Donald Trump has a handful of core issues that help define his political identity. Indeed, one need not be a political news junkie to be able to rattle off the list: the New York Republican wants to “make America great again” by banning foreign Muslims from entering the country and addressing immigration by building a wall along the U.S./Mexico border.
It was literally in his surreal campaign kick-off speech that Trump made international headlines by declaring, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
For anti-immigration voters, Trump quickly became the presidential candidate they’ve been waiting for. But what does the presumptive Republican nominee actually know about his signature issue? Joshua Green has a fascinating new piece in Bloomberg Politics, which is largely about Trump undoing RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’ years of work, but the article included one anecdote in particular that amazed me.
He explained the genesis of his heterodox views. “I’m not sure I got there through deep analysis,” he said. “My views are what everybody else’s views are. When I give speeches, sometimes I’ll sign autographs and I’ll get to talk to people and learn a lot about the party.” […]I asked, given how immigration drove his initial surge of popularity, whether he, like [Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions], had considered the RNC’s call for immigration reform to be a kick in the teeth. To my surprise, he candidly admitted that he hadn’t known about it or even followed the issue until recently. “When I made my [announcement] speech at Trump Tower, the June 16 speech,” he said, “I didn’t know about the Gang of Eight…. I just knew instinctively that our borders are a mess.”
For quite a while, it’s obviously been a problem that Donald Trump lacks a basic understanding of government and public policy. But anecdotes like these are a reminder about an alarming, related detail: he’s not particularly interested in current events, either.
I’m not even sure he’s clear on the meaning of “instinctively.”
The political fight surrounding the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill was a politically dominant issue for months, and given Trump’s apparent interest in immigrants and the Mexican border, one might assume he followed the debate closely. Except, he didn’t. As recently as a year ago, he launched a presidential campaign predicated in part on his immigration views, which consisted of a few offensive soundbites.
After all, he doesn’t arrive at his conclusions “through deep analysis.”
Instead, Trump says he understood U.S. border policy “instinctively.” That doesn’t make any sense. If he had literally no substantive understanding of developments at the border, it’s impossible to rely on instincts to understand the value of current border policy.
Let me put this another way. If I pitch Rachel Maddow on a story for the show, she can instinctively tell whether or not it’s a good idea because she has expertise in this area. If I were to ask her the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow, she couldn’t offer an instinctive answer because she has a limited background in birds and physics.
If I were to ask Donald Trump about the value of a high-rise in Midtown Manhattan, he could probably give me a decent instinctive answer. If I were to ask him to reflect on U.S. border security, he can’t – because, according the man himself, he has no idea what he’s talking about.
When Trump refers to his “instincts,” he seems to mean guesses that result from superficial news consumption. For a guy having an argument in a bar, that’s fine. For someone seeking the nation’s highest office, it’s cause for alarm.