"I'm really good at war."

Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg

Trump's National-Security Plan, in 23 Seconds

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
Read More.
a | A

Tonight is national security night at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Under the theme of "Make America Safe Again," the Trump campaign will feature a Benghazi video and remarks from a number of Trump supporters, some of whom have a tangential relationship to American national security, and some of whom (Melania Trump) do not.

Donald Trump is very big on national security. He's very big on the military. He said, in a 2015 speech in Iowa, that he's got what it takes, warwise. "I've had a lot of wars of my own," said Trump, who has never served in the military or government. "I'm really good at war."

To get more details, let's look at the issues section of Trump's campaign web site. The site's national-security content consists of a 23-second video clip, including music and logo, of Trump speaking on "the military." Trump vows, "We're going to get rid of ISIS, and we're going to get rid of them fast."

So now you know.

Trump famously told Chuck Todd of NBC News that he got his military advice from watching television shows. It sounded ridiculous at the time. It has become increasingly obvious that it's true.

In a joint interview on "60 Minutes" with Trump and his running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, CBS correspondent Leslie Stahl asked Pence how he would "destroy the enemies of our freedom," which Pence had just claimed was the Republican team's objective. After a generic reply from Pence, who only entered the presidential fray a few days ago and can be forgiven his lack of specificity, Trump jumped in.

"Now look," Trump said, "we are going to get rid of ISIS, big league. And we're going to get rid of 'em fast. And we're going to use surrounding states. We're going to use NATO, probably. And we're going to declare war. It is war. When the World Trade Center comes tumbling down, with thousands of people being killed, people are still-- I have friends that are still--"

Stahl interrupted Trump at this point. But the discussion never grew more coherent. It's going to be big league. And fast. We're going to use the surrounding states. We're going to use NATO.


Stahl tried, without success, to get Trump to say what kind of American troops would be involved to achieve his fast result. It's the sort of question any politician running for office would duck. But Trump not only didn't give an answer, he appeared not to have given it any thought. And he has been running for president for more than a year.  

Political operatives talk about a candidate's "growth." Barack Obama, for example, was not the same candidate when he announced his candidacy in February 2007 that he was when he accepted his party's nomination in August 2008. Over the course of the campaign he was tested. And he had grown more mature, more dynamic, more flexible, more astute, more expansive. 

Trump has not grown. He appears incapable of growth. He has not even bothered to enlarge his knowledge base, which is simpler, more linear and more easily managed than enlarging one's character. In the Washington Post, Trump acknowledged that he doesn't read much. He said he doesn't need to:

He said in a series of interviews that he does not need to read extensively because he reaches the right decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense and I have a lot of business ability.”

Trump said he is skeptical of experts because “they can’t see the forest for the trees.” He believes that when he makes decisions, people see that he instinctively knows the right thing to do: “A lot of people said, ‘Man, he was more accurate than guys who have studied it all the time.’ ”

In a New Yorker article by Jane Mayer, former Trump ghost writer Tony Schwartz explained why Trump doesn't educate himself on complex issues: "He has no attention span." In Schwartz's experience in writing "The Art of the Deal" with him in the mid-1980s, Trump was unable to sit still long enough even to convey basic facts about himself -- a topic for which Trump maintains unsurpassed enthusiasm.

Journalism's constant struggle is to say something new, offer a fresh perspective, open a new discussion. But the most salient feature of Trump's candidacy is its peculiar, droning, frightening consistency. More than a year after he launched his campaign, Trump remains as unapologetically unprepared for the job he seeks as the day he announced. He will be nominated for president later this week.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net