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“Impressed By His Efficiency”: For His Next Trick, Trump Offers Praise For Saddam Hussein

Donald Trump’s views on Iraq have long been at odds with Republican Party orthodoxy. The GOP candidate, for example, has said more than once that he believes the Bush/Cheney administration “lied” about weapons of mass destruction. Trump also likes to say he opposed the U.S. invasion from the start – a claim that’s patently false.

But the presumptive 2016 Republican nominee also appears to be the only politician in America who’s willing to publicly praise Saddam Hussein.

Donald Trump praised former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein Tuesday night, allowing that he was a “really bad guy” but had redeeming qualities when it came to his handling of terrorists.

Trump lauded the former U.S. adversary for how “well” he killed terrorists, recalling that he “didn’t read them the rights, they didn’t talk. They were terrorists, over.”

Oh. So in Trump’s mind, Hussein may have been “bad,” but Trump is nevertheless impressed by the efficiency with which the Butcher of Baghdad massacred people without regard for due process.

Let’s also note that the Republican’s praise is at odds with reality. As the New York Timesreport noted, Trump’s recollections of Saddam Hussein thwarting terrorists “are not grounded in fact. While Mr. Hussein’s interests were not aligned with jihadists … Iraq was listed as a state sponsor of terrorism by the State Department before the 2003 invasion. In the 1980s, Mr. Hussein fired scud missiles at Israel and used chemical weapons on tens of thousands of Iraqis.”

If Trump’s admiration for Saddam Hussein’s policies seems familiar, it’s because last night wasn’t the first time the GOP candidate praised the Iraqi dictator, though as defenses go, I’m not sure it helps his case to say, “Donald Trump keeps expressing admiration for Hussein.”

But as remarkable as it is to have an American presidential candidate publicly complimenting Saddam Hussein over and over again, there’s also the broader pattern of Trump praising authoritarian regimes.

I’m reminded of something Hillary Clinton said in a speech last month:

“I have to say, I don’t understand Donald’s bizarre fascination with dictators and strongmen who have no love for America. He praised China for the Tiananmen Square massacre; he said it showed strength. He said, ‘You’ve got to give Kim Jong Un credit’ for taking over North Korea – something he did by murdering everyone he saw as a threat, including his own uncle, which Donald described gleefully, like he was recapping an action movie. And he said if he were grading Vladimir Putin as a leader, he’d give him an A.

“Now, I’ll leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants.”

I take Clinton’s point, but perhaps it’s best not to leave this to the psychiatrists. Rather, it may be worthwhile for all of us – voters, journalists, officials in the political arena – to come to terms with Donald J. Trump and his frequent admiration for authoritarian regimes.

As of last night, it seemed some conservatives weren’t altogether pleased with the GOP candidate’s judgment. John Podhoretz, for example, responded to Trump’s praise of Hussein by saying the presumptive 2016 nominee is “f—ing insane,” while Amanda Carpenter, a former aide to Ted Cruz, added, Seriously. “How do you screw up messaging Hillary’s ‘extreme carelessness’ by praising Saddam freaking Hussein”?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 6, 2016

July 6, 2016 Posted by | Dictators, Donald Trump, Saddam Hussein | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Politically Inconvenient Truths”: Gingrich Shows How Far He’ll Go To Be Vice President

One month ago today, Newt Gingrich was asked to comment on Donald Trump’s racist remarks about Judge Gonzalo Curiel, and the former House Speaker was surprisingly candid. “This is one of the worst mistakes Trump has made,” Gingrich said, adding that the presidential hopeful’s comments were “inexcusable.”

A few days later, however, the Georgia Republican remembered that he might be a top contender to become Trump’s running mate – which led Gingrich to walk back everything he’d just said. The former Speaker told CNN that Trump is “learning very, very fast” and taking the necessary steps “to win the presidency.”

What about Trump’s “inexcusable” mistake? “Any effort to take one or two phrases out of the 90-minute dialogue and say, ‘Gee, Gingrich was anti-Trump,’ is just nonsense,” he said.

Late last week, as Politico noted, we saw a related shift.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, under consideration as Donald Trump’s running mate, is dropping his decades-long support of free trade deals and picking up Trump’s strongly protectionist position.

