In spite of his bizarre, oft-panned foreign-policy pronouncements, Donald Trump has consistently polled surprisingly well among Republican primary voters when it comes to issues of national security and terrorism. In the wake of the jihadist atrocities in Paris, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that Trump—along with Hillary Clinton—is the 2016 candidate “best suited to deal with terrorism” in the eyes of respondents.
The Republican frontrunner doesn’t have any real foreign policy experience and, despite his repeated promises to do so, he hasn’t said who has been helping him fill in the gaps.
“We’re going to be announcing something very soon,” Trump told Hugh Hewitt in late September. “We have a great team of people…So many great national security people, including generals, have come to us and called us, and at the top level, and they want to be involved.”
Trump has bragged on numerous occasions about his team. “I will have the finest team anyone has put together,” Trump swore. “We will solve a lot of problems.”
Trump’s foreign-policy and anti-ISIS planks generally consist of bombing “the shit outta” terrorists, re-invading Iraq, and potentially shutting down mosques in the U.S. (This week, he refused to rule out issuing special IDs to Muslim Americans, a premise that struck many as, well, more than a little fascistic.) The Trump Doctrine can be defined, in the candidate’s own words, as, “ya shoot first, you talk about it later.”
So… who, exactly, is on this most-enviable foreign-policy #squad whispering sweet policy wisdom into Trump’s ear? Thus far, all attempts to track down members of the alleged “finest team” have turned up little more than The Donald’s one-man show.
“If [Trump] actually has anybody of any stature [officially] advising him on national-security matters, it’s no one I’ve heard of,” a foreign-affairs adviser to a rival campaign told The Daily Beast. “Frankly, I can’t think of many analysts who would want to claim credit for some of the things he has been saying. The guy tries to talk tough, but he doesn’t seem to understand the first thing about the military, or grasp how to tackle challenges we’re facing abroad…besides, ‘Let Putin come in and take over.’ Are you kidding me?”
As for the names Trump has dropped, the roster is short, and does not include generals. Trump previously namechecked retired Army Col. Jack Jacobs (now an MSNBC analyst) as a “good guy” who is one of his “go-to” military advisers. The catch here is that Jacobs claims he’s never even talked to Trump about military or foreign policy.
“He may have said the first person who came to mind,” Jacobs told Mother Jones in August. “I know him. But I’m not a consultant. I’m not certain if he has a national security group of people. I don’t know if he does or if he doesn’t. If he does, I’m not one of them.”
Trump also listed John Bolton (the George W. Bush administration’s ambassador to the UN and neoconservative uber-hawk) as one of his top two or three go-to’s—a curious choice, if you contrast how much Trump boasts about “totally” being against the Iraq War with how gung-ho Bolton has been for that, and other, wars.
“He’s, you know, a tough cookie, knows what he’s talking about,” Trump said of Bolton in August on NBC’s Meet the Press. “I think he’s terrific.”
Bolton could not immediately be reached for comment, but during a Fox News segment in September, the ex-ambassador reacted to Trump’s foreign policy by saying, “He wears [his foreign policy] on his baseball cap. It says, ‘Make America Great Again,’ what else do you need to know?”
Trump and Bolton (who has advised other GOP candidates, including Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal) were both picked as featured speakers at this year’s North Carolina Republican convention. There is, however, no confirmation yet that Bolton is on Team Trump.
“My general policy is I don’t comment on conversations with presidential candidates and I don’t even comment on whether I have had them because if I started to talk about one I would have to talk about them all and what I am trying to do is be available to help them out,” he told Fox News Radio. “[However, Trump] was a contributor to my super-PAC last year and I did meet with him last year about it and had a very interesting conversation with him.”
And so the waiting game for Donald Trump’s national-security dream team continues, as primary voters increasingly express their support for his anti-terror prescriptions. But regardless of whatever foreign-policy acumen Trump thinks he’s bringing to the table in this election, he has yet to impress certain retired high-ranking military officials.
“Personally, I hope no one will be called upon to serve under a President T… I can’t bring myself to type the words,” retired Rear Admiral John Hutson, who served as the Navy’s top lawyer, told The Daily Beast.
The Trump campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding the members of Trump’s totally-not-fake team of foreign policy and national security experts.