Donald Trump won’t shut up and he won’t bow out of the presidential race. So stop asking or demanding, like the editors of the New York Daily News.
Let’s face it: This election is now well beyond the rational. Wish has taken over thought. More than a few pundits have pointed out that Trump “says the unsayable.” Holman W. Jenkins Jr. of the Wall Street Journal intended it as an almost backhanded compliment. For Martin Wolf of the Financial Times, Trump’s uninterrupted logorrhea is one more piece of evidence that the end of the republic is nigh.
To his great credit, however, Trump has reopened debates long thought settled on free trade, immigration and U.S. foreign engagement. He’s forced Republicans and Democrats alike to check their assumptions. He’s also driven “respectable” politicians and commentators batty. It’s great.
Of course, he’s also dragged political discourse further into the gutter and runs the risk of making a reasonable discussion about trade, national security and foreign policy completely radioactive. That’s not so great.
“Radioactive” is the right word. Last week, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough told the harrowing story of a “foreign policy expert on the international level” who paid Trump a visit a few months ago. “Three times he asked about the use of nuclear weapons,” Scarborough said. “Three times he asked, at one point, ‘If we have them, why can’t we use them?’ ”
I heard a similar story recently from a Republican member of Congress. The implication is that Trump wants to use nukes. At the very least, he seems to have murky ideas about the difference between strategy and tactics; this is a candidate, remember, who didn’t know what the “nuclear triad” is.
Maybe the most charitable explanation is that Trump is taking the U.S. posture of “strategic ambiguity” to a whole new level. (Or is that just more wishful thinking?)
Trump certainly seemed ambiguous this week when he said that if Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton gets to name judges to the Supreme Court, “nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”
More than a few people – including the Secret Service, reportedly – took that to mean he was suggesting Clinton’s assassination. Trump appeared on Hugh Hewitt’s national talk radio show Thursday, where he clarified his remarks.
Hewitt asked Trump if he intended to incite violence against Clinton. “No, of course not, and people know that,” Trump replied. “We’re talking about the power of the voter. We’re talking about the tremendous power, and you understand this probably better than anybody, the power behind the Second Amendment, the strength behind the Second Amendment.”
That’s pretty deft. In the United States, with the exception of an unpleasant period between 1861 and 1865, we settle our political differences with ballots, not bullets. But the Second Amendment is a lot like the nuclear deterrent the Republican national security establishment worries that Trump doesn’t understand. Judging from his comments on the radio, Trump understands deterrence very well.
Then Hewitt asked Trump about yet another provocation, calling President Barack Obama the “founder” of the Islamic State. The host tried to put the most charitable spin on the remarks as he could.
“You meant that he created the vacuum,” Hewitt said. “He lost the peace.”
Trump would have none of that. “No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS,” Trump replied. “I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.”
“But he’s not sympathetic to them,” Hewitt interjected. “He hates them. He’s trying to kill them.”
“I don’t care,” Trump said. “He was the founder.”
Now, just about every professional pundit and political consultant in America would hear that and say, “Trump just doomed himself.” Of course, they’ve been saying that for a year now.
Hewitt tried to advise Trump on what to say. “I’d just use different language to communicate it,” the host said.
And Trump’s answer? “But they wouldn’t talk about your language, and they do talk about my language, right?”
Right. Trump knows what he’s doing. That’s why it’s wishful thinking to count him out.