Ten hours before terrorists struck Brussels, Donald J. Trump was on television describing his strategy for confronting the Islamic State: He would pound it with airstrikes, but any ground action must be taken by the United States’ partners in the region. He did not mention, if he knew, that this was a pretty close approximation of President Obama’s approach.I'm mocking this because Sanger and Haberman suggest that voters will seriously weigh all of Trump's proposals, and do so logically. The writers point out contradictions and climbdowns in what Trump says, as if voters will care.
But then Mr. Trump went further, saying that the American contribution to NATO -- whose headquarters is in Brussels, smack between the airport and the subway station bombed by the Islamic State on Tuesday -- should be scaled back.
It was a surprising signal to Europe at a moment when it is under attack, and a vivid reminder of the risks of running for president in an age of terrorism: What sounds reasonably cautious in the evening can ring weak or strategically incoherent by morning.
[Trump] often promises to “knock the hell out of ISIS,” and in a debate on March 10, he answered a hypothetical question about whether he would heed the advice of generals, if they recommended deploying 20,000 to 30,000 ground troops to Syria, by saying, “I would listen to the generals, but I’m hearing numbers of 20,000 to 30,000.”Do you know what voters will remember from all of that? They'll remember "knock the hell out of ISIS." That's it. They won't remember what Trump said one day about ground troops and what he said on a later date that contradicted his pronouncement on an earlier date.
But on Monday, Mr. Trump suggested that he would reject any call to use ground troops, and appeared to suggest that he thought that American engagement could be effective even if it were limited to airstrikes -- a view not held at the Pentagon.
“I’d get people from that part of the world to put up the troops, and I’d certainly give them air power and air support and some military support,” Mr. Trump said on CNN. “But I would never, ever put up 20,000 or 30,000.”
They're also unlikely to notice that Hillary Clinton's proposals, assessed analytically, are often more hawkish than Trump's, because when an opportunity arises to appeal to voters' reptile brains, Trump does it and Clinton doesn't:
Indeed, within hours of seeing images of the carnage in Belgium, Mr. Trump renewed his calls for a ban on Muslims entering the United States and for legalized torture to extract information from an Islamic State operative captured last week in Brussels....Trump's calls for torture and sealed borders are so visceral that voters will always assume he's more of tough guy than Clinton, even if, on some issues, she's more of a hawk. She's going to have to beat him by portraying him as a clown or a loose cannon, not by portraying him as weaker and more dovish. Maybe she can run ads showing him calling for ground troops and then denying he called for ground troops; those ads should be backed by the circus music routinely used to portray an opposing candidate as a buffoon. Some voters will respond to that. But voters will always think Trump is more bellicose than Clinton is, because Trump hits hot buttons. He'll have to be portrayed as unstable. You'll get nowhere trying to portray him as a threat to the West's resolve, or as weak.
Hillary Clinton, while positioned at the hawkish end of the Democratic race, sounded mild compared with the Republicans scrambling to say how they would interrogate Muslims or separate them from the rest of the population.
A former secretary of state portraying herself as the steadiest, most experienced candidate to lead the United States and the world, Mrs. Clinton is promising continuity with the Obama administration. So she argued for doing more of what it is already doing: standing “in solidarity with our European allies,” tightening the visa and passenger-list systems, and making sure, along the way, to remember that “torture is not effective.”