On “Fox News Sunday” he seemed not to know that NATO troops were fighting terrorism in Afghanistan or that South Korea and Japan contributed to their own defense. When confronted with his own ignorance, he tries to wriggle out with some caveat not previously raised, like this:
TRUMP: There’s always a learning curve. I don’t care if you’ve been doing it all your life, there’s a learning curve, especially with something like you’re talking about NATO, when you’re talking about — because it is a very movable subject.I will say this: NATO is obsolete. NATO doesn’t cover terrorism. NATO was based around the Soviet Union . . . .WALLACE: Okay, fine. Do you know how many NATO soldiers have died in Afghanistan helping us after the 9/11 attack on the U.S.? Do you know how many NATO soldiers have died?TRUMP: I’m not saying — I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. I’m saying it’s unfair —WALLACE: A thousand is the answer.
TRUMP: Fine, I’m saying — and it’s a lot of soldiers. I’m saying it’s a — I’m saying it’s unfair to us. It’s unfair to us as a country.WALLACE: But they’ve been defending us against terrorism.TRUMP: Excuse me. We are paying so much money, disproportionately. We have countries that are being carried along.It’s not fair to the United States, not fair to the citizens, and not fair to the taxpayers. And what I said was exactly right.Now when they cover it, they say, Donald Trump doesn’t like NATO. I think NATO’s fine. I think NATO has to be readjusted. I think we have to cover terrorism, because we’re really not covering terrorism.WALLACE: Well, in Afghanistan we are.TRUMP: Sure. But, we —WALLACE: Well, that counts, sir.TRUMP: We have to — excuse me. I’m sure it counts. But I’m saying, we have to be very specific on terrorism.
In short Trump was wrong: NATO does “cover” terrorism, contrary to his initial declaration. Rather than admit error, Trump hedged and qualified his answers, but that could not disguise an embarrassing lack of understanding about what NATO does. (Maybe he would not think NATO obsolete if he actually knew what it was doing.)
Likewise, he had to backpedal and qualify his insistence that South Korea and Japan don’t pay for their own defense:
TRUMP: Sometimes you’re better off saying, hey, wait a minute. We’re defending Japan, we’re — I mean, what we’re doing is costing us a fortune, and not only Japan, South Korea. We have 28,000 soldiers on the line. And part of that defense is nukes, right?At some point, they have to pay us, because we cannot continue —WALLACE: But they do pay us.TRUMP: They pay us peanuts.WALLACE: They pay us almost $1 billion, South Korea. I think $2 billion in Japan.TRUMP: That’s peanuts compared to what we’re talking about and compared to the real threat.
Does anyone really think Trump knew that these countries collectively paid $3 billion for their own defense? Of course he didn’t.
In addition to retreating slowly when caught in obvious falsehoods, Trump often uses another tactic: Self-pity. The billionaire is now always the victim. Ask him about the broken pledge and he claims Republicans are not treating him “fairly.” Nailed on video evidence that his campaign manager lied when he said he had not touched reporter Michelle Fields, Trump whines he should not have to apologize because she allegedly misrepresented the event early on and “Early on is all that matters.” Huh?! On “Face the Nation,” he wouldn’t even admit Corey Lewandowski touched Fields. Instead, he claimed to be the victim (“And, by the way, by the way, she grabbed me, just so you understand.”)
On abortion, Chris Matthews’s question was too tricky, his campaign claims. On the Klu Klux Klan and David Duke, the ear piece was not working properly, he later said. When Cruz’s team outmaneuvers Trump on delegates Trump responds, again, by whining. “It could be illegal, if you want to know the truth,” he says falsely, betraying his team’s lack of sophistication as to how to woo delegates. On and on, always someone else’s fault. Among the most privileged men ever to run for president who claims always to be a “winner,” Trump is apparently the most victimized man in the country.
Trump does not bother to learn anything about anything, nor can he admit error. Instead he squirms and retreats ever so slightly — or plays the victim. It’s the behavior of a child, a very spoiled one who is used to getting his way all the time. It is a dangerous combination — abject ignorance and refusal to admit error. It forces him to lie — a lot — and to contradict himself — a lot. (Any parent of a toddler or teacher of a kid who never read the book he’s reporting on will recognize his routine.)
Aside from the lack of character and the shockingly juvenile temperament this reveals, the potential consequences of such behavior in a man who wants to be president are alarming. We’re heading for a massive recession! Give nukes to South Korea! Go target women and children! When you are president, words have consequences. They can induce economic panic, provoke foes and destabilize alliances. This is why he should never be president, and why self-respecting Republicans should not make him the standard bearer of their party.