When important events occur during the presidential campaign, we can get some sense of how the candidates would act if they were in the Oval Office. They don't have the ability to do anything about a financial crisis or a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, but at least we can watch what they say and what instincts seem to be driving them.
Writing in the Washington Post today, Paul Waldman highlighted an often overlooked point about the presidential race:
Agreed. When explosive devices are found in and near New York City -- including one detonation that sent dozens to nearby hospitals -- neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump have any official responsibilities. They're both private citizens, watching developments unfold as candidates, not officeholders.
But that doesn't mean their responses are trivial. In effect, stories like these are important pop quizzes for would-be presidents -- and if they haven't studied or prepared, they'll struggle to pass.
For her part, Clinton, a former senator and Secretary of State, has responded to events in New York and New Jersey as one would expect her to: with reasoned, responsible stances, calls for vigilance, appeals to Americans' sense of fairness, and reminders about some of her related policy proposals she intends to implement if elected.
Trump's first instinct over the weekend was to tell supporters, in reference to national security, "I will give you good results. Don't worry how I get there, okay? Please." He added on Saturday night -- before he had any of the relevant facts -- that the explosion in Chelsea was the result of a "bomb," which turned out to be true, and in the process, this became it the single most important part of the story for Trump.
"What I said was exactly correct," the Republican boasted this morning. "I should be a newscaster because I called it before the news." (In case anyone's confused, "newscasters" are not supposed to guess what they think might have happened, and then hope the news proves their guess correct.)
But Trump was really just getting started. On Fox News this morning, he told Steve Doocy the country will have to do something "tough." Asked what that might include, Trump, always eager to demonstrate the depths of his policy knowledge, replied, "Like, knock the hell out of them."
Later he blamed developments on New York and New Jersey on "freedom of the press"; he used the events to complain about Syrian refugees (despite the fact that the alleged terrorist is not a Syrian refugee); and he then celebrated the work of law enforcement just hours after complaining that the police don't do anything about terrorist suspects because they're afraid to break with political correctness.
In other words, faced with a leadership test, Trump flunked -- again.
Indeed, I realize there are widely held assumptions that major developments like these somehow help the GOP nominee automatically, but Trump's track record is almost laughable.
Revisiting our coverage from June, the larger pattern of narcissistic behavior is hard to miss. After the massacre in Orlando, Trump said, quite literally, “I called it.” After the Paris attack, he said something oddly similar. After an attack in Brussels, he went so far as to say, “I have proven to be far more correct about terrorism than anybody – and it’s not even close.”
For Trump, the importance of Brexit is how it might affect his golf course. For Trump, the importance of African-American alienation is how similar it is to his treatment during the GOP primaries. For Trump, when Dwayne Wade's cousin was murdered, what he quickly responded with what he thought really mattered: “Just what I have been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!”
Let there be no doubt that we're learning quite a bit about how Trump responds to major developments -- and none of it's flattering.