ATLANTA — As Donald Trump was making a fool of himself at a rally in Atlanta, painting longtime American allies as deadbeats, suggesting he’d host Kim Jong Un at the White House, and promising to chuck pricey state dinners for hamburgers on a conference table, Hillary Clinton gave a measured speech on the need to confront the challenge of lone wolf terrorism.
It’s a classic contrast between the two presidential candidates: Trump spouting off about national security while Clinton inspires yawns through expertise.
Since Trump’s Atlanta rally came on the heels of the shootings in Orlando, he took time at the top to warn supporters that just as he’d predicted an attack like the Pulse nightclub massacre, there would be more if the country doesn’t become “smart and tough and vigilant.” He again promised The Wall and expanded his proposed temporary ban on Muslim immigrants to include all immigrants from countries with a history of terrorism.
“We have no idea where they come from. We have no idea who the hell they are,” he said. “Do not kid yourself.”
Trump said it is time that “people begin turning people in” and that government begin “checking, respectfully, the mosques, and other places.” If we don’t solve the problem, he warned, “It is going to eat our country alive.”
With the tough-on-terror portion of speech out of the way, Trump casually began proposing a total rewrite of 70 years of American foreign policy, toughening up against traditional American allies and opening the doors of negotiation to sworn enemies.
On Trump’s list of dishonest and deadbeat nations around the globe, he pointed repeatedly to Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia, some of the United States’ longest standing partners, as countries that are taking advantage of American security and generosity, and giving nothing in return.
“Look at Japan, look at South Korea, look at Saudi Arabia,” he said. “We protect Saudi Arabia. We protect them and they pay us peanuts. They wouldn’t be there and they pay us peanuts.”
Instead of splitting the cost of American forces abroad, Trump suggested that the allies pay 100 percent.
“It’s amazing that our country can be abused so badly and continue to survive,” he said. “But it’s not going to continue to survive like this. It can’t.”
Trump again dismissed NATO as obsolete, complaining that like Saudi Arabia and South Korea, member nations aren’t paying their fair share compared to the security they get out of American treaties. “We’re supposed to defend that?” he said. “We’re supposed to go into World War III to defend these people and they’re not even paying us.”
Trump pointed to the U.S. relationship with Japan as an example of Hillary Clinton’s status as a “rank amateur” for assuring the Japanese that the U.S. will defend it if it is attacked. As a good negotiator, Trump said he’d be willing to walk away. “It could very well be that Japan will have to protect themselves,” he said. “I’m not saying they will, maybe they’ll use nuclear, maybe they won’t. I don’t know.”
As for American adversaries, Trump offered respectful praise to Vladimir Putin for building up Russia’s defenses since the Cold War, especially compared to the United States.
“Our nuclear is old and tired, and his nuclear is tippy top, from what I hear,” Trump warned. “We better be careful, folks, we better be careful.”
In fact, the United States has more nuclear warheads deployed and in reserve than Russia does. (When counting retired warheads that are waiting to be dismantled, Russia has more.) And the Obama administration is spending up to $1 trillion over three decades to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
On North Korea, Trump said he’d be willing to “open a dialogue” and host North Korea’s Kim Jong Un at the White House. “Why not? Who the hell cares?” he said. “I’ll speak to anybody if I can talk them out of those damn nukes.”
More than anything, Trump promised to get better deals for the American people—in defense, in trade, in immigration—than the “big bad dummies” in the Obama administration.
In comparison to Trump’s rantings, Clinton’s military roundtable in Hampton, Virginia, was boring. It was capable. It was considered—all the things Trump is not. Clinton spent time listening to vets and military families. She spoke at length and with familiarity about defense budget cuts, predatory lending practices that ensnare young enlisted troops, VA wait times, and even sewer systems on naval vessels.
“After the Twitter rants and conspiracy theories we’ve been hearing recently, it’s time for a substantive discussion about how to protect our country,” Clinton told the assembled veterans and defense industry insiders, an obvious chiding of Trump.
“He has been fixated on the phrase ‘radical Islam,’ as if those are magic words that once uttered will stop terrorists from coming after us,” Clinton said. “Of course we want to keep our country safe…but I want to underscore that we rely on partners in majority Muslim countries to help them fight terrorism. We need to build trust in Muslim communities… to counter radicalization and the lone wolf phenomenon.”
Flanked on one side by a single American flag and on the other by flags representing the five military branches—and with large, scale models of fighter jets hanging above—Clinton declared that stopping lone wolves like the Orlando nightclub shooter is a national priority and that she would assemble a working group to tackle this issue.
“It is a sacrifice to try to keep us all safe. We have to be right 100 percent of the time. The terrorist only has to be right once,” Clinton said, an apparent reference to the chilling note the Irish Republican Army left for former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher after an attempted assassination attempt.
Speaking in Hampton, the home of Langley Air Force Base, Clinton was clearly trying to appeal to military service members and veterans who feel alienated by Trump’s rhetoric and unfamiliarity with national security issues. And she criticized defense budget cuts, something that would appeal to an industry that has been sounding the alarm.
“For obvious reasons, as she seeks to corral the more liberal wing of the party, her interaction has been nonexistent. We provide little to no electoral support, and she doesn’t need the monetary support the defense industry can bring to bear,” a defense industry source told The Daily Beast. “The industry would welcome interaction as she seems more and more likely to be victorious in the fall.”