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Opinion Why ‘gotcha questions’ ultimately don’t mean anything

Donald Trump in Scotland in July. (Scott Heppell/Associated Press)

The “gotcha question.” That’s the question candidates for elective office gets to which they have no answer. They should have an answer because the query is based on something they have said repeatedly (“I don’t want to get into verses.”) or it is one they should have an answer to if they want to be the leader of the free world. In both cases Donald Trump failed.

The latest example of this was The Donald’s interview Thursday with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who said he wanted his sixth interview with the GOP front-runner to focus on “commander in chief questions.” It was a mess of a conversation. Hewitt asked Trump about various terrorist leaders in the Middle East. Bad guys Trump didn’t exactly know and bristled at having to know. When the radio man told the the Big Apple billionaire,  “I don’t believe in gotcha questions,” what he got in response was classic Trump.

Well, that is a gotcha question, though. I mean, you know, when you’re asking me about who’s running this, this this, that’s not, that is not, I will be so good at the military, your head will spin. But obviously, I’m not meeting these people. I’m not seeing these people. Now it probably will be a lot of changes, Hugh, as you go along. They’ll be, by the time we get there, which is still a pretty long period of time, you know, you start, let’s say you figure out nominations, and who is going to represent the Republicans in, let’s say, February, March, April, you’ll start to get pretty good ideas, maybe sooner than that, actually. But that will be a whole new group of people. I think what is really important is to pick out, and this is something I’m so good at, to pick out who is going to be the best person to represent us militarily, because we have some great people, militarily. I don’t know that we’re using them.

To appropriate a line from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” Trump’s answer is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” By blustering his way through the answer, he magnifies the void in his foreign policy knowledge.

Now, let’s take a look at how a pro does it. Carly Fiorina went on Hewitt’s show after Trump. Read the transcript. The up-and-coming Republican candidate knows her stuff. And when Hewitt asked her if she thought he asked her a gotcha question, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard had the perfect answer.

I don’t think they’re “gotcha questions” at all. The questions you’re asking are at the heart of the threat that we face, that our ally, Israel, faces, that the world faces. It is critically important that America lead again in the world. It is critically important that we have a leader in the White House who understands the world and who’s in it and how it works. Who has been to these places. Who has met these leaders. Some of this you can read about in a briefing book, but there’s one level of understanding that you get when you read something. There’s another level of understanding that you get when you’re sitting in the back of a car and a driver gives you a map and Israel literally wiped off the face of the map. That’s a whole different level of understand, and I think that’s the kind of leadership we need the White House, honestly.

Not that I agree with her foreign policy prescriptions, but I do wish ALL candidates aspiring to sit in the Oval Office would be able to respond with Fiorina’s knowledge and confidence. But what do I know. The American people have made it clear that they don’t really care about this stuff. When Gov. George W. Bush of Texas was hit with a geopolitical pop-quiz in Nov. 1999, he failed miserably. He went on to become the 43rd president of the United States.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj