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 Times’ report 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
“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
The best reason for conservatives to withhold their support from Donald Trump is that he cannot be trusted to lead America’s foreign policy or command its military. For many this is so self-evident given Trump’s character and the lack of normal political constraints under which he operates, that there’s no need to elaborate. But some need convincing.
Many of Trump’s supporters are happy that he seems to have taken on the foreign policy orthodoxies of his party. They want an America that doesn’t waste trillions of dollars in fruitless efforts like turning Iraq into a democracy, or helping Libyan rebels only to see that country become an operating base for ISIS. They know that Hillary Clinton’s instinct is to use American air power in the name of human rights even if it leads to pro-Islamist outcomes, whether in Kosovo or Libya. In fact, I want and believe the same things.
But there aren’t strong reasons to believe Trump is any better than Clinton when it comes to making peace. In fact, he may be much worse.
Trump supported all the dumb wars and interventions that he now claims to have been against. He supported President George W. Bush on invading Iraq. Though he says he was against it, Trump supported the intervention in Libya in the most anti-realist terms possible when he said, “We’ve got to go in and save these lives.” He is just all over the place, saying that we shouldn’t be involved in Syria, and then a few minutes later saying that the U.S. should create safe zones in Syria.
The simple explanation for these changes is that Donald Trump hasn’t ever thought hard about foreign policy; he simply has an instinct for where public opinion is at any moment on any given war and runs ahead of it. That’s fine for someone holding forth at the bar stool. It’s disastrous in a man who sits in the Oval Office.
Almost the entirety of the foreign policy establishment is against Donald Trump. That includes not just the hawkish neoconservatives, but also the foreign policy realists who would be the only group of advisors that could shape Trump’s “America First” foreign policy into a real alternative to the last 25 years of post-Cold War interventionism. He would simply be disarmed of the kind of expertise needed to run America’s foreign policy. Getting his way with the full-time employed members of the State and Defense Departments will prove difficult and lead to upheaval or administrative gridlock, at best.
Trump has named a handful of under-qualified foreign policy hands. Some of them are quite alarming in themselves, like Walid Phares, who has repeatedly sounded the bell that Muslims have a secret plot to take over America and impose sharia law.
Trump seems to believe any and every conspiracy theory that passes by his nose — not just that vaccines cause Down syndrome or that Barack Obama may be a secret Kenyan. He has said he believed that Obama struck a deal with the Saudis to keep oil prices low ahead of his re-election in 2012. If you thought that it was bad when the Bush administration came to believe its own bad intelligence, imagine what a Trump administration would do when the president wants to believe something. Beyond that, Trump has promised that American military members will commit war crimes and other acts of torture on his say-so, merely because he is Donald Trump.
America is already too quick to use its military power to try to shape outcomes in far-off places throughout the world. This defect would only be exacerbated if a person with Trump’s twitchy sense of honor and aggression steps into the role of commander-in-chief.
The very fact that most of the elected officials of the Republican Party — including those that once called Trump a “cancer,” a “con artist,” or an “erratic individual” who can’t be trusted with America’s nuclear arsenal — have lined up to endorse him or even become his vice president shows that our political class is unlikely to resist him doing something truly dangerous if he is perceived as popular. Too many, when faced with the choice between their high principles and Trump, chose Trump as an expediency. We should not tempt them with a choice between their president and the security of our nation.
By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, May 30, 2016
At the end of a post listing various and sundry ways that Hillary Clinton could lose to Donald Trump in November, the Washington Post‘s James Hohmann offers this familiar “reminder”:
Don’t forget, history is not on Hillary’s side. Since World War II, only once has a party controlled the White House for three consecutive terms. (George H.W. Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan by beating Mike Dukakis in 1988.)
You hear this one a lot. Truth is, it’s an example of a conclusion reached via taking a very small sample and ignoring the details.
The argument excludes the first post–World War II election, in 1948, since that was an election that gave Democrats control of the White House for a fifth consecutive term. There are five elections that meet the definition: 1960, 1968, 1988, 2000, and 2008. As Hohmann noted, the incumbent party won one of these, in 1988. But then the incumbent party also won the popular vote in 2000; I imagine Democrats this year would settle for that precedent, given how incredibly unlikely it is that the Supreme Court will again step in to award the presidency to the popular-vote loser. So we’re now up to 40 percent of the elections defying “history,” even if you don’t count 1948.
Democrats won in 1960 and Republicans in 1968 in two of the closest presidential elections in history. And neither victory was the product of a straightforward election following some iron law of political science. Republicans lost in 1960 in no small part because JFK attracted a very high percentage of the Catholic vote — a classic onetime event. And you may recall many crazy things happened in 1968, including assassinations, riots, and the turning point of an unpopular war.
