Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt put Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on notice Thursday over what the host called “the commander-in-chief questions,” in a preview of potential fireworks at the next debate.
In his interview with Hewitt, Trump said he didn't need to know various terrorist leaders before getting into the Oval Office. Hewitt, who will be asking questions at CNN's Sept. 16 debate, hinted the billionaire might do well to get familiar sooner.
“At the debate, I may bring up Nasrallah being with Hezbollah, and al-Julani being with al-Nusra, and al-Masri being with Hamas,” Hewitt said.
Trump bristled, characterizing as a “gotcha question” any inquiry about commanders who he claimed “probably won’t even be there in six months or a year.”
(For the record, Hassan Nasrallah has commanded the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah since 1992. Abu Mohammed al-Julani runs the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra front fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Mushir al-Masri is a senior figure in both the political and paramilitary wings of the Palestinian group Hamas.)
“When you start throwing around names of people and where they live and, you know, 'give me their address,' I think it’s ridiculous,” said Trump, who is scheduled to speak at a Washington rally with fellow candidate Ted Cruz against President Obama's Iran nuclear deal on Sept. 9.
Trump has often fired back at tough questioners, criticizing the Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly for what he said was inappropriate questioning at the first Republican presidential debate on Aug. 6 after she pushed him on his comments about women. The ensuing feud raged for several weeks, eventually drawing in Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes.
True to form, Trump continued to criticize Hewitt on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Friday, calling the host, whose radio show says it has 2 million weekly listeners, a “third-rate radio announcer.”
“It was like ‘got you, got you,'” Trump said. “Every question was, do I know this one and that one?”
Hewitt didn't immediately respond to questions but, according to the Huffington Post, said Friday that Trump's preemptive insults won't alter his plan to stick to detailed foreign policy and defense questions.
“His critique won't change my debate questions or prep,” he said.
Hewitt, who told Trump on Thursday he doesn't “believe in gotcha questions,” outlined his philosophy on the debate as early as March, telling the Huffington Post that the candidates, many of whom he has interviewed repeatedly, were more likely to get questions “about the Ohio-class submarine than contraceptives” from him.
“The Ohio-class nuclear submarine is the biggest line item debate that will be held in the next 15 years,” he said. “Presidential candidates ought to know about it. They ought to be up to speed on it. That tells me seriousness.”
Hewitt, who will join CNN moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash on Sept. 16, complained on Meet the Press in August that the first forum “was a 9/10 debate in a 9/11 world” and said Trump didn't have the temperament to be president, according to transcripts.
Also on Thursday, Hewitt interviewed Republican candidate Carly Fiorina. He posed to her “the same basic question set that I posed to Donald Trump that he objected to,” and the former Hewlett-Packard CEO acquitted herself more nimbly. (Hewitt said she didn't know the questions were coming because the Trump interview had been pre-taped.)
Hewitt then got philosophical on the idea of the questions itself: “Do you think that’s 'gotcha'? Cause I don’t want to do that at the debate. I don’t want to put people in the position of not knowing names and dates, but I do worry that people have a general grasp of Islamist radicalism. What do you think?”
If she disagreed, Fiorina didn't show any willingness to antagonize one of the three moderators she now appears likely to face in the prime-time debate.
“I don’t think they’re 'gotcha questions' at all,” she said. “The questions you’re asking are at the heart of the threat that we face.”