Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump points towards a demonstrator in the audience as he spoke at an election rally in Kansas City, Mo., March 12, 2016. 
Photo by Nati Harnik/AP

On national security, Trump lays down a marker: The buck stops elsewhere

Updated
Over the weekend, with his Muslim ban paused by the courts, Donald Trump lashed out at a federal judge and the judicial process itself. Practically every president has faced setbacks in the courts, but Trump is the first in modern history to lash out directly at a sitting jurist for ruling in a way the White House didn’t like.

But this president wasn’t just undermining confidence in the court system, which was problematic on its own terms, he was also laying down a marker. “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril,” Trump said via Twitter. “If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”

In reality, people aren’t “pouring in” – the visa process still exists, and refugees still have to go through a lengthy vetting process – but the key takeaway was the fact that the sitting president was preemptively blaming a judge for hypothetical violence that may not happen.

The Washington Post noted that the tweet is part of Trump’s larger rhetorical push to shield himself from responsibility.
President Trump appears to be laying the groundwork to preemptively shift blame for any future terrorist attack on U.S. soil from his administration to the federal judiciary, as well as to the media. […]

Trump’s terrorism blame-game is in keeping with how he ran his campaign, looking for scapegoats at nearly every turn. He often blamed his own failings – a poor debate performance or a gaffe or a primary loss – on the media or other perceived enemies, and he fed his own conspiracies that his adversaries were out to undermine him.
As NBC News’ Benjy Sarlin added, the president also went out of his way to blame his own defense secretary, James Mattis, for his administration’s decision not to torture, at least for now. “I happen to feel that [torture] does work,” Trump said two weeks ago. “I’ve been open about that for a long period of time. But I am going with our leaders. And we’re going to win with or without. But I do disagree.”

How quickly do you suppose Trump will say, in the event of a tragedy, “See how right I was about the need for torture?”

There is, of course, a larger context to this. The president, who has literally no background in matters of foreign policy, national security, or counter-terrorism, is just now confronting life-and-death responsibilities for the first time. He’s also starting to receive regular intelligence briefings – I was going to say “daily” briefings, but whether Trump actually receives daily updates is unclear – about potential threats that are very likely scary to him.

Confronted with actual information and responsibilities for the first time, it’s easy to imagine the president saying to himself, “Something horrible might happen on my watch. What can I do now to avoid responsibility later?”

This preemptive campaign to point fingers elsewhere isn’t pretty, but it’s apparently the best strategy Trump has come up with. Harry Truman famously embraced the motto that the bucks stops with him, but generations later, there’s a new president who believes the buck stops with anyone but him.

It’s a shame Trump is so eager to play the blame game. It’s equally unfortunate he’s so bad at it.


Counter-Terrorism and Donald Trump

On national security, Trump lays down a marker: The buck stops elsewhere

Updated