That leaves 2008, where Republicans failed to win a third consecutive term not because history shouted “STOP,” or even because voters were naturally restless after two GOP terms. Two events always viewed as “fundamental” game-changers both occurred: a war dragging on and becoming deeply unpopular, and the economy falling apart.
So, truth be told, there’s no “normal” two-terms-is-enough pattern we can point to that makes a GOP win — much less a Donald Trump win — this November significantly more likely. But we’ll keep hearing about it. And if Clinton wins, the next time the situation recurs we’ll hear “Since World War II, only twice … ”
By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 17, 2016
As Donald Trump made the transition from Republican presidential frontrunner to presumptive Republican presidential nominee, one of the more common words in GOP circles has been “unity.” As in, “How in the world will the party achieve anything resembling ‘unity’ with this nativist demagogue at the top of the Republican ticket?”
For his part, Trump has said, on multiple occasions, that he can and will bring the party together. Yesterday on ABC, however, the Republican candidate, no doubt aware of the broader circumstances, suggested that unifying the party may be an overrated goal.
“Does [the party] have to be unified? I’m very different than everybody else, perhaps, that’s ever run for office. I actually don’t think so,” Trump told George Stephanopoulos in an interview that will air Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week.” […]
“I think it would be better if it were unified, I think it would be – there would be something good about it. But I don’t think it actually has to be unified in the traditional sense,” Trump said.
It’s an unexpected posture, borne of conditions outside of Trump’s control. Less than a week after wrapping up the nomination, the Republican candidate has stopped looking for ways to bring the party together and started looking for ways to justify intra-party strife as a tolerable inconvenience – not because Trump wants to, but because so many in the party are repulsed by his candidacy.
The New York Times added over the weekend, “Since a landslide victory in Indiana made him the presumptive Republican nominee, Mr. Trump has faced a shunning from party leaders that is unprecedented in modern politics. Mr. Trump has struggled to make peace with senior lawmakers and political donors whom he denounced during the Republican primaries, and upon whose largess he must now rely.”
In a fitting twist, Republicans are divided over the nature of their divisions. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, for example, became one of the most notable GOP Trump endorsers Friday, despite Trump’s condemnation of the Bush/Cheney administration’s handling of 9/11 and the war in Iraq.
Cheney probably wasn’t thrilled about extending his support, but he’s a Republican, Trump’s the presumptive Republican nominee, and apparently that’s the end of the discussion. For the former vice president, partisan considerations are, for all intents and purposes, the only consideration. (The fact that Trump is a cheerleader for torture probably helped tilt the scales for Cheney.)
But the former vice president’s announcement was striking in part because so many other national Republican leaders are moving in the exact opposite direction.
Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush have both said they will stay out of the 2016 race and withhold their official support from their party’s nominee. Jeb Bush, a former Trump rival, signed a pledge last year promising to support the GOP’s 2016 candidate, but he’s since decided to break that promise and oppose Trump.
I haven’t yet seen a comprehensive list of every notable Republican officeholder who has vowed to withhold support for Trump, but as best as I can tell, the list would include at least three sitting governors (Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker, Illinois’ Bruce Rauner, and Maryland’s Larry Hogan), three sitting U.S. senators (South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, Nevada’s Dean Heller), and 10 or so U.S. House members. If we include former officials, the list grows much longer.
And then, of course, there’s 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, who’s vowed to oppose Trump, and his former running mate, current House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who said Thursday he’s not yet ready to decide either way. Many more in the GOP have offered grudging support along the lines of, “I’ll back my party’s nominee, but let’s not call it an ‘endorsement,’ and for the love of God, please don’t make me say his name out loud.”
It’s tempting to look for some kind of modern parallel for a dynamic like this, but there really isn’t one. The only thing that comes close was when far-right Southern “Dixiecrats,” outraged by Democratic support for civil rights, broke off in 1948 and 1968, en route to becoming Republicans.
Those examples probably don’t offer much of a parallel here – or at least GOP officials have to hope not.
The more immediate question, of course, is whether a party divided against itself can stand. According to Trump, unity is an unnecessary luxury, though if you’re thinking this sounds like wishful thinking, you’re not alone. Given the presumptive Republican nominee’s unpopularity, Trump has very little margin for error, and having a sizable chunk of his party express contempt for his campaign poses an existential electoral risk. Winning primaries in a divided party is vastly easier than what Trump will face in November.
There’s a school of thought, of course, that says all of this strife will eventually pass. Emotions are still raw – the last contested primary was less than a week ago – and the argument goes that wayward Republicans will “come home” by the fall.
In a typical election cycle, this model would certainly apply, but this isn’t a normal year; Trump isn’t a normal candidate; and the scope and scale of the fissures in Republican politics are without modern precedent.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 9, 2016