Major presidential candidates tend to announce their foreign-policy teams at some point during their candidacies, letting the public know whose advice is guiding the candidates’ thinking on matters of international affairs. Asked last week about who he’s speaking with for direction on foreign policy, Donald Trump said, “I’m speaking with myself. I have a very good brain.”
Yesterday, however, the Republican frontrunner went a little further during an interview at the Washington Post. Publisher Frederick Ryan Jr. asked about the team Trump has put together. The candidate replied:
“Well, I hadn’t thought of doing it, but if you want I can give you some of the names…. Walid Phares, who you probably know, PhD, adviser to the House of Representatives caucus, and counter-terrorism expert; Carter Page, PhD; George Papadopoulos, he’s an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy; the Honorable Joe Schmitz, [former] inspector general at the Department of Defense; [retired] Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg; and I have quite a few more.“But that’s a group of some of the people that we are dealing with. We have many other people in different aspects of what we do, but that’s a representative group.”
For those hoping to see Trump make the transition to a serious candidate who approaches his responsibilities with a degree of maturity, this was not an encouraging development. Slate’s Isaac Chotiner published a review of each of these advisers, and none of them has an impressive background when it comes to foreign policy.
Politico added, “Republican insiders were scratching their heads Monday at names Trump offered as sources of regular advice on national security. Several of those Trump cited during a visit to the Washington Post’s editorial board are complete unknowns; others have mixed reputations among GOP national security pros.”
Kori Schake, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a former official in the George W. Bush State Department, told Politico of Trump’s team, “I don’t know any of them. National security is hard to do well even with first rate people. It’s almost impossible to do well with third rate people.”
Heather Hurlburt, director of the New Models of Policy Change project at New America, told MSNBC, “They aren’t distinguished, period.” Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, added, “A lot of people are going to be asking, ‘Who’s that again?’ This is an embarrassingly thin list for a Republican front-runner.”
Of course, the problem isn’t just the unfortunate weakness of the team the amateur candidate has assembled. Making matters much worse is Trump’s difficulty in speaking coherently about one of the most important issues in the campaign.
Post publisher Fred Ryan asked Trump if he would consider using a tactical nuclear strike against the forces of the Islamic State, were he president. Trump responded that he didn’t want to “start the process of nuclear,” then reminding the editors that he was “a counter-puncher.”“Remember, one thing that everybody has said, I’m a counter-puncher,” Trump said. “Rubio hit me. Bush hit me. When I said low energy, he’s a low-energy individual, he hit me first. He spent, by the way – he spent 18 million dollars’ worth of negative ads on me. That’s putting…”Ryan jumped in. “This is about ISIS,” he reminded Trump. “You would not use a tactical nuclear weapon against ISIS?”“I’ll tell you one thing,” Trump replied. “This is a very good looking group of people here. Could I just go around so I know who the hell I’m talking to?”
At that point, people went around the table introducing themselves. Trump never got around to answering the not-at-all-difficult question.
Pretending to be a qualified candidate for national office is difficult, but it’d be nice if the Republican frontrunner at least made an effort.