Donald Trump Wants to be a Toddler Dictator. A Lot of Other Republicans Are Fine With That.
On Trump's immature but illiberal plans for 2025.
Last week a journalist friend familiar with my in-depth research for The Toddler in Chief forwarded me a recent Trump campaign email that had the header, “DeSantis’ Childish Foreign Policy Clichés Betray Dangerous Lack of Historical, Intellectual and Diplomatic Sophistication.” Trump’s flacks tweeted it out as well, prefacing Trump’s comments by stating, “Statesmanship and Peacemaking requires seriousness, sophistication, and historical perspective, not mindless talking points and shallow Washington bromides. Sadly, some people’s worldviews are too simple-minded to make peace.”
The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts has no wish to defend DeSantis’ at-best muddled comments on Ukraine. But there are two things intriguing about Trump’s statement. The first is his attempt to paint DeSantis as a neocon, an odd move given that the primary critique of DeSantis on this issue has been that he’s been too soft on Russia.
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The second interesting — nay, amazing — part of all this is Trump painting himself as the adult in the room compared to everyone else: Let’s excerpt some of Trump’s comments below, shall we?
This kind of neocon rhetoric, mocking Russia’s nuclear weapons, along with implying that Putin must be tried and presumably executed as a war criminal, only increases the chance of deadly nuclear escalation. Fundamentally, it shows a lack of depth, a lack of seriousness, and a lack of sophistication on the subtleties and complexities of foreign policy. You can’t do certain things and end up with peace.
This is not the time for on-the-job training as we face the possibility of nuclear war. And our leaders, if you call them that, got us there. This is where we are. The word “nuclear” was never even mentioned during the Trump Administration.
Now it’s being mentioned every hour of every day. We need a statesman and a peacemaker in the White House, not someone who recites mindless and recycled talking points to win the approval of the failed foreign policy establishment. They didn’t know what they were doing. In 2024, I am the only candidate who can prevent World War III. I will prevent World War III — there’s nobody else that’s going to do that.
So there’s a lot going on here, and I’m not gonna go down the rabbit hole of fact-checking Trump’s record as president. Rather, let’s consider some recent evidence suggesting that Donald Trump’s grasp of the complexities and subtleties of American foreign policy ain’t all that.
Over the weekend, Trump chatted with Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo about Ukraine, going so far as to claim that he could “secure peace in Ukraine within 24 hours of taking back the White House.” That would be pretty impressive! How would he do this? After rambling for a bit, even Bartiromo (not exactly an unsympathetic voice) pressed him for his 24-hour solution. Here is the full extent of Trump’s answer:
I know Zelenskyy very well, and I know Putin very well, even better. And I had a good relationship, very good with both of them. I would tell Zelenskyy, no more. You got to make a deal. I would tell Putin, if you don't make a deal, we're going to give him a lot. We're going to [give Ukraine] more than they ever got if we have to. I will have the deal done in one day. One day.
This is one of those nonsensical answers that, dare I say, suggests that Trump lacks firm grasp of the complexities and subtleties of U.S. foreign policy!
In no particular order:
What exactly is the deal that Zelenskyy is supposed to cut? Trump failed to mention any particulars. The only deal Putin seems prepared to accept is relinquishing all four oblasts that Russia has annexed — and Russia does not physically control a lot of that claimed territory. Is Trump suggesting those should be the terms?
While a U.S. threat to withdraw support for Ukraine would be serious, it would be unlikely to force Zelenskyy into negotiations. The Ukrainian president has pretty solid support from the Ukrainian people as well as European members of NATO. Ukraine would continue to resist, the war would continue to drag on — and Trump would be proven wrong.
My favorite bit of stupidity is Trump’s statement that Putin will agree to terms because otherwise the U.S. will give Ukraine “ lot.” To put it gently… what else can the U.S. give to Ukraine at this point? Over the past year the Biden administration has continually ramped up the weapons systems it has sent to Ukraine, capped off by the recent decision to send cluster munitions. How does Trump propose to top that? Tactical nuclear weapons?
In other words, Trump’s critique of DeSantis, like most of his critiques, are a form of self-projection. Trump’s grasp of foreign policy remains that of a small child with poor impulse control, oppositional tendencies, and severe knowledge deficits. Never forget that Trump is still the dude who thought trading Puerto Rico for Greenland was doable and nuking hurricanes were viable ideas.
This would all be easy to dismiss if it wasn’t for the fact that: a) Trump continues to be the GOP frontrunner; and b) he appears to be the only GOP candidate with concrete plans for what he would do as president.
The evidence for the former is depressingly abundant, George Will columns aside.1 Regarding the latter, the New York Times’ Jonathan Swan, Charlie Savage, and Maggie Haberman wrote quite the story on Trump’s second-term plans:
Donald J. Trump and his allies are planning a sweeping expansion of presidential power over the machinery of government if voters return him to the White House in 2025, reshaping the structure of the executive branch to concentrate far greater authority directly in his hands.
Their plans to centralize more power in the Oval Office stretch far beyond the former president’s recent remarks that he would order a criminal investigation into his political rival, President Biden, signaling his intent to end the post-Watergate norm of Justice Department independence from White House political control.
Mr. Trump and his associates have a broader goal: to alter the balance of power by increasing the president’s authority over every part of the federal government that now operates, by either law or tradition, with any measure of independence from political interference by the White House, according to a review of his campaign policy proposals and interviews with people close to him….
He intends to strip employment protections from tens of thousands of career civil servants, making it easier to replace them if they are deemed obstacles to his agenda. And he plans to scour the intelligence agencies, the State Department and the defense bureaucracies to remove officials he has vilified as “the sick political class that hates our country.”
It will be difficult for the Trump campaign to claim inaccuracies in the story, since the rest of the piece quotes liberally from Trump loyalists like John McEntee, Russell Vought, Steven Cheung, and Heritage Foundation president Kevin Roberts. Indeed, what is noteworthy is not that Trump wants to enhance presidential power — I was warning about this issue more than a year ago — but the degree to which the vestiges of the GOP establishment, like Heritage, have signed onto the enterprise.
In contrast, Trump’s challengers appear to be devoid of much in the way of policy proposals, a fact that NRO’s Jim Geraghty recently lamented:
I notice quite a few of the GOP presidential-campaign websites do not have “issues” or agenda sections yet. Some of these candidates do feature their most recent media appearances, which sometimes give a sense of their policy proposals. But they don’t have any set-aside section that lays out their to-do list in detail….
I wonder if some campaigns have calculated that putting out specific policy proposals just gives the other rival campaigns targets to snipe at and language to exaggerate, misconstrue, and demonize. I hope this isn’t the case, as “trust me, we’ll work out the details later” is a promise that Republicans have heard many, many times before, often with disappointing results. I agree with Christie’s campaign slogan that “the truth matters,” and the truth is that there are still some of us nerds and geeks out here who actually want to see a policy agenda with specifics from presidential candidates.
In the conclusion to The Toddler in Chief, I noted:
Trump’s foreign policy tantrums, power grabs, destruction of government organizations, evisceration of political norms, and cowing of the GOP establishment illuminate the awesome scope of the modern President’s powers. If the goal is to destroy rather than create, then even a Toddler in Chief exercises considerable power.
Nothing in the ensuing years suggests that Trump has matured in any way whatsoever. He has succeeded, however, in dragging most of the GOP down to his level of immaturity. Which means that if he gets elected in 2025, he will not just epitomize immature leadership; he will epitomize destructive, super-empowered immature leadership.