The GOP nominee’s debate responses on national security issues have to be read to be believed.
SEPT 27, 2016
Two of the most important qualities any president can have are the willingness to study hard to get up to speed on important but difficult issues, and the ability to stay calm and make sensible decisions under crushing pressure. John F. Kennedy showed both qualities during the Cuban Missile Crisis, often see as the exemplar of presidential crisis management. So did Franklin Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor, George W. Bush after 9/11, and Barack Obama after the financial meltdown of 2008-2009.
If the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton revealed anything, it is that she has passed the presidential test — and he hasn’t. Clinton was calm and in command. With a smile on her face, she made the case against Trump on all the hot-button issues — his refusal to reveal his taxes, his advocacy of birtherism, his racism, his sexism, and many others. She showed mastery of her brief.
And Trump? He looked flustered and exasperated. He sniffed. He sighed. He rolled his eyes. He even sneered. He interrupted her 51 times. If voters didn’t like Al Gore’s performance in the 2000 debate — the one where he evinced his contempt for Bush with his constant sighing — they will hate the way Trump acted on Monday night.
It was obvious that Trump wasn’t prepared even for the most basic and obvious questions. Instead of having a clever dodge on the Iraq War, he doubled down on his spurious claim to having opposed it all along. Instead of pivoting out of a question about the “birther” controversy, he doubled down again on a subject that cannot possibly help him. His lack of preparation was most evident at the end when Clinton blind-sided him with the story of Alicia Machado, the beauty queen that he insulted over her weight gain. “Where did you find this?” a clearly startled Trump demanded to know.
It’s not just that Trump hasn’t studied for how to handle a presidential debate. He hasn’t studied how to be president, in particular the commander in chief part of the job. That was evident in his bizarre, rambling responses about “the nuclear” and “the cyber” — yes, that’s really what he calls it — that have to be read to be believed.
Clinton began the cybersecurity exchange by attacking Trump for inviting Vladimir Putin “to hack into Americans.” In response, Trump denied that Russia broke into the DNC computers, as the U.S. intelligence community has concluded. “It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?” OK.
Having made up a mythical 400-pound hacker, Trump wound up with this gem: “So we have to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is — it is a huge problem. I have a son. He’s 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers, it’s unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it’s hardly doable.” It’s unbelievable all right that Trump would copy Jimmy Carter’s tactic from a 1980 debate when he cited his daughter Amy as an authority on nuclear weapons — a rhetorical gambit for which he was widely mocked. And by the way, what the heck was Trump trying to say here?
Trump’s response when moderator Lester Holt asked him about America’s “longstanding policy on first use” of nuclear weapons — the U.S. has said it is willing to use nuclear weapons even if an enemy hasn’t used them first — was even more puzzling. “I would like everybody to end it, just get rid of it,” he said. “But I would certainly not do first strike.” Thus Trump casually appeared to support Obama’s Utopian desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons while also endorsing a “no first use” policy, something that is too radical even for Obama. Or perhaps Trump was saying he would not adopt a “no first use” policy? It’s impossible to tell.
But wait, as they say on late night TV (Trump’s natural domain), there’s more. Speaking of the North Korean nuclear program, Trump said: “China should solve that problem for us. China should go into North Korea.” After encouraging a Chinese invasion of North Korea, he suggested that Iran should have solved the North Korea problem as part of the Iran nuclear deal: “Iran is one of their biggest trading partners. Iran has power over North Korea.”
Donald Trump is quite literally the first person ever to suggest that Iran could stop the North Korean nuclear program. That he is saying something so outlandish before one of the biggest TV audiences in history suggests that he is not only ignorant but also — and even more worrying — uneducable.
It’s hard to imagine that any aide suggested this talking point to Trump. He came up with it on his own. As he said back in March, when asked about his foreign policy advisers: “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.” He definitely has said a lot of things — and the more he talks the more obvious he makes it that he is totally unfit to be commander in chief.