“I basically agree with Trump’s speech on trade,” Gingrich said in an email to POLITICO on Friday.

Gingrich wasn’t just a passive proponent of modern trade agreements; he championed many of the trade deals Trump is now running against. Trump, for example, has repeatedly condemned NAFTA, which Gingrich not only voted, he also literally stood alongside then-President Bill Clinton when it was signed into law.

 Slate’s Josh Voorhees added that Gingrich continued to voice support for trade agreements after he was driven from Congress, including having been “a vocal cheerleader of permanent trade relations with China.”

That is, until Gingrich decided he had a shot at the VP slot, at which point he discovered he “basically agrees” with the presidential candidate he’s eager to impress.

So, here’s my question: if the vice presidential nomination goes to someone else, will Gingrich go back to his previous beliefs or stick with these politically convenient new ones?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 5, 2016

July 6, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, Vice-President Candidates | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In The Land Of His Imagination”: Even Donald Trump’s Most Presidential Speech Was A Bizarre, Lie-Riddled Fantasy

On Wednesday, Donald Trump gave one of the most presidential speeches he’s ever delivered — which is to say, a speech that was written out beforehand and which he read off a teleprompter, without his usual digressions into his spectacular performance in the polls and the scum-sucking lowlifes who have filed lawsuits against him (or are judges in those lawsuits). But just when you think Trump is going to put together a logical and persuasive case on something — in this speech, the all-encompassing villainy of Hillary Clinton was the topic — he dashes off into the land of his imagination, spinning out a weird series of easily debunked lies and bizarre fantasies.

This pattern repeated itself over and over in Trump’s speech (you can read the prepared text here; there were some off-the-cuff embellishments, but not too many). He would start with a reasonable critique: for instance, that Clinton supported NAFTA, which cost Americans jobs. But then he would take that critique to an absurd place: “Hillary Clinton gave China millions of our best jobs, and effectively let China completely rebuild itself. In return, Hillary Clinton got rich!”

After trade, Trump moved on to Benghazi, of course. Setting a serious tone, Trump said, “She started the war that put [Ambassador Chris Stevens] in Libya, denied him the security he asked for, then left him there to die.” Trump continued with this fanciful exploration of the full breadth and depth of Clinton’s power, which apparently existed on a scale that would make kings and presidents seem like tiny bugs the titanic Hillary could brush off her shoulder:

In just four years, Secretary Clinton managed to almost single-handedly destabilize the entire Middle East.

Her invasion of Libya handed the country over to the ISIS barbarians.

Thanks to Hillary Clinton, Iran is now the dominant Islamic power in the Middle East, and on the road to nuclear weapons.

Hillary Clinton’s support for violent regime change in Syria has thrown the country into one of the bloodiest civil wars anyone has ever seen — while giving ISIS a launching pad for terrorism against the West.

She helped force out a friendly regime in Egypt and replace it with the radical Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian military has retaken control, but Clinton has opened the Pandora’s box of radical Islam. [Donald Trump]

Let’s recap. You may have thought there was a revolution in Libya to overthrow longtime despot Moammar Gadhafi, a revolution that accomplished its initial goal with some help from the United States. This apparently is not correct; it turns out that what actually happened was that Hillary Clinton invaded Libya. Iran’s influence in the region? All because Hillary Clinton wanted it that way. Syria’s civil war? Started by Hillary Clinton. All those people you saw protesting Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Cairo’s Tahrir Square? Sent there by Hillary Clinton, I suppose, who then engineered the ensuing election to make sure the Muslim Brotherhood won. Radical Islam? Non-existent before Hillary Clinton came along (but don’t tell al Qaeda).

I won’t bother to go through the long list of lies Trump told through the rest of his speech (that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, that there’s no system to vet refugees, etc.) But whenever Trump began a legitimate critique of Clinton, it would inevitably go off the rails. It’s fine to criticize her use of private email at the State Department, which was a mistake. But Trump says that in the personal emails her attorneys segregated from those to be sent to the State Department and which were then deleted, there were terrifying secrets. “While we may not know what is in those deleted emails, our enemies probably do. So they probably now have a blackmail file over someone who wants to be president of the United States. This fact alone disqualifies her from the presidency. We can’t hand over our government to someone whose deepest, darkest secrets may be in the hands of our enemies.”

