Donald Trump and I have something in common: When right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt asked the GOP frontrunner about America’s nuclear triad at Tuesday night’s debate, neither of us had heard that phrase before.
But Donald Trump is running for president, and I’m not.
There’s another difference between us: I could glean from the context of Hewitt’s question that he was asking Trump what he would do to maintain our nuclear arsenal. (The triad refers to our land-, sea- and air-based systems for delivering nukes.) Trump had absolutely no idea what Hewitt was asking, and his answer was genuinely terrifying.
Trump has said a lot of scary (and racist) things on the campaign trail, from calling undocumented immigrants rapists to saying he’d ban Muslims from the country to urging supporters at his rallies to attack protesters.
But his answer Tuesday night was especially terrifying; it revealed what it means to put an ignorant blowhard with a head full of jagged rocks in charge of enough munitions to blow up the entire world several times over.
Let’s go through his answer. If you didn’t see it in real time, know that you should experience the stomach-churning terror you feel when you climb that first hill on an especially tall roller coaster.
First, Hewitt’s question:
“Mr. Trump, Dr. Carson just referenced the single most important job of the president, the command, the control and the care of our nuclear forces. And he mentioned the triad. The B-52s are older than I am. The missiles are old. The submarines are aging out. It’s an executive order. It’s a commander-in-chief decision.
“What’s your priority among our nuclear triad?”
No matter how little you know about the makeup of our nuclear forces, it’s clear Hewitt is suggesting the technologies we use to deliver a nuclear attack are too old, and asking Trump what his priority would be when it comes to maintaining them. Right? You’d have to be completely ignorant, an utter buffoon with the intelligence of an earthworm the other earthworms make fun of for being dumb not to get the gist of what Hewitt is asking here.
This was Trump’s response:
“Well, first of all, I think we need somebody absolutely that we can trust, who is totally responsible, who really knows what he or she is doing. That is so powerful and so important.”
On the face of it, Trump’s first comments may seem reasonable. We do need someone we can trust, who is totally responsible, who knows what he or she is doing when it comes to taking charge of our nuclear arsenal. But this wasn’t an introduction to a fuller answer explaining why he knows what he’s doing (or what his plans are). To Trump, that was the substantive answer. Listen to Trump for 30 seconds at any of his rallies and you realize that’s the entirety of his thought process. “Make America Great Again” is a perfectly fine slogan if you have a plan to make America great again, but with Trump, the slogan is the entire agenda. There is no plan.
How do we know Trump is responsible enough to handle our nuclear arsenal? He went on:
“And one of the things that I’m frankly most proud of is that in 2003, 2004, I was totally against going into Iraq because you’re going to destabilize the Middle East. I called it. I called it very strongly. And it was very important.”
First of all, Trump is simply lying; he did not, in fact, strongly object to the Iraq War before it began. But even if he was against the Iraq War, that doesn’t qualify him to control and maintain the world’s largest collection of nuclear bombs. I opposed the war, marching with signs and everything. And please believe me when I tell you I have no business anywhere near a bomb with the power to evaporate a city.
Trump wasn’t done yet.
“But we have to be extremely vigilant and extremely careful when it comes to nuclear. Nuclear changes the whole ballgame. Frankly, I would have said get out of Syria; get out – if we didn’t have the power of weaponry today. The power is so massive that we can’t just leave areas that 50 years ago or 75 years ago we wouldn’t care. It was hand-to-hand combat.”
Yes, in 1940 soldiers only fought in hand-to-hand combat. The boxing-related deaths of World War II were truly devastating.
Again, Trump is right, in a childlike way. We do have to be careful with nuclear; it does change the whole ballgame. But these are generalities borne out of ignorance. In 145 words Trump has yet to approach anything remotely like an answer to Hewitt’s question. He hasn’t said what his priority would be when it comes to maintaining or upgrading our nukes. He hasn’t even said what his principles would be. But surely that’s coming soon, right?
You know what? Let’s just finish the exchange.
Trump: “The biggest problem this world has today is not President Obama with global warming, which is inconceivable, this is what he’s saying. The biggest problem we have is nuclear – nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, having some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon. That’s in my opinion, that is the single biggest problem that our country faces right now.”
Hewitt: “Of the three legs of the triad, though, do you have a priority? I want to go to Sen. Rubio after that and ask him.”
Trump: “I think – I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.”
The devastation is very important to him. That flailing nonsense is the best Trump can manage. A reasonably well-informed fifth grader could come up with something better.
The problem isn’t simply that Trump doesn’t have detailed plans to make sure our nuclear weapons are safely maintained. The problem is that he doesn’t understand even the most basic premise of a relatively simple question. He couldn’t muster a “I’ll make sure we have the most modern, best nuclear arsenal the world has ever seen,” because he didn’t know what he was being asked.
Imagine handing over the nuclear codes to a man with the comprehension skills of Donald J. Trump. Do you honestly believe he would understand the consequences of using them? Trump is obsessed with tough-guy machismo. How much provocation does he need to press that button?
Trump hasn’t walked back any of the racist, ignorant, stupid things he’s said over the course of the campaign, and he certainly won’t admit to making a mistake last night. But his inability to muster ten remotely sensible words about what he would do as president with the most destructive collection of weapons in the history of mankind should be an automatic disqualifier for the presidency.
This moment should be the beginning of the end for his campaign. Just like all the other moments should have been.