Through some magical power, Donald Trump has managed to enter a fact-free zone that can only be the envy of his competitors. Unlike the statements of the other candidates, Trump’s are not scrutinized for accuracy, and indeed they are generally assumed to be unprovable or flatly wrong. No, Trump’s pronouncements are assessed primarily on the degree unpleasantness with which they are delivered. (We imagine a campaign logo: “The Surly Bird Gets the Worm.”) He appears to have succeeded John Gotti to the title of the Teflon Don.
Other candidates have attempted to pick him up on this or that fact, and Glenn Kessler has depleted his inventory of Pinocchios in making multiple awards to the Donald. But no one, so far as we know, has made a comprehensive review of Trump’s claims and observations, even within the limits of a single debate. We though it might be a useful experiment applied to the Fifth Debate. Confined to that debate the experiment is obviously limited and will omit any number of his more noxious expostulations. Nevertheless, one has to start somewhere. What follows is the entirety of what Trump had to say at the Fifth Republican Debate, omitting only various personal comments directed at other candidates or the moderators. We have supplied headings and questions and comments in bold.
We will reach beyond the text of the Fifth Debate for only one Trump comment. During the debate Trump repeatedly proclaimed his strength and bristled with bullying threats to immigrants, refugees and families of terrorists. He made no reference to Vladimir Putin, but three days later could not have been sweeter to the man who is our most dangerous adversary. As Politico put it, “This week, the far-and-away Republican poll leader Donald Trump gave Vladimir Putin a big, wet kiss, calling him ‘a strong leader’ and saying it was a ‘great honor’ to have Putin compliment him.” What to make of this burgeoning bromance? Perhaps Trump is, after all, just a toasted marshmallow, crunchy on the outside but soft and gooey on the inside.
THE FIFTH REPUBLICAN DEBATE
BUILDING UP MILITARY, BORDER WALL
TRUMP: Thank you. I began this journey six months ago. My total focus was on building up our military, building up our strength, building up our borders, making sure that China, Japan, Mexico, both at the border and in trade, no longer takes advantage of our country. Trump has never said just what he would do to build up the military, let alone what it would cost and how it would be financed. With respect to a wall on the entire border with Mexico, there is no credible expert (and no prominent politician with the exception of Ted Cruz) who believes that such a wall is necessary practical or affordable.
Certainly would never have made that horrible, disgusting, absolutely incompetent deal with Iran where they get $150 billion. They’re a terrorist nation. But I began it talking about other things.
And those things are things that I’m very good at (What exactly are those things?) and maybe that’s why I’m center stage. People saw it. People liked it. People respected it.
A month ago things changed. Radical Islamic terrorism came into effect even more so than it has been in the past. People like what I say. People respect what I say. And we’ve opened up a very big discussion that needed to be opened up.
Thank you very much.
THE TRUMP WALL, SYRIAN MIGRATION
TRUMP: We are not talking about isolation. We’re talking about security. We’re not talking about religion. We’re talking about security. Our country is out of control. People are pouring across the southern border. I will build a wall. It will be a great wall. People will not come in unless they come in legally. Drugs will not pour through that wall.
As far as other people like in the migration, where they’re going, tens of thousands of people having cell phones with ISIS flags on them? I don’t think so, Wolf. They’re not coming to this country. And if I’m president and if Obama has brought some to this country, they are leaving. They’re going. They’re gone. Trump’s claim apparently referred to a report in a Norwegian newspaper of cell phones with picture of executions on them (hundreds, not tens of thousands). The head of Norway’s asylum program explained that it’s possible that the photos have “innocent explanations,” because people may need photos “to bear witness to the war and horrors they were fleeing in their home country, or they may have been a tactic to sneak through jihadi-controlled areas unharmed.” Even more to the point, persons carrying such phones had not been vetted by anyone, whereas refugees coming to this country would be vetted through a process lasing 18 months to two years, even before strengthening by a bill recently passed in the House
MAKING AMERICA GREAT AGAIN
TRUMP: Jeb doesn’t really believe I’m unhinged. He said that very simply because he has failed in this campaign. It’s been a total disaster. Nobody cares. And frankly, I’m the most solid person up here. I built a tremendous company and all I want to do is make America great again.
