While most presidential candidates craft detailed platforms and spend years trying to sell them to voters, GOP front-runner Donald Trump sometimes takes up two or three contradictory policy positions in the same week — or even the same interview.
It's difficult to glean a platform from Trump's powerfully incoherent rhetoric while navigating the quicksand-like task of separating fact from Trump's many exaggerations and outright falsehoods in thousands of interviews. It's perhaps harder still to get the GOP front-runner to address policy questions directly. The candidate often declines to offer specifics, arguing that unpredictability is an advantage he'll use to cut better deals, just as his critics say this is a sign he doesn't know what he's talking about.
Trump's shifting stances aren't just challenging for reporters tasked with covering him— they're also a source of consternation for his party, as more than a few of his stated policies directly contradict the GOP platform.
"You have to have a certain degree of flexibility," the Republican front-runner said in a March debate when confronted on his evolving policy plank, taking a stance on immigration he'd reverse hours later. "You can't say, it's OK, and then you find out it's not OK and you don't want to do anything. You have to be flexible, because you learn."
To understand and track Trump's views, we've compiled a list of his past and present positions on issues since the billionaire real estate mogul announced his candidacy, along with any explanation the candidate has offered on the changes.
1. Criminalize women who have abortions.
Though Trump said in 1999 that he was "very pro-choice," Trump has consistently claimed that he's against abortion, except for in cases of rape, incest, or to save the mother's life, since starting his bid last June.
But during an exclusive interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews just after 1 p.m., Trump struggled to define his views on abortion aside from describing himself as "pro-life." When continually pressed for how he'd handle women who violated a theoretical ban on abortion, Trump said the "answer is that there has to be some form of punishment, yeah."
2. Let the states decide what to do about criminalizing abortion.
At 3:36, Trump put out a statement saying the issue is "unclear and should be put back into the states for determination."
3. Never mind. Don't punish the women.
He fully walked back his position that women should be punished for violating a theoretical abortion ban 80 minutes later, releasing a statement saying "the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman. The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb."
Current position: Ban abortions. But women won't be criminalized.
1. Maybe send troops in. Definitely go after the oil fields.
In Trump's first interview after announcing his bid, he signaled that he'd both send in ground troops to Iraq and not send in ground troops.
"You bomb the hell out of them, and then you encircle it, and then you go in," he told Bill O'Reilly, who remarked that the plan necessitated ground forces. "I disagree, I say that you can defeat ISIS by taking their wealth — their wealth is the oil."
2. Bomb the oil fields. Send some troops in.
On CNN, Trump said, "I would bomb the hell out of those oil fields. I wouldn't send many troops because you won't need them by the time I'm finished."
3. Send troops to defeat ISIS. Don't forget about the oil fields.
In a single August interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," he offered three solutions for what to do with the oil field profits: keep them, give them to veterans and their families, or, when pressed, perhaps give some to the Iraqi people.
Months later, in a March debate, Trump ballparked the number of troops he would need to send in to defeat ISIS.
"We really have no choice, we have to knock out ISIS," Trump said. "I would listen to the generals, but I'm hearing numbers of 20,000-30,000."
4. Destroy the oil. Let our regional allies send ground troops. If they don't, stop buying their oil.
In a foreign-policy focused interview with the New York Times published March 26, Trump said that the U.S. should "take" ISIS' oil, but then said the U.S. should "knock the hell out of the oil and do it because it's a primary source of money for ISIS." Trump also ruled out sending in U.S. troops, saying that other countries in the region — "regional Arab partners" such as Saudi Arabia — should provide the ground troops. If these countries did not, the United States would stop buying their oil and withhold "protection" in the region.
Current position: To defeat ISIS, Trump would destroy the oil fields controlled by the militant group. U.S. allies in the region must commit ground troops to defeat ISIS.
VIOLATING U.S. AND INTERNATIONAL LAWS WITH REGARD TO TORTURE, TERRORISM
1. The military will obey potentially illegal orders.
In December, Trump started demanding that the US target the families of ISIS members in addition to "bombing the sh*t" out of the terrorist organization. He went further in February, advocating for torture as a method of interrogation.
"I would bring back waterboarding, and I'd bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding," Trump declared in the February debate just ahead of the New Hampshire primary. Calls for bringing torture back became a regular applause line at rallies, despite the likelihood that both of these ideas would require the American military to obey orders that violate international laws and federal anti-torture statutes.
Pressed at a debate on March 3 over whether the American military would obey his order to violate international laws and the Geneva Convention to do such things, Trump insisted they'd listen to him, despite condemnation from military leaders and conservatives.
"Frankly, when I say they'll do as I tell them, they'll do as I tell them," he said.
2. The military shouldn't break the law, after all.
He then reversed this position the very next day, on March 4, in a statement to the Wall Street Journal, saying he "will not order military or other officials to violate those laws and will seek their advice on such matters."
3. The laws forbidding torture should be changed so no one has to break them.
Not long after terrorist attacks in Brussels killed at least 28 people and injured dozens more on March 22, Trump called in to CNN to expand on his call to legalize waterboarding.
