Donald Trump is running a post-information presidential campaign. We're already familiar with his penchant for adopting two (or three!) contradictory positions within the same speech, or even within the same answer to a question. What's endlessly mystifying is watching him claim that he never said something that he clearly did -- particularly in this case, in which he appears to be distancing himself from one of the policy centerpieces of his campaign. Everyone remembers his big Muslim ban "plan," which he says would be temporary until US officials "figure out what's going on," a deliberately meaningless benchmark. This morning on Fox News, Trump reiterated his call to close off access to America for foreign Muslims. Don't take my word for it. Here's the video clip, followed by Townhall's resident Trump enthusiast Justin Holcomb transcribing his remarks:
“I would close up our borders to people until we figure out what is going on,” Trump said. “Look at Brussels, look at Paris, look at so many cities that were great cities. Paris is almost as bad. If you look at Paris – Paris is no longer the city of lights. Paris has got a lot of problems. And all you have to do is speak to the people who live there. You look at other places where this same thing has happened”... "They're coming into our country. They're coming in by the thousands. And just watch what happens."
So what? That's just Trump doing his thing, restating the controversial stance he staked out months ago after the Paris attacks. Except when CBS News asked him about this a few hours later, Trump claimed he'd never said it:
Trump said the incident shows why the U.S. should be wary of Middle Easterners. “I would be extremely careful about people from the Middle East coming into our country,” he said on “CBS This Morning." "We should be vigilant at our borders.” When pressed for specifics, Trump said he would want "good documentation" from travelers. Trump said on "CBS This Morning" that Brussels used to be one of the most "beautiful and safest" cities in the world. "Now it's a horror show. There's no assimilation." Trump said his main focus is on better immigration surveillance, not a total shutdown. "I didn't say shut it down," he said. "I said you have to be very careful. We have to be very, very strong and vigilant at the borders. We have to be tough. We have people who are coming into our country who are undocumented. We have no idea who they are or where they come from. They could be ISIS-related."
Hold up. Demanding vigilance and extreme caution at the borders and insisting upon "good documentation" from visitors or immigrants (Muslims or otherwise) is prosaic, uncontroversial rhetoric that could come from any pol from either party, frankly. What happened to the closed-borders Muslim ban? "I didn't say shut it down," he asserts, leaving the anchors scratching their heads over his "close up our borders" statement from the previous interview. Hmm. Is he being intentionally ambiguous with an eye towards the general election, or does he have no idea what the hell he's talking about, forcing him to grasp for fleetingly acceptable-sounding answers in any given moment? Being one's own top foreign policy adviser can prove challenging when one is so famously ignorant on policy specifics that even friendly audiences laugh out loud at one's professions of expertise. Allahpundit has more details on the CBS News exchange:
Didn’t he already say, literally this very morning, that the borders should be closed? No no no, says Trump. You misunderstood. I said they should be closed to people without documentation, especially from radicalized countries like Syria. That’s wildly different from the total moratorium on Muslim visitors that Trump fans seem to like so much, but okay. The anchors come back with a good follow-up, though. How does a ban on Muslims without documentation help you to keep out jihadis who do have documentation? A lot of these degenerates are European by birth, including Salah Abdeslam, the ISIS operative responsible for the Paris attacks who was arrested a few days ago in Belgium. They’ve got their papers. It’s easy to say “no Syrians allowed” but it’s hard to close the borders to citizens of friendly EU nations purely on suspicion of their religion. That was Trump’s chance to say, “Well, that’s why we need a ban on all Muslims for awhile,” which would be inconsistent with what he just said about documentation but oh well. Instead he starts talking about assimilation not working, which means … yes to the ban? No ban so long as we’re “careful” and “vigilant”? The other anchor then asks him whether, if he thinks assimilation isn’t working, the ban should somehow be extended to American-born Muslims. He starts talking about assimilation again. Seeing that they’re not going to get a straight answer, the anchors finally move along.
No clear answer on Muslim US citizens. Again. If you're inclined to believe that Trump is muddying the waters because he realizes the 'Muslim moratorium' policy (which is very popular among Republicans, but much less so among voters overall) has run its course ahead of the general, answer me this: Why would it make any sense for him to start making that pivot today, in the immediate and emotional wake of another Islamist-perpetrated bloodbath in a Western capital, and just after he'd doubled down on another network? If you tend to lean toward "he's frighteningly clueless," however, consider this additional piece of jaw-dropping evidence from Trump's editorial board meeting with the Washington Post yesterday. Keep in mind that he's being asked about the deployment of tactical nukes against ISIS here:
This person wants to be president. pic.twitter.com/kYWlXgVLGZ— David Feith (@DavidFeith) March 22, 2016
He bloviates about being a counter-puncher, using GOP debate anecdotes (!) as illustrations, then sidesteps a pointed follow-up by complimenting the good looks of the assembled journalists and asking for everybody's name. Surreal. Earlier in the same interview, he got sidetracked at length talking about...the size of his hands. Again, this is real:
I can't believe how much Trump talked about the size of his hands in this WaPo interview. pic.twitter.com/oASUHJCgI2— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) March 21, 2016
"My hands are fine. You know, my hands are normal. Slightly large, actually. In fact, I buy a slightly smaller than large glove, okay?" Memo to Democrats and/or foreign adversaries: If you're looking for a surefire method of sending Donald Trump careening into defensive, obsessive rambling, just casually mention his hands. He'll do the rest.