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American Conservative Union Holds Annual CPAC Conference In Orlando
Former President Donald Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 26, 2022 in Orlando, Fla.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Why Trump’s weird rhetoric about Russia and China matters

Donald Trump’s idea for how to deal with the crisis in Ukraine is emblematic of why he was incapable of governing responsibly.


Before taking the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) a couple of weeks ago, Donald Trump briefly fielded a few questions from reporters, one of whom asked what he’d do about the crisis in Ukraine if he were still in office.

The Republican said there were “things” President Joe Biden could do, but Trump added that it wouldn’t be “appropriate” to share such ideas publicly. The former president added, however, that he believes these “things” would end the crisis “pretty quickly.”

In other words, Trump suggested he had a secret solution to Russia’s war in Ukraine, but he didn’t want to share the remedy with the rest of us.

A cynic might’ve thought the Republican was just peddling nonsense, obscuring the fact that he doesn’t have an alternative approach. But as it turns out, Trump was willing to go into more detail on Saturday night, telling a group of GOP donors he’d like to see the United States put Chinese flags on our F-22 fighter jets in order to “bomb the s*** out of Russia.” The Washington Post reported:

“And then we say, ‘China did it, we didn’t do it, China did it,’ and then they start fighting with each other and we sit back and watch,” he said of labeling U.S. military planes with Chinese flags and bombing Russia, which was met with laughter from the crowd of donors, according to a recording of the speech obtained by The Washington Post.

In case this isn’t obvious, it’s important to note that this is not a smart plan.

First, countries don’t identify invading fighter jets by literally looking at the flags painted onto them. Second, Russia wouldn’t think the F-22s were Chinese because China doesn’t use F-22s.

What’s more, the tactic the former president described is illegal under international law and is brazenly at odds with the Geneva Conventions — which, incidentally, Trump is on record deriding as “out of date.”

But stepping back, the Republican’s rhetoric over the weekend is emblematic of why Trump was incapable of effective governing: He has a habit of acting like the angry guy at the end of the bar, who’s convinced he has simple solutions to the world’s complex problems.

Indeed, as I argued in my book, it’s a staple of Trump’s broader vision: Every challenge should be addressed through unexamined, overly simplified answers that appeal to his version of common sense.

The immigration system is broken? Build an ineffective wall. Opioids are ravaging communities? Execute drug dealers. Hurricanes are approaching American soil? Hit them with nuclear weapons. There are too many shooters killing children in schools? Put more guns in the hands of school officials who might shoot back. A virus is killing hundreds of thousands of Americans? Try injecting people with disinfectants.

Russia is waging a brutal and unnecessary war in Ukraine? Slap some Chinese flags on U.S. fighter jets.

Who needs thoughtful and responsible solutions, bolstered by analyses ad scholarship? In a post-policy model, that’s simply not how questions are answered.