I don’t want our country to be taken away from us, and that’s what’s happening. The policies that we’ve suffered under other presidents have been a disaster for our country. We want to make America great again. And Jeb, in all fairness, he doesn’t believe that. “Making America Great Again” is a vacuous theme repeated endlessly without indicating how that is to be done.
CLOSING THE INTERNET
BLITZER: Mr. Trump, you recently suggested closing that Internet up, those were your words, as a way to stop ISIS from recruiting online. Are you referring to closing down actual portions of the Internet? Some say that would put the U.S. in line with China and North Korea.
TRUMP: Well, look, this is so easy to answer. ISIS is recruiting through the Internet. ISIS is using the Internet better than we are using the Internet, and it was our idea. What I wanted to do is I wanted to get our brilliant people from Silicon Valley and other places and figure out a way that ISIS cannot do what they’re doing.
You talk freedom of speech. You talk freedom of anything you want. I don’t want them using our Internet to take our young, impressionable youth and watching the media talking about how they’re masterminds — these are masterminds. They shouldn’t be using the word “mastermind.” These are thugs. These are terrible people in ISIS, not masterminds. And we have to change it from every standpoint. But we should be using our brilliant people, our most brilliant minds to figure a way that ISIS cannot use the Internet. And then on second, we should be able to penetrate the Internet and find out exactly where ISIS is and everything about ISIS. And we can do that if we use our good people.
BLITZER: Let me follow up, Mr. Trump.
So, are you open to closing parts of the Internet?
TRUMP: I would certainly be open to closing areas where we are at war with somebody. I sure as hell don’t want to let people that want to kill us and kill our nation use our Internet. Yes, sir, I am.
Closing the Internet, or parts of it, is another Trump venture into fantasy land. A December 16 article in Time Magazine “Why Donald Trump Can’t Actually Close Parts of the Internet,” explains that Trump fundamentally doesn’t understand how the Internet works.
KILLING FAMILIES OF TERRORISTS
JOSH JACOB, COLLEGE STUDENT: I’m Josh Jacob from Georgia Tech. Recently Donald Trump mentioned we must kill the families of ISIS members. However, this violates the principle of distinction between civilians and combatants in international law.
So my question is, how would intentionally killing innocent civilians set us apart from ISIS?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Mr. Trump.
TRUMP: We have to be much tougher. We have to be much stronger than we’ve been. We have people that know what is going on. You take a look at just the attack in California the other day. There were numerous people, including the mother, that knew what was going on.
They saw a pipe bomb sitting all over the floor. They saw ammunition all over the place. They knew exactly what was going on.
When you had the World Trade Center go, people were put into planes that were friends, family, girlfriends, and they were put into planes and they were sent back, for the most part, to Saudi Arabia.
They knew what was going on. They went home and they wanted to watch their boyfriends on television. I would be very, very firm with families. Frankly, that will make people think because they may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families’ lives.
While Trump said he would be “very firm with families” that was a euphemistic substitute for his recent comment that “you have to take out their families. They, they care about their lives. Don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.” Either way his meaning was clear and his proposal, as Senator Paul and others have pointed out, would be a clear violation of the Geneva Convention. So far as we know, Trump is the first major candidate for the presidency to campaign on a promise to commit war crimes.
TOUGHNESS AND MORE TOUGHNESS
TRUMP: Look, the problem is we need toughness. Honestly, I think Jeb is a very nice person. He’s a very nice person. But we need tough people. We need toughness. We need intelligence and we need tough.
Jeb said when they come across the southern border they come as an act of love.
TRUMP: Look, look, look. We need a toughness. We need strength. We’re not respected, you know, as a nation anymore. We don’t have that level of respect that we need. And if we don’t get it back fast, we’re just going to go weaker, weaker and just disintegrate.
We can’t allow that to happen. We need strength. We don’t have it. When Jeb comes out and he talks about the border, and I saw it and I was witness to it, and so was everyone else, and I was standing there, “they come across as an act of love,” he’s saying the same thing right now with radical Islam.
