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President Trump speaks during a rally at the Pensacola Bay Center on December 8, 2017 in Pensacola, Florida. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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.

Trump has governed mostly as a conventional conservative — on tax cuts, his Supreme Court pick, and rolling back regulations. Most of his top advisers are fairly conventional conservatives, so that makes sense.

Most of those in his current decision-making circle — even if they're not mainstream Republicans — are defending mainstream Republican principles like free trade and an internationalist view of foreign policy.

But top officials paint a different portrait of Trump when it comes to what he really wants on trade, immigration and North Korea — but has been tamped down by skeptical staff and Cabinet officials.

In private meetings: Trump keeps asking for tariffs — on steel and aluminum, in particular. He wants a trade war, and has for many years. His economic and diplomatic advisers persuaded him to delay trade actions in 2017.

Those advisers recognize that the day of reckoning will come in 2018, regardless of whether economic adviser Gary Cohn and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — who advocated restraint — stay or go.Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin successfully persuaded Trump not to do anything rash while tax reform was being negotiated.

Trump also saw the advantage of trying to use that as leverage with China to get help on North Korea. He said yesterday in an interview with the N.Y Times: "China's hurting us very badly on trade, but I have been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war. O.K.?"

And he tweeted yesterday, in response to Chinese ships secretly delivering oil to North Korea: "Caught RED HANDED - very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea. There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen!"

NEW: Look for Trump to take action on trade in the next month. It probably won't be next week, so as not to disrupt the afterglow of the tax cut. But nothing is final.

Trump still wants his wall, and tighter restrictions on legal immigration. He's a true believer on this stuff, and knows intuitively that it keeps his base stoked.

Trump seems most interested in discussing military options on North Korea in these meetings. He is surrounded by advisers who share his concern about the rogue state, but not his fixation on a military strike.

And some top officials have told us Trump's belligerent rhetoric on the subject makes them nervous.

There is a reason the harshest assessments of Trump usually leak after North Korea meetings.

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Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

British national named in Colleyville synagogue standoff

A law enforcement vehicle sits near the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on Jan. 16. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

British national Malik Faisal Akram took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue outside Fort Worth on Saturday, the FBI said in a statement.

State of play: Authorities had initially declined to release the name of the 44-year-old suspect or identify the hostages, all adults, though police chief Michael Miller confirmed that one of those held was Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who leads the congregation.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

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Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron — Deaths are climbing as cases skyrocket.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: Vivek Murthy calls SCOTUS vaccine mandate block "a setback for public health" — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— — CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: West Virginia governor feeling "extremely unwell" after positive test — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers — America struggles to keep schools open
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
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10 hours ago - Sports

Novak Djokovic loses Australian visa appeal

Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays a forehand during a practice session ahead of the 2022 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 14, 2022. Photo: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Tennis star Novak Djokovic left Australia on Sunday evening, facing a three-year visa ban after an appeals court in the country revoked his visa.

Driving the news: Djokovic will not be able to defend his Australian Open title when the tournament starts in Melbourne. The World No. 1 is looking to break a three-way tie with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for most Grand Slam men's singles titles.