"Look, I think we have to change our law on the waterboarding thing, where they can chop off heads and drown people in cages, in heavy steel cages and we can't water board," Trump told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "We have to change our laws and we have to be able to fight at least on almost equal basis."
When Blitzer reminded Trump that military leaders don't support torture and that it violates international agreements that the United States has signed, Trump called opposition to torture a "political decision."
"I would say that the eggheads that came up with this international law should turn on their television and watch CNN right now, because I'm looking at scenes on CNN right now as I'm speaking to you that are absolutely atrocious," Trump said. "And I would be willing to bet, when I am seeing all of the bodies laying all over the floor, including young, beautiful children laying dead on the floor, I would say if they watched that, maybe, just maybe they'll approve of waterboarding and other things."
Current position: Trump says he's against violating international laws or ordering others to do so, but wants to change the laws to legalize, at minimum, waterboarding.
1. Build a wall, deport all undocumented immigrants.
At the core of Donald Trump's campaign is a promise to build a wall across the United States' southern border and deport the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants with the help of a "deportation force."
2. Deport all undocumented immigrants but bring the 'good' ones back legally. Dreamers can maybe stay.
In a CNN interview in July, Trump said, "I want to move them out, and we're going to move them back in and let them be legal, but they have to be in here legally."
Trump wavered on what to do with the Dreamers - young undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country by their parents as children and are now afforded limited protection from deportation but no path to citizenship. When asked if Dreamers would have to go back, he said, "It depends."
3. Dreamers cannot stay.
In August, that ambiguity was gone: "They have to go," he said on "Meet the Press."
4. Trump might be flexible on actually deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants.
BuzzFeed reports that in off-the-record talks with the New York Times, Trump admitted this was just bluster and a starting point for negotiations, saying he might not deport the undocumented immigrants as he's promised. Trump has refused calls to release the transcript, despite furious requests from his rival candidates.
Current position: As far as the public knows, Trump still wants to deport millions, including the Dreamers.
VISAS FOR HIGH-SKILLED WORKERS
1. H-1B visas are bad for American workers.
Trump's immigration plan was published on his website in July: it opposed the H-1B program, which allows non-immigrant visas for specialty occupations, arguing then that it was bad for American workers.
2. H-1B visas are good.
At the CNBC debate in October, Trump denied that he'd been critical about the program. "I am all in favor of keeping these talented people here so they can go to work in Silicon Valley," he said.
3. H-1B visas are still bad, according to Trump's unchanged website.
At the Fox News debate on March 3, some five months later, Fox News host Megyn Kelly pressed Trump on which of these conflicting views he supports.
4. H-1B visas are necessary: 'I'm changing.'
"I'm changing. I'm changing. We need highly skilled people in this country. If we can't do it, we will get them in. And we do need in Silicon Valley, we absolutely have to have. So we do need highly skilled," he said.
5. H-1B visas are definitely bad.
His campaign later released a statement reversing this shortly after the March 3 debate ended.
"Megyn Kelly asked about highly skilled immigration. The H-1B program is neither high-skilled nor immigration: These are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay," Trump wrote in a statement. "I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions."
He reaffirmed this position in the GOP debate on March 10, one week later, vowing to end the program that he noted he uses himself as a businessman.
Current position: Back where he started — against the H-1B visa program.
BORDER CONTROL AND THE REFUGEE CRISIS
1. The US has a 'humanitarian' obligation to take in some Syrian refugees.
Trump initially said the country should absorb Syrian refugees.
"I hate the concept of it, but on a humanitarian basis, you have to," Trump told Bill O'Reilly on Fox News on a Tuesday night in September. "But you know, it's living in hell in Syria. There's no question about it. They're living in hell, and something has to be done."
2. The US cannot and should not accept Syrian refugees.
The next day, Trump said the country couldn't welcome refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war.
"Look, from a humanitarian standpoint, I'd love to help. But we have our own problems," he said on Fox.
During the March debate, Trump defended his changing view.
"First time the question had been put to me, it was very early on. The migration had just started. And I had heard that the number was a very, very small number. By the second day, two or three days later, I heard the number was going to be thousands and thousands of people. You know, when they originally heard about it, they were talking about bringing very, very small numbers in, and I said, begrudgingly, well, I guess maybe that's OK," Trump said. "By the time I went back and studied it, and they were talking about bringing thousands and thousands, I changed my tune. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that."
3. Close the border.
"I'd close up our borders to people until we figure out what is going on," Trump said on Fox News the morning of the Brussels attacks claimed by ISIS that killed at least 28 and injured more than 270.
4. Don't close the border, just be careful.
"I didn't say shut it down — I said you have to be very careful, you have to be careful on who's coming into our country," he said the same day as the Fox News interview on CBSN, reiterating that people from Syria without papers shouldn't be allowed in.
Current position: Against closing the borders entirely. Against accepting Syrian refugees in the United States.
PROPOSED MUSLIM BAN
1. No Muslims should be allowed to enter the United States —as immigrants or visitors.
Donald Trump called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" in a statement about "preventing Muslim immigration" in December.
