Trump bluffs past another crisis – Politico
Donald Trump’s enemies have been waiting for his Sarah Palin moment. On Thursday night, they got it.
Trump whiffed on a foreign policy query about the leaders of major terrorist organizations and of Iran’s Quds Force. His ignorance of General Qasem Soleimani and his inability to distinguish between the “Quds Force” and the Kurdish people immediately became the focus of the national conversation.
But then the event took a distinctly Trumpian turn: The candidate not only didn’t apologize or express any regret, he launched an attack on his questioner, conservative talk-show host Hugh Hewitt, as a “third-rate radio announcer.”
Trump has gone down this path before: After a bruising exchange over his use of derogatory terms like “fat pig” to describe women he didn’t like, Trump took heavy aim at his questioner, Megyn Kelly, and never looked back.
It didn’t bother him that Kelly and Hewitt are conservative icons; they were nagging members of the press, and he was forceful, unapologetic, and undeterred — a posture that seems to mean more to his supporters than the fact that he didn’t know the structure of Iran’s military or the basics of anti-terrorism policy, as Jeb Bush and other critics were quick to note.
“I’m not sure that anyone in America believes or has an expectation that Donald Trump knows who General Soleimani is or what the Quds force is,” said former John McCain adviser Steve Schmidt, who worked alongside Palin when she was the Arizona senator’s running mate. “The notion that Donald Trump isn’t knowledgeable on a range of issues is fairly self-evident, but it doesn’t seem to be hurting.”
“Did anyone think that Donald Trump had a certain grasp of this or that particular Jihadist Movement?” asked Michael Goldfarb, former Palin foreign policy adviser and a founder of the conservative publication the Washington Free Beacon, who added “I’d prefer he knew them.”
Nonetheless, foreign policy gaffes have proved damaging to candidates in the past. Palin’s inability to cite the newspapers that she read and insistence that Alaska’s proximity to Russia gave her foreign policy experience in a September 2008 interview with Katie Couric instantly stamped her as a policy lightweight, stoking concerns about her fitness for the vice presidency.
But many of those candidates compounded their mistakes by trying, unpersuasively, to insist that they were up to speed on foreign affairs. Trump, for his part, breezily dismissed the question and his own lack of knowledge as irrelevant.
“And by the way, when you say Quds vs. Kurds, I thought he said Kurds, this third-rate radio announcer that I did the show [for],” Trump said Friday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “It was like ‘gotcha, gotcha.’ Every question was, do I know this one and that one. You know, he worked hard on that. I thought he said Kurds. By the way, I do think the Kurds, while we’re on it, I do think the Kurds are not being utilized properly and not being treated properly by us.”
It was an extension of the deal-making persona that Trump showcases on “The Apprentice” — the refusal to show weakness that has won him many admirers. If his own confidence is undented, why should others lose confidence in him?
And his implication that the gaffe was meaningless, a trifle, played on voters’ perception that many of his competitors lack foreign policy know-how, as well.
While committing unforced errors — as Scott walker did earlier this year when he compared pro-union protestors in Wisconsin to the Islamic State — is one thing, Schmidt said, he does not expect all candidates to be conversant in the minutiae of foreign policy this early in the primary process.
“He’s not the only candidate up on the debate stage that can’t tell the difference between a Sunni, a Shiite and a Kangaroo,” said Schmidt.
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, which is co-sponsoring Trump’s rally with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz against the Iran nuclear deal next week, also said he believes other candidates would likely whiff on the question.
“Many of our most recent presidents had minimum knowledge of foreign affairs — Bill Clinton who was a governor; Barack Obama who spent a year in the Senate. So neither of them knew very much about foreign affairs, and we just hope that they have the right instincts and are quick studies,” he said. “If we’re concerned about a candidate running who doesn’t know foreign policy backwards and forwards, you can forget about any governors running … and frankly many others.”
Klein added that he was more concerned with Trump’s comment on “Morning Joe” that he was open to allowing Syrian Muslim refugees into the United States than he was about his knowledge of the Quds Force.
Even Trump antagonist and presidential rival Rand Paul shrugged off the stumble. “I’m not into defending Donald Trump, and you won’t find it very often, but I think some interviewers do like to play this game,” said the Kentucky senator on Friday morning on “The Michael Smerconish Program.”
Trump’s stumbles with Hewitt, more than a year out from the general election, are reminiscent of George W. Bush’s November 1999 interview with a local reporter in Boston in which the Texas governor was asked to name the leaders of four strategically vital nations, could only sort-of name one of them and lashed out at his interviewer. ”Wait, wait, is this 50 questions?’ Bush protested.
The interview contributed to the perception that Bush lacked policy depth — at that early stage in the campaign, he had already botched the names of a number of foreign nationalities, including calling Greeks “Grecians” — even though that perception did not prevent him from winning the presidency twice.
But tolerance for ignorance has its limits, as Rick Perry learned when his first presidential bid collapsed after he failed to name the three federal agencies he planned to axe in a 2011 debate.
And the tough questions will keep coming, said, Robert O’Brien, a foreign policy adviser to Walker. “That interview should be a wakeup call for anybody who’s preparing for the [upcoming] debate in Simi Valley at the Reagan Library”