We’ve been harping on the issue of whether mainstream Republican leaders will continue to back Donald Trump for president because it speaks to the big, fat question in this year’s election.
Is this a normal election between Team R and Team D? Is Trump a normal candidate? Or does he represent something much darker, something historically unusual? Would his election as president represent a risk to American ideals, to the nation, and to the world that goes beyond the ideological differences between the two parties?
It is no secret that I think that someone like Marco Rubio would pursue policies at home and abroad that caused real harm to real people. Just as Republicans believe that Hillary Clinton would be a bad president, I think that Rubio would be a bad president. But even if I’m right, I can acknowledge that Rubio would be a bad president on the continuum of good and bad presidents in the history of the United States of America. I don’t want to understate this: in any presidential election, the real-world stakes are incredibly high. But in arguing between a Rubio and a Clinton, or even a Cruz and a Sanders, we are arguing over the standard ideological tilts in American democracy, not a potential existential crisis for American democracy itself.
Put another way, our partisan fears are about different conclusions reached by informed actors with a basic respect for our shared norms and institutions — not madness.
Which brings me to yesterday’s Morning Joe program, when host Joe Scarborough revealed the following:
Several months ago, a foreign policy expert on the national level went to advise Donald Trump, and three times [Trump] asked about the use of nuclear weapons. Three times, he asked, ‘if we have them, why can’t we use them?’ … Three times in an hour briefing: Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?
A chilled panel asked former CIA director Michael Hayden about the protocol and timeframe between a potential decision by a President Trump and the launch of nuclear weapons.
Hayden replied: “The system is designed for speed and decisiveness, it is not designed to debate the decision.”
The Trump camp denied Scarborough’s statement, but Trump has a detailed public history of musing about first-strike use of the nation’s nuclear arsenal (and has a documented history of erratic behavior, petty vindictiveness, and utter ignorance of world affairs that makes him historically unique among major-party candidates for president of the United States of America).
Whatever you might think of a Hillary Clinton or a Marco Rubio, I think it’s fair to say that the impulsive use of an unwarranted first-strike nuclear attack is essentially zero. Likewise, while I would argue that the interventionist war hawk George W. Bush did just about as much harm as a president could plausibly do, I never worried about indiscriminate use of nuclear weapons during his administration. Can we say the same about Trump?
For some perspective, take a minute and read the tweets below from John Noonan, a former national security adviser for Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, and a former nuclear launch officer in the U.S. Air Force.