japanese diplomats repeatedly told Sessions, must cooperate with its allies, including Japan, in this fight. It does not make sense for a U.S. presidential candidate to attack its allies in this fight, they told Sessions.

For Sessions and other new members of Team Trump, Japan is obviously an ally. But Trump's previous brain trust had never mentioned this to the candidate.

Since Trump began using a teleprompter to read out speeches prepared by his foreign policy experts, the hard-line demagogue who spits out caustic words like, "We're going to beat China, Japan [... and] Mexico at trade!" has receded. No more does Trump criticize Japan for deliberately devaluing the yen to give its exporters a leg up. No more does he hold up Komatsu, a leading construction machinery maker, as unfairly benefiting from a devalued currency.

Japanese diplomatic officials would not admit to getting in touch with the Trump campaign.

Reshuffling for victory

"Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don't choose the right words or you say the wrong thing," Trump said Aug. 18 in a speech read from a teleprompter in North Carolina. "I have done that, and I regret it."

It was a rare moment for a man who has spent months, if not longer, building a persona of a tough guy who does not back down.

On the previous day, Trump dismissed Paul Manafort, his campaign manager, after it came out that Manafort did consulting work for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, whose government was pro-Russian.

The second major reshuffling of the team since June shows a sense of desperation in Trumpland, now that the Republican nominee seems to be stepping into one pit of quicksand after another.

The first debate is less than a month away. Whether a teleprompter or a softer Donald can help Trump buoy his support until he takes to the debate stage remains to be seen.

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