And we can’t have that in our country. It just won’t work. We need strength. Trump continued with his endless bluster about strength and toughness as if invocation of the words could substitute for ideas, thought or action, and concludes by misstating what Jeb Bush had just said about radical Islam.
MORE ON THE INTERNET, KILLING FAMILIES OF TERRORISTS, AND INFILTRATING ISIS
PAUL: I’d like to also go back to, though, another question, which is, is Donald Trump a serious candidate? The reason I ask this is, if you’re going to close the Internet, realize, America, what that entails. That entails getting rid of the First Amendment, OK? It’s no small feat.
If you are going to kill the families of terrorists, realize that there’s something called the Geneva Convention we’re going to have to pull out of. It would defy every norm that is America. So when you ask yourself, whoever you are, that think you’re going to support Donald Trump, think, do you believe in the Constitution? Are you going to change the Constitution?
TRUMP: So, they can kill us, but we can’t kill them? That’s what you’re saying. That’s not what Paul was saying, and it’s not clear that Trump knows what the Geneva Convention is. And as far as the Internet is concerned, we’re not talking about closing the Internet. I’m talking about parts of Syria, parts of Iraq, where ISIS is, spotting it. As explained in the Time article previously cited, closing the Internet, or parts of it, is not an option. To suggest that is displays not toughness, but the opposite: wishful thinking
Now, you could close it. What I like even better than that is getting our smartest and getting our best to infiltrate their Internet, so that we know exactly where they’re going, exactly where they’re going to be. I like that better. But we have to — who would be — I just can’t imagine somebody booing. These are people that want to kill us, folks, and you’re — you’re objecting to us infiltrating their conversations? I don’t think so. I don’t think so. No one is opposed to infiltrating ISIS or their conversations and there should be no doubt that the government is doing so to the best of its ability. If Trump has any ideas on how it can be done better, he has not disclosed them
DICTATORS IN THE MIDDLE EAST
BLITZER: We’re going to talk about Assad in a moment.
Mr. Trump, are Americans safer with dictators running the world in the Middle East?
TRUMP: In my opinion, we’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that frankly, if they were there and if we would’ve spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems; our airports and all of the other problems we’ve had, we would’ve been a lot better off. I can tell you that right now.
We have done a tremendous disservice, not only to Middle East, we’ve done a tremendous disservice to humanity. The people that have been killed, the people that have wiped away, and for what? It’s not like we had victory.
It’s a mess. The Middle East is totally destabilized. A total and complete mess. I wish we had the $4 trillion or $5 trillion. I wish it were spent right here in the United States, on our schools, hospitals, roads, airports, and everything else that are all falling apart.
TRUMP: Well, there’s nothing to respond to. Well, people feel differently. I mean, the fact is Benghazi was a disaster because of Libya, everything just fell into place. It could not have been worse.
What do we have now? We have nothing. We’ve spent $3 trillion and probably much more – I have no idea what we’ve spent. Thousands and thousands of lives, we have nothing. Wounded warriors all over the place who I love, we have nothing for it. Trump is not alone in arguing that the money invested in the Iraq war was not well spent. As pointed out by Carly Fiorina, however, the argument that the money should have been spent on infrastructure is one most closely associated with President Obama. In any case, it is not clear just where that historical observation leads Trump in the present circumstances.
TRUMP: But I’ve been talking about oil for three years. I’ve been saying, “take the oil, take the oil.” I didn’t say, “just bomb it,” I said,” take it and use it and distribute it so that the wounded warriors -” People, I’ve been saying this now for many years.
BLITZER: All right.
TRUMP: Now, all of a sudden everybody’s saying, “take the oil.” It wasn’t so fashionable to take the oil six months ago. I’ve been saying it for years. Three years ago, ISIS did not control any oil fields. Even now the United States has no right to take the oil and distribute it. The oil is not ours, but Iraq’s and Syria’s.
HEWITT: Mr. Trump, we are talking about the most important thing, that’s why it’s heated. And it’s, you are OK with Mr. Assad staying in power, but you are also in favor of winning.
