One of the more fascinating pieces of recent news was Trump backing away from his ban-all-muslims policy, which got me thinking about a very important book: Politicians Don't Pander, by Lawrence Jacobs and Robert Shapiro. It's the kind of book I love-- surprising to lay-people, but logical and hard to refute.
The gist of it is that politicians don't really take insincere policy positions very often. Instead, they look for ways to maximize the public appeal of their real positions. Emphasis, strategic framing, all of that can play into how politicians portray their policy positions, but they don't tend to just pander.
In fact, if you look at the work of John R. Lott, most of the voting patterns of Members of Congress looks pretty sincere. When legislators either announce their retirements, or lose a primary and then face a lame duck term or something like that, they are immune to electoral pressure for the rest of their time in office. Does their voting behavior change? Nope. Not much at all. Why? It was sincere all along.
Most politicians are surprisingly sincere in their actual policy behavior. They'll try to pitch their positions strategically, sure, but they aren't just craven panderers.
And then there's Trump. And his muslim ban. He's walking it back. Was the muslim ban sincere? Is the less-extreme version sincere? The point with Trump is that we can't tell. What makes Trump different from politicians isn't that he's a straight talker. What makes Trump different from politicians is that he does pander because he has no coherent thoughts on policy, because he hasn't had to deal with it before. He says what he thinks will help him at the time. That can be different when running in the Republican primary and when running in the general election. We will see more changes. Why? Because unlike real politicians, Trump panders.
Now, go read Jacobs and Shapiro. Trump is the exception because he isn't a politician.