It was classic Trump: despite a friendly moderator, softball questions and an adoring crowd the Republican nominee bungled a national security Q&A Tuesday, just one day before a primetime special on some of the same topics.
After supporter and retired general Mike Flynn asked carefully crafted questions, Trump delivered incoherent answers, non-sequiturs and straight-up untruths as he tried to explain what he would do as commander-in-chief if elected.
Trump’s biggest advantage has been rhetoric: big promises—even unrealistic ones—without any specifics or any reasonable ways to accomplish them.
On Tuesday, it didn’t seem to matter at all to the pro-Trump crowd in Virginia Beach.
For example, he said that he would stem refugee flows from the civil war in Syria by creating safe zones in the Middle East. And while the United States, under a Trump administration, would “lead the charge” in creating these zones, it would neither help build the zones nor pay for it—leaving the question open as to how America would get the zones done at all.
Trump also fired up the crowd with pure fiction and lies. He furthered the misconception that illegal immigrants—who are not eligible for welfare, food stamps and most other forms of public assistance—are being treated better than veterans are; and he also made the dizzying claim that ISIS is better equipped than American troops.
At other times, Trump answered questions with total nonsense.
The Republican nominee, near the beginning of his remarks, was asked by Flynn about the health treatment that female veterans receive. Puzzlingly, Trump responded, “We are going to do procedures that they’ve never done.”
These are words, but they don’t have meaning.
And then came a rambling, explanation of the Iran-Iraq war, which has to be read to be believed: “They’d fight fight fight. And then Saddam Hussein would do the gas,” he said at one point.
One Clinton aide compared it to “Drunk History,” a Comedy Central show where celebrities get drunk and try to explain historical events.
Trump wasn’t completely devoid of rational points. At one point he called the current state of Libya Hillary Clinton’s fault—a reasonable criticism, given that Clinton was Secretary of State when Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi was deposed.
Unfortunately his policy prescription didn’t make much sense.
“We could have done a minor attack” on Libya instead, Trump insisted.
The time-honored Trump use of the non-sequitur was another tool that the agile nominee frequently employed. When Flynn asked him about whether he supports regime change in Syria, he avoided the question with a long rant about the Iran deal that ended with a diss toward Secretary of State John Kerry for breaking his leg.
The Republican nominee also displayed a comical attachment to the quality of oil in the Middle East—talking about it’s purity as if it were a case of Trump bottled water.
“Iraq has some of the greatest oil reserves anywhere int he world, and so Iran is going to get whatever ISIS doesn’t already have,” Trump said, adding at another point, “It’s a total disaster, Libya, right now. You know they have among the finest quality oils anywhere in the world? Their oil is so valuable, so good.”
Tuesday’s discussion proved what Trump has amply demonstrated in previous national security speeches—that he’s in way over his head.
And it’s a point that could be hammered home even more severely in a primetime national security forum on Wednesday—hosted by NBC and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America—when he doesn’t have his favored, hand-picked questioner asking foreign policy questions.