If he stays in power, Iran is winning, Hezbollah is winning. Iran is winning in Yemen. They are winning everywhere. If they are winning how can we be winning?
TRUMP: I think Assad is a bad guy, a very bad guy, all right? Lots of people killed. I think we are backing people we have no idea who they are. The rebels, we call them the rebels, the patriotic rebels. We have no idea. A lot of people think, Hugh, that they are ISIS.
We have to do one thing at a time. We can’t be fighting ISIS and fighting Assad. Assad is fighting ISIS. He is fighting ISIS. Russia is fighting now ISIS. And Iran is fighting ISIS.
We have to do one thing at a time. We can’t go — and I watched Lindsey Graham, he said, I have been here for 10 years fighting. Well, he will be there with that thinking for another 50 years. He won’t be able to solve the problem.
We have to get rid of ISIS first. After we get rid of ISIS, we’ll start thinking about it. But we can’t be fighting Assad. And when you’re fighting Assad, you are fighting Russia, you’re fighting — you’re fighting a lot of different groups.
But we can’t be fighting everybody at one time. Trump may not be any more confused than everyone else about what to do about Assad. The problem with leaving Assad in place (a position the United States appears to be inching closer to) is that with Assad remaining in power, it will be difficult or impossible to recruit Saudi Arabian or Syrian Sunnis to fight ISIS.
TRUMP: I have a very hardline position, we have a country or we don’t have a country. People that have come into our country illegally, they have to go. They have to come back into through a legal process.
I want a strong border. I do want a wall. Walls do work, you just have to speak to the folks in Israel. Walls work if they’re properly constructed. I know how to build, believe me, I know how to build.
I feel a very, very strong bind, and really I’m bound to this country, we either have a border or we don’t. People can come into the country, we welcome people to come but they have to come in legally. Everyone wants a secure border, but whether Trump’s Wall is the way to achieve it is highly doubtful.
THE NUCLEAR TRIAD
HEWITT: Mr. Trump… Dr. Carson just referenced the single most important job of the president, the command, the control and the care of our nuclear forces. And he mentioned the triad. The B-52s are older than I am. The missiles are old. The submarines are aging out. It’s an executive order. It’s a commander-in-chief decision.
What’s your priority among our nuclear triad?
TRUMP: Well, first of all, I think we need somebody absolutely that we can trust, who is totally responsible; who really knows what he or she is doing. That is so powerful and so important. And one of the things that I’m frankly most proud of is that in 2003, 2004, I was totally against going into Iraq because you’re going to destabilize the Middle East. I called it. I called it very strongly. And it was very important.
But we have to be extremely vigilant and extremely careful when it comes to nuclear. Nuclear changes the whole ball game. Frankly, I would have said get out of Syria; get out — if we didn’t have the power of weaponry today. The power is so massive that we can’t just leave areas that 50 years ago or 75 years ago we wouldn’t care. It was hand-to-hand combat.
The biggest problem this world has today is not President Obama with global warming, which is inconceivable, this is what he’s saying. The biggest problem we have is nuclear — nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, having some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon. That’s in my opinion, that is the single biggest problem that our country faces right now.
HEWITT: Of the three legs of the triad, though, do you have a priority? I want to go to Senator Rubin after that and ask him.
TRUMP: I think — I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me. Thus, Trump unknowingly revealed that he didn’t have a clue as what the nuclear triad is, let alone how to prioritize among its elements (airplanes, land based missiles and submarines). For any candidate other than the Teflon Don it would have been a major embarrassment.
TRUMP: Our country doesn’t win anymore. We don’t win on trade. We don’t win on the military. We can’t defeat ISIS. We’re not taking care of our great people, the veterans. We’re not taking care of them.
We have to change our whole way, our health care system is a disaster. It’s going to implode in 2017, just like you’re sitting there. It doesn’t work. Nothing works in our country. If I’m elected president, we will win again. We will win a lot. And we’re going to have a great, great country, greater than ever before. And so he closed as he began, with a bouquet of banalities and a cry of self-celebration.
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The last celebrity we recall adopting the mantra “I am the greatest” was Muhammad Ali. Ali, however, had something with which to back up his braggadocio.