Donald Trump is two for two with teleprompter-ed speeches. That is, he is batting 1000 with remarks that are carefully prepared and delivered. So for his sake, he should keep it up. And if he does, he can win the Republican nomination in July and the general election in November—by carrying 40 states.
Trump’s speech today to the Center for the National Interest (CFTNI), an old-line “realist” think tank in DC, was well received. CFTNI was once known as the Nixon Center, as in, the 37th president, and it still includes on its board such legendary Nixon foreign-policy hands as Henry Kissinger.
Not surprisingly, Trump’s hard-nosed policy ideas were a tonic to grizzled Nixonian realpolitikers. Yet at the same time, his ideas were cheering to a younger generation, weary of the endless wars-for-democracy of the Bush 43 administration, as well as the foolishly sovereignty-smiting policies of the Clinton and Obama administrations.
Indeed, in choosing to speak before CFTNI, as opposed to, say, AEI or Heritage, Trump was sending a clear signal to the neocons who dominated the Bush 43 administration: Your days of costly nation-building are done. (And yet interestingly, Trump was introduced by Zalmay Khalilzad, Bush 43’s ambassador to the United Nations.)
So when Trump puts his mind to it, he can be not only entertaining but also effective. His CFTNI speech, on top of his March 21 speech to the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), proves that Trump can operate smoothly at the presidential level.
In his 38-minute address, Trump got right down to it: “It’s time to shake the rust off America’s foreign policy. It’s time to invite new voices and new visions into the fold, something we have to do.”
That is, indeed, the sort of new broom that the voters have been looking for; it has animated not only the Trump campaign but also, we can observe, the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Yes, we’ve had quite enough of “experts” who get their “genius” thoughts published in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, thereby shaping the failed foreign policies of the last three presidents.
As Trump said, under his leadership, “If America fights, it will only fight to win… victory with a capital ‘V.’” In the preceding sentence, we might note, first, the “if” and, second, the “V” for “Victory.” It’s thus easy to see Trump sewing up the military vote, which is generally Republican. So sorry, Huffington Post, your attempt to stir the politico-military pot is not going to succeed.
Yet at the same time, Trump made it clear that he was going to be not only careful but also judicious. He quoted the realist wisdom of John Quincy Adams from 1821: “We do not go abroad in search of enemies.”
Thus, in Trump’s words, we can see something that’s simultaneously both new and old: “The direction I will outline today will also return us to a timeless principle. My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people and American security above all else… That will be the foundation of every single decision that I will make.”
Yet Trump, being Trump, was never going to let a speech be nothing but airy abstractions; he dug right in on familiar specifics: “We must stop importing extremism through senseless immigration policies.”
Thus in one sentence Trump staked out of his opposition to the borderless immigration policies of the last three presidents, going back to the early ’90s. None of them—not Clinton, not Bush 43, not Obama—have adequately defended the interests of the United States and its citizens. And some haven’t even tried.
Indeed, Trump went further, sharply separating himself from the giddy utopianism that inspired Barack Obama to travel to Europe and try to prop up the faltering European Union:
The nation-state remains the true foundation for happiness and harmony. I am skeptical of international unions that tie us up and bring America down… Under my administration, we will never enter America into any agreement that reduces our ability to control our own affairs.
And then he singled out, as examples of what not to do, NAFTA and policies obsessed with “global warming.”
During his administration, Trump said, “No American citizen will ever again feel that their needs come second to the citizens of foreign countries.” Again, that’s how a rookie at politics goes right to the top job on his first try.
Completing his survey of the world, Trump reiterated his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, and then paused to meditate over our “complicated relationships with Russia and China.” He added, “We are not bound to be adversaries; we should seek common ground.”
Addressing Russia first, Trump declared his belief that “an easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia–from a position of strength—is possible.” Continuing, he laid out this game plan, straight from the Nixon-Kissinger-Reagan playbook: “Common sense says this cycle of hostility must end. Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out. If we can’t make a good deal for America, then we will quickly walk from the table.”
Moving to China, Trump declared, “A strong and smart America is an America that will find a better friend in China. We can both benefit or we can both go our separate ways.”
Yet at the same time, he didn’t minimize the challenge with China: “We have allowed China to steal government secrets and engage in massive industrial espionage.” And then, of course, there’s the issue of trade—Trump didn’t back a bit from his hawkishness.
Not every American will agree with his words, but most will. So Trump’s political challenge is to keep it up for the next seven months: Keep making the case for a center-right realism—while the Democrats poison themselves with crime-friendly political correctness and multiculturalism.
To be sure, Trump still has his quirks: He likes to say, for example, that a president should be “unpredictable.” Without a doubt, unpredictability is a virtue in a deal-making business executive, but it’s less of a virtue in a commander-in-chief.
Also, Trump likes to use the historically loaded phrase, “America First.” As he told the CFTNI, “America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration, one that replaces randomness with purpose, ideology with strategy and chaos with peace.”
America First, of course, was the name of the isolationist movement just prior to World War Two. Many of the America Firsters were perfectly sincere patriots, although not all were. And in any case, the good ones and the bad ones were all deeply discredited by Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, followed by Nazi Germany’s declaration of war against the US four days later.
These quibbles over “unpredictable” and “America First” might seem like the mere parsing of words, and perhaps so—but that’s politics.
Meanwhile, even as Trump was speaking, Hillary Clinton’s campaign was gearing up to respond, putting former secretary of state Madeleine Albright—holding, of course, a harshly opposing view—on the phone with reporters.
And then, to make it a one-two punch, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina—every Democrat’s favorite Republican-bashing Republican—was busy tweeting out his latest anti-Trump tantrum for the “high church” neocons. Whereupon David Brock, the ex-conservative who has became Hillary’s best friend, was on the case, eagerly echoing Graham’s tweets, among others.
So Trump has his work cut out for him. The Clinton attack machine—bolstered, of course, by the likes of Lindsey Graham—is indeed formidable.
Yet Hillary must overcome the not-so-dry rot of the last eight years. Only once since World War Two has a party managed to win a third consecutive term in the White House, as Hillary is trying to do in 2016.
And as for Trump, if he can stick to his center-right message—that is, saving America from the globalists of the right as well as of the left—and if he can offer a vision of broad prosperity, while not jumping into military quagmires, well, there’s a word for that: WINNING.