I suppose if you use “probably” as a modifier you can say whatever you want, like “Donald Trump probably keeps his hair soft and manageable by shampooing in the blood of kittens.” Do we know that, or have any concrete evidence that it might be true? No. But it probably is, right?

I have no doubt that Trump’s most ardent fans eat stuff like this up. When he calls Clinton “the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency,” they cheer in agreement. But Trump’s task isn’t to delight his supporters, it’s to win over people who aren’t already in his camp. But only someone who is already a Trump voter could be persuaded by that kind of ridiculous hyperbole.

And that’s what Trump is like when he’s being presidential.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, June 23, 2016

June 25, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Middle East | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Deep Irony At Work”: Forget What You’ve Heard. Donald Trump Isn’t Really Challenging Conservative Orthodoxy

There used to be a standard operating procedure for Republican presidential candidates when they got asked about the Supreme Court. Avoid talking about specific issues you hope the Court will decide, don’t mention any specific people you want to put on the bench, and just offer some vague principles that sound good to everybody but are actually meant as dog-whistles to reassure your conservative supporters that they’ll get the kind of appointments they want. Your model justice would be an advocate of “judicial restraint,” who “won’t legislate from the bench” and who “respects the intent of the Founders.”

But as in so many things, Donald Trump doesn’t play by those rules. Instead, he just released a list of 11 judges from whom he says he’ll choose his Supreme Court picks.

In doing so, Trump demonstrated to conservatives why there’s almost no reason for them not to get behind him.

But that’s not because the list shows that he shares their perspective or will be ideologically reliable. It’s because it’s yet more evidence that when it comes to the things conservatives think are important, Donald Trump just doesn’t care one way or the other. And that means they can get almost everything they want out of a Trump presidency.

As our reporters Jenna Johnson and Robert Barnes wrote, “Trump’s picks looked more like a wish list of the nation’s conservative legal elite than the product of a political revolutionary.” And that’s because, I promise you, Trump just told somebody to put together a list, looked at it, and said it seems fine. He had previously said he’d let the Heritage Foundation assemble his list, while this one has some of their picks and a few others. But I’ll bet that if you asked him today who’s on his list, he couldn’t give you more than one or two names. Even though, as I’ve been arguing for the last couple of years, the Supreme Court may be the single most important issue in this election, there’s nothing to suggest that Trump much cares about who he puts on it. Which means conservatives get what they want.

Some people, myself included, argue that we focus way too much on personality in the presidential campaign (as interesting as personalities are), because what matters more than anything is the basic ideological distinctions between the parties. Yes, the individual characteristics each president brings to the office can make a difference; for instance, Barack Obama is extremely cautious about foreign entanglements, while Hillary Clinton is likely to be more aggressive when it comes to getting involved in hotspots around the globe. But on the vast majority of issues, what matters is whether there’s a Republican or a Democrat in the Oval Office. Any Republican will pursue basically the same set of policies as any other Republican, and the same is true of Democrats. Furthermore, they’re going to have to fill all those thousands of executive branch positions from the same pool of people. Each party has its own government-in-waiting when it’s out of power, cooling its heels in think tanks and advocacy groups and lobbying firms, waiting to move back into government when they win, no matter which contender from their party gets the nomination.

But there’s a deep irony at work with Donald Trump. He’s the least ideologically committed candidate we’ve seen in a very long time, at least since Eisenhower and maybe even before. To the broad public, he offers a Great Man theory of the presidency: don’t worry about issues, because with my huge brain, superhuman deal-making skills, and overall personal tremendousness, I will solve all our problems. Yet precisely because Trump doesn’t care in the least about any policy issues, conservatives may have no more to reason to fear that he’d betray them on policy than they would with a committed conservative like Ted Cruz.

How are things likely to proceed in his presidency? On the Supreme Court, he just takes a list from conservative activists. When Republicans in Congress craft legislation, is he going to stay up late at night going over each sub-section to make sure they reflect his beliefs? Of course not — they’ll pass it, he’ll sign it, and he won’t bother reading more than the title. Is he going to worry about who all his undersecretaries and deputy secretaries are, and make sure he agrees with the policy decisions they make? Not on your life. He’ll say, “Get me some fabulous people, really top-notch, the best” — and the Republicans around him will put the same people in those positions who would have served in any Republican administration.

