For all of his tough talk about taking on terrorists as an appeal to anxious voters looking for strength, Donald Trump arranged himself a softball national security interview Tuesday.
In a bizarre Q&A session, retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, one of Trump’s closest advisors, pitched an hour’s worth of leading questions at the GOP contender and praised his answers. Flynn has become an outspoken surrogate for Trump after he said he was fired as President Barack Obama’s top spy at the Pentagon.
“It’s a complete mess,” Flynn said of the current state of the world as he kicked off the event. He addressed Trump as “the next president of the United States.”
“Look, she’s a disaster in so many different ways, folks,” Trump said of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, to cheers from his audience. In an often rambling talk, he repeated claims that the United States is being overrun by Syrian refugees and that the Obama administration has paved the path for Iran to get a nuclear weapon, but went far further, saying, “We also happen to have given them Iraq.”
Despite bipartisan criticisms that his campaign has advocated policy friendly to Russia and even invited Moscow to hack Clinton, Trump continued, “Putin looks at her and he laughs.”
“Boy, would he like to see her” as president, Trump said, deriding Clinton’s foreign policy platform as “a loser.” He added: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got along with Russia?”
The event came hours after Trump campaign released a letter of 88 retired military officials who are backing the New York real estate magnate’s candidacy. “Unbelievable,” Flynn said admiringly, echoing Trump’s touting of the letter during the Q&A. Many on the list are little-known and long retired.
Trump’s moves mark the latest broadside in a battle of the brass with Clinton. She also spoke Tuesday, ahead of a speech from her vice presidential pick Sen. Tim Kaine that the campaign billed as an indictment of Trump’s controversial national security statements. Both Clinton and Trump will participate in a “Commander in Chief” forum hosted by NBC and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America on Wednesday in New York.
But the pool of high-profile Republican national security and military experts who would typically endorse their presidential nominee has shrunk, with many expressing concern over Trump’s threats to pull out of NATO or bring back torture.
Clinton’s campaign has pounced on the opportunity, recruiting these Republicans to endorse the Democrat in an attempt to show voters that Trump poses such a risk, even GOP veterans will cross party lines to oppose him.
“Once Americans hear his words just as he said them, they’ll reach the same conclusion that national security leaders—Democrats, Republicans and Independents—have reached,” Kaine said later Tuesday. “Donald Trump is unqualified and temperamentally unfit.”
Trump’s team has shot back that Clinton’s bad judgment as a New York senator and Obama’s first secretary of state helped unleash the current spate of foreign policy crises that the next president is likely to inherit.
But Trump’s Tuesday letter also underscored his campaign’s sensitivity to that attack. “He has the temperament to be commander-in-chief,” wrote one of its authors, retired Army Maj. Gen. Sid Shachnow, echoing Clinton’s language in response.
Shachnow, the only Holocaust survivor to earn the rank of general in the U.S. military, according to the campaign, served in the Army for 40 years, including 32 of them among the Green Berets. One of the better-known names on the list, like many included, Shachnow retired more than 20 years ago.
The full letter can be read here.
They argued that U.S. foreign policy needs a change, rather than “someone who has not been deeply involved with, and substantially responsible for, the hollowing out of our military and the burgeoning threats facing our country around the world.”
The line parrots a consistent Republican attack, heard throughout the campaign, that Obama has “gutted the military.” In fact, defense spending remains at historically high levels despite deeply unpopular budget caps on federal spending that were put in place by Congress and then signed into law.
Trump seemed to boost Clinton’s critique with a series of comments this summer disparaging the military and the sacrifice of those who serve and their families. But it hasn’t yet appeared to have cut into his support among the veterans community, which tends to lean conservative — in recent polls of military veterans by Fox News and McClatchy-Marist, he led by 14 and 11 points, respectively.
Photo credit: Alex Wong / Staff