This week’s anti-Trump CW seems to be ‘he’s deranged.’ He rambles and digresses. He turned a one-day Star-of-David story into a three day Star-of-David story! He went off about a mosquito! He stepped on the Hillary email news.
My reaction: With one big exception, none of this is close to deal-breaking. Trump’s the high-risk, high-reward candidate. The potential reward: He’s right on at least four (4) big issues that the pros have been wrong about. 1) The need to moderate free trade dogma to make sure the left-behind unskilled have jobs and decent wages again; 2) Ditto immigration policy; 3) No radical reengineering of Social Security or Medicare, the only secure framework many American have 4) Skepticism about neo-con military projects (e.g. wars). You don’t usually find those in the same place.
And the risk? Even if Trump is as loose a cannon as critics say, there’s a limit to the amount of damage he can do domestically (given the constitutional restraints on presidential power, among other things). If he’s as vindictive, authoritarian and foul-mouthed as Nixon but builds a wall, mandates e-verify, protects Medicare — well, that’s a good bargain.
The trouble is foreign affairs. The damage a loose cannon (or mere amateur) can do dealing with other nations is exponentially greater — and that’s before you consider the world’s stockpiles of nuclear weapons. A few month’s ago Politico produced a heavy-handed hit piece designed to scare non-expert readers about the possibility of Trump’s finger on the button. It scared me! Polls suggest this concern is shared by the voters. A recent Pew poll found Hillary favored on “making wise foreign policy decisions” by a 54-36 margin — impressive for someone who pushed the unwise Libyan intervention. A CNN survey mid-June found Trump beating Clinton 51-43 on handling the economy, but getting clobbered, 36-57, on foreign policy.
This seems like a tough issue to defuse. A president may not be able to launch a late-night nuke strike the way he can launch a late-night tweet, but it’s close! There might not be a lot of time to deliberate. Trump seems the sort to question seemingly settled CW, as in ‘We have an advantage in nukes. Why not use it?”
Still, there are probably ways for Trump to put voters minds at ease. The most obvious way: through his vice presidential pick. Certainly defusing the finger-on-the-button issue seems more important, for Trump, than almost anything else he might practically be able to achieve through his pick of a #2.
What sort of #2 would do the job? Well, a proven military figure, most obviously–someone used to making these sorts of decisions and willing to stand up to a mere politician. Some of the names are familiar — McChrystal, Petraeus (both abandoned by Obama), McRaven, Nicholson,, Votel. The much-rumored Gen. Flynn. Or maybe a military-adjacent terrorism expert like former CIA official Mike Morell. ** Most may not be willing to run with Trump. His job is to find the one who is — and to build from there a foreign policy team that will convince enough voters that under Trump a) we won’t accidentally start wars; b) we won’t intentionally start “stupid wars;” c) we will have a relentless and focused strategy against ISIS.
Ann Coulter, in a recent column, disagrees. She argues Trump should name someone who agrees with him on the main animating issue of his campaign — immigration control:
How is Trump going to find a decent running mate from among the Republicans who have gotten ahead under the old model of sucking up to donors and lobbyists?”
Of course, a general wouldn’t have gotten ahead that way. And before Trump can try to control immigration, he has to win. Maybe Trump could find a two-fer general who agrees with him on immigration — you wouldn’t think the armed services would be a hotbed of open borders sentiment. But if he can’t, he should settle for a respected military or defense figure who can guarantee foreign policy acceptability, especially nuclear surefootedness. There are things more important than immigration. (If you quote me on that I will deny it.)
** — Yes, sources I trust fed me these names. I’m not a defense expert.