One of the more unintentionally amusing moments of the Republican National Convention came last night when RNC Chairman Reince Priebus took the stage. The party leader declared with great confidence that Republicans “believe America is the greatest country in the world,” before insisting that electing Hillary Clinton would mean “forgetting our friends and enabling our enemies.”
Literally the day before, Donald Trump told the New York Times that Americans have no moral authority on the global stage given “how bad the United States is,” and that he might not defend our NATO allies if attacked, effectively giving Russia’s Vladimir Putin carte blanche to start planning offensives in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
It was as if Reince Priebus had no idea what his own party’s presidential candidate is proposing.
The rest of the world, however, took careful note. Diplomats in the United States and abroad recoiled at Trump’s profoundly dangerous vision for international affairs, as did a variety of Republican officials, who were no doubt stunned to hear their party’s presidential nominee trash his own country and decades’ worth of bipartisan foreign policy consensus simultaneously.
But as the New York Times reported yesterday afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tried to take a more forgiving approach.
“It is the most successful military alliance in the history of the world,” Mr. McConnell said during an interview at his convention headquarters in downtown Cleveland. “I want to reassure our NATO allies should any of them be attacked, we will be there to defend them.”“I am willing to kind of chalk it up to a rookie mistake,” he said. “I don’t think there is anybody he would choose to be secretary of defense or secretary of state who would have a different view from my own.”
First, it doesn’t reassure our NATO allies when McConnell’s preferred presidential candidate declares publicly his willingness to abandon them if they’re attacked. If given a choice whom to believe, foreign leaders are going to listen to a president over a senator.
Second, when it comes to issues like these, “rookie mistakes” are genuinely terrifying. (Given that Trump has made similar comments before, there’s literally nothing to suggest the GOP presidential hopeful considers his comments a “mistake.”)
But third and perhaps most important is McConnell’s belief that Trump’s secretary of defense and/or secretary of state will (a) disagree with their boss’ foreign policy; and (b) override their president’s judgment in the event of an international crisis.
In other words, as far as the Senate Majority Leader is concerned, NATO members can rest easy: if Russia invades, and President Trump decides to do nothing, Republicans are confident there will be a coup d’etat in which Trump’s cabinet members replace the president’s judgment with their own.
I know I’m probably in a very small minority, but I look at Trump’s interview with the Times as the point at which his candidacy descended into madness. No presidential hopeful in American history has ever trashed the United States’ moral authority and vowed to abandon our allies like this – out loud, on the record – and it deserves to be a genuine scandal.