Donald Trump’s first real interview on matters of foreign policy and national security clearly didn’t go well. Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt pressed the Republican frontrunner on a variety of key issues – the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah, for example – and the GOP presidential candidate not only struggled, Trump dismissed the questions themselves as “ridiculous.”
The second-day question, of course, is whether a candidate’s ignorance has any effect on his or her standing. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), talking earlier to CNN, clearly hopes to make Trump’s difficulties as consequential as possible.
“If you don’t know the answer to these questions, then you are not going to be able to serve as commander and chief,” Rubio told CNN in an interview here.“This should be part of the reason why you are running because you understand the threats that the world is facing, you have deep understanding and you understand what to do about it,” Rubio added. “And if someone doesn’t, I think it is very concerning.”
At face value, there’s probably something to this. Even if someone were to give Trump the benefit of the doubt – maybe he confused the Quds Forces and the Kurds because it was a phone interview and he misheard the host – major-party presidential candidates should know the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah. Heck, anyone who reads news articles once in a while about the Middle East should know the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah.
If Rubio wants to make the case that interviews like the Trump-Hewitt exchange point to a candidate who’s probably unprepared for national office, it’s a credible message.
The trouble, however, is with the messenger.
Rubio, a member of both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, is basing much of his campaign on his alleged expertise on international affairs. The far-right Floridian would love nothing more than to be seen as the candidate who has a “deep understanding” of “the threats that the world is facing.”
But Rubio has run into Trump-like problems of his own. Just last week, in a big speech on foreign policy, the GOP senator told an embarrassing whopper about military preparedness, touching on an issue Rubio should have understood far better.
In June, Rubio was asked about his approach towards Iraq. Told that his policy sounds like nation-building, the senator responded, “Well, it’s not nation-building. We are assisting them in building their nation.”
Just this year, Rubio has flubbed the details of Iran’s Green Revolution. His criticisms on the Obama administration’s approach towards Israel were quickly discredited as nonsense. His statements of nuclear diplomacy were practically gibberish.
In the spring, Rubio had a memorable confrontation with Secretary of State John Kerry, which was a debacle – the senator stumbled badly on several key details, and Kerry made him look pretty foolish.
Soon after, Rhonda Swan, a Florida-based journalist, wrote that the Republican senator “should be embarrassed.” Swan added, “By his own standard that the next president have a ‘clear view of what’s happening in the world’ and a ‘practical plan for how to engage America in global affairs,’ Rubio fails the test.”
What’s more, as readers may recall, when Rubio has tried to articulate a substantive vision, he’s relied a little too heavily on shallow, bumper-sticker-style sloganeering, rather than actual policy measures. Rubio declared “our strategy” on national security should mirror Liam Neeson’s catchphrase in the film “Taken”: “We will look for you, we will find you and we will kill you.”
Soon after, the candidate’s team unveiled the “Rubio Doctrine,” described by Charles Pierce as “three banalities strung together in such a way as to sound profound and to say nothing.”
Rubio said this morning, “If you don’t know the answer to these questions, then you are not going to be able to serve as commander and chief.” That may be true. But is there any reason to believe the Florida Republican knows the answer to these questions?