Trump has said many things during the campaign that contradict conservative dogma. So what? If you’re a conservative worried about some policy stance Trump took today, you can just wait until the next time he gets asked about the same topic, and he’ll say something completely different. That may mean he isn’t committed to your position deep in his heart, but that doesn’t matter. If on a particular day as president he takes some policy stance that runs counter to conservative ideology, is he really going to care enough to pursue it, especially when the people around him are objecting? Or is he more likely to say, “Eh, whatever — what else is going on today?”

This has already been made clear on specific issues. As this blog has previously detailed, no matter how many times media outlets say otherwise, Trump did not actually signal that he might raise taxes on the rich or raise the minimum wage. All he has done was signal general vagueness born mostly of disinterest or lack of appreciation of policy detail, followed by clarifications that he would cut taxes on the rich and opposes the existence of any federal minimum.

There are a couple of exceptions, particularly trade, where conservatives are generally advocates of free trade and Trump seems determined to start a trade war with China. But even on what may be the issue most important to him, it’s hard to tell how his bombastic rhetoric would translate into actual policy decisions. So there too, the Republicans around him would have plenty of room to shape policy in their preferred direction. And yes, the fact that he’s so ignorant and erratic could have consequences that range from the problematic to the catastrophic. But that’s not an ideological question.

So if you’re a conservative, you can refuse to support Trump because he’s such a raging buffoon that there’s no telling what kind of damage he could do to the country. That’s more than enough reason to oppose him. But if what really matters to you is the substance of conservative ideology, you probably have nothing to worry about.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, May 19, 2016

May 23, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Donald Trump, GOP | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Trump Wants To Play Nice With Kim Jong Un”: What Does Trump Have That North Korea Wants?

Donald Trump has reprised his willingness to engage with autocrats. According to an exclusive interview with Reuters yesterday, Trump said he would be willing to speak to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the latest in a line of positive comments about strongmen around the world.

“I would speak to him, I would have no problem speaking to him,” said the likely Republican nominee. Trump said he would use his own strongman tactics against North Korea’s sole international supporter, China.

“I would put a lot of economic pressure on China because economically we have tremendous power over China. People don’t realize that,” he said of a nation of 1.3 billion people that makes up the world’s second largest economy to get North Korea to the table, given it is the Hermit Kingdom’s only major diplomatic and economic supporter. “And we have tremendous power over China. China can solve that problem with one meeting or one phone call.”

His hunch on how engaging with a country that has closed its borders to the world for over half a century appears incredibly naive. Asked how China could make a difference in North Korea’s stature, he said, “Because they have tremendous power over North Korea.”

He further tried to dispel questions about his knowledge of international affairs by reminding the interviewer that China, like North Korea, also had nuclear weapons.

But the bigger question, one left unasked by Reuters‘ reporters, remains. What does Trump have that North Korea wants? The country exists outside the capitalist global economy. Its leadership has maintained an iron grip over all public life, a grip that’s gotten even tighter since Kim Jong Un succeeded his father in 2011.

Sanctions have done little to dissuade it from continuing to pursue a nuclear program. Nor did the Sunshine Policies, a series of friendly actions enacted between 1998 and 2007 by South Korea which resulted in increased aid to the north, lead to changes in North Korea’s behavior.

“There are no positive changes to North Korea’s position that correspond to the support and cooperation offered by us,” said a report released by the South Korean government shortly after ending the program.

The Chinese government responded to the comments by also supporting dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea. “China supports direct talks and communication between the United States and North Korea. We believe this is beneficial,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei.

This is not the first time Trump has spoken positively of autocratic regimes. Last December, he praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as “a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.” Then in March, he drew the ire of many when he described the Tiananmen Square massacre as a “riot” that was “put down with strength.”

However, international politics requires more than the willingness to talk, especially when it comes to North Korea, a country whose leadership remains ideologically opposed to the U.S. and capitalism. North Korean propaganda depicts America as the literal embodiment of capitalist excess, and it’s uncertain if North Korean leadership would even be interested in speaking to Trump in the first place.

 

By: Saif Alnuweiri, The National Memo, May 19, 2016

May 19, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Foreign Policy, North Korea | , , , , | Leave a comment

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