2. Ban Muslims from entering but make an exception for his friends and Muslims serving in the US military.
He later amended his stance in an interview with Fox News, saying the 5,000 Muslims serving the United States military would be exempt from the ban and allowed to return home from overseas deployments. He also suggested that current Muslim residents — like his "many Muslim friends" — would be exempt, too, and able to come and go freely.
Current position: Ban Muslims from entering the country — except service members, his friends and those already here.
KU KLUX KLAN AND DAVID DUKE
1. 'I disavow, OK?'
After former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard and white nationalist David Duke began encouraging his followers to vote for the Republican front-runner, including making a plea on his radio show on February 25, Trump initially disavowed Duke's support in a press conference on February 26.
"I didn't even know he endorsed me. David Duke endorsed me? OK, all right. I disavow, OK?" Trump said.
2. 'I don't know anything about David Duke. OK?'
After disavowing David Duke on a Friday, Trump was asked about the Ku Klux Klan and Duke by CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday. Trump claimed to know nothing of Duke or the KKK.
"I don't know anything about David Duke. OK? I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So I don't know. I don't know, did he endorse me or what's going on, because, you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. And so you're asking me a question that I'm supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about," Trump said, refusing three times to unequivocally condemn the support of white supremacists until he knew more about them.
3. 'I disavow, OK?' — part two.
After that cagey song and dance-like interview sparked outrage on Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to clarify, tweeting a video of his Friday press conference in which he did disavow Duke.
That Monday on NBC's "Today," Trump blamed his refusal to condemn Duke and the KKK on a lousy earpiece but continued to hedge against disavowing the support of "groups" he doesn't know anything about, despite Savannah Guthrie's reminder that in the interview in question, Trump had been only been asked about the KKK and Duke.
Current position: Trump has disavowed Duke, despite a lengthy back-and-forth about whether he knows about him or not.
THE IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL
1. Keep the current deal with Iran, police it.
Trump was one of the few Republicans who didn't immediately promise to rip up the Iranian nuclear deal. The author of "The Art of the Deal" told his supporters that while it was the worst deal ever, they'd probably have to live with it.
"It's very hard to say, "We're ripping it up.' And the problem is by the time I got in there, they will have already received the $150 billion," Trump said, referring to a high estimate of how many of Iran's assets will be unfrozen as part of the deal (the White House says after Iran's debts are paid, it's closer to $56 billion).
"But I will police that deal," he said, touting his handling of business contracts. "I would police that contract so tough that they don't have a chance. As bad as the contract is, I will be so tough on that contract."
2. Renegotiate the nuclear deal with Iran.
In September, he went further.
"When I am elected president, I will renegotiate with Iran — right after I enable the immediate release of our American prisoners and ask Congress to impose new sanctions that stop Iran from having the ability to sponsor terrorism around the world," he wrote in an op-od for USA Today.
Current position: Renegotiate the deal.
1. Repeal Obamacare. Look to Canada for inspiration.
In August, Trump was asked repeatedly if he still supported the single-payer health care he'd touted in the past. He said America should have a private system but repeatedly praised Canada and Scotland's socialized system.
"As far as single-payer, it works in Canada. It works incredibly well in Scotland. It could have worked in a different age, which is the age you're talking about here," Trump said. "What I'd like to see is a private system without the artificial lines around every state … Get rid of the artificial lines, and you will have yourself great plans. And then we have to take care of the people that can't take care of themselves. And I will do that through a different system."
2. Repeal Obamacare. Cover everybody.
"I am going to take care of everybody," Trump told CBS in September. "I don't care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody's going to be taken care of much better than they're taken care of now."
3. Repeal Obamacare, but 'I like the mandate'
During a CNN town hall on February 18, Trump started to answer a question about how he'd replace the Affordable Care Act with health savings accounts, "which are great," but interrupted himself to talk at length about how he's "a self-funder." When pressed by interviewer Anderson Cooper about what would happen when Obamacare is repealed and the mandate disappeared, therefore allowing insurance companies to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, Trump said:
"Well, I like the mandate. OK. So here's where I'm a little bit different. I don't want people dying on the streets and I say this all the time."
4. Repeal Obamacare. Replace it with something.
Trump was mocked in the February 25 debate for being vague about how he would replace Obamacare.
"You'll have many different plans. You'll have competition, you'll have so many different plans," he said at the debate, earning derision from Sen. Marco Rubio.
5. Repeal Obamacare. Not everyone will be covered.
His health care plan, finally released online in March, has far more in common with the kind of boilerplate health care proposals the rest of the Republican party touts than his earlier praise for Canada suggested it might.
It would likely cause 21 million people to lose their health insurance and cost about $270 billion over 10 years, according to the nonpartisan budget advocacy group Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB).
It offers up unspecified amounts of grants to states to replace Medicaid, but it's not clear how or what those would look like, or how they would cover the millions of people that Trump's plan lets fall through the cracks. CRFB noted that block grants "could generate a wide range of savings" to the federal budget, but without details on them, it is "impossible to score any savings" from his plan.
Current position: Repeal Obamacare. Replace it with something.