Political insiders have gone from thinking Donald Trump will crash and burn to thinking he will be the GOP nominee. The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts
remains in denial continues to be skeptical of that assertion, but is willing to play along with it until people actually vote.
So if we’re treating Trump as the odds-on nominee, there’s a small issue that might be worth raising now: exactly who is advising Donald Trump on foreign affairs?
Who needs foreign policy advisers when you know the art of the deal, you ask? Well, every president. The most scarce commodity a commander-in-chief has is time. It’s simply impossible for one man to run every aspect of American foreign policy all of the time — and the presidents who micro-manage this stuff tend to flail the most. No, there needs to be a good team in place.
This holds with particular force for Trump. To be sure, he has a consistent foreign policy worldview that has drawn grudging respect from some, even if I think it’s pretty blinkered. But there’s also ample evidence that even if Trump has a consistent worldview, he knows very little about international relations. And since a President Trump can’t be in every negotiating room, there needs to be a foreign policy team.
I bring up the question of Trump’s foreign policy team not because it necessarily matters all that much to voters — see Elizabeth Saunders’s excellent Monkey Cage post for more on that — but rather because of two curious facts about Trump and his international affairs team.
The first curious fact is that Trump doesn’t have a foreign policy team. This is true even though he’s been promising to roll one out over the past five months. Back in a September debate, Trump promised to “have the finest team anyone has put together.” Soon after that debate, Trump told Hugh Hewitt:
[W]e’re going to be announcing something very soon. We have a great team of people. You know, it’s interesting, because maybe of the frontrunner status, so many great national security people, including generals, have come to us and called us, and at the top level, and they want to be involved. And I think they like what I say about other things, also. But they want to be involved, and we have a great team in place, or shortly will be in place. But they’ve actually come to me and said we’d like to be involved. So you know, I’m a little, I’m a little bit maybe not that surprised, but we’re going to have a great team in place, absolutely.
To date, however, he has introduced exactly no one. According to this site, there’s no one on Trump’s campaign staff who would qualify as a foreign policy advisor. Instead, there have been headlines like “Donald Trump’s Imaginary Foreign Policy Experts” and “Lack of Foreign Policy Team May Hurt Trump” and “After Foreign Policy Stumbles, Trump Hires Herman Cain as Advisor,” though I’m pretty sure that last one is satirical. There have even been instances in which Trump has named someone as an advisor — and then that person says he hasn’t spoken with Trump.
Last week, Jeremy Herb reported in Politico that the non-existence of Trump’s foreign policy and national security team remains a thing:
Unlike the other candidates, Trump does not appear to have reached out to any of the traditional advisers on foreign policy and national security. Analysts at the major conservative think tanks and others who have briefed 2016 candidates say they’ve heard nothing from Trump’s campaign — and know no one advising him.
“Absolutely none that I am aware of,” said Eric Edelman, an adviser to 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney who co-founded the John Hay Initiative, which has briefed multiple candidates and offered a foreign policy playbook to all of the 2016 field.
Even outreach initiated by the defense community has gone nowhere.
The second curious thing is that it’s not clear that traditional GOP foreign policy hands want to advise Trump. Herb has a long list of quotes from GOP foreign policy heavyweights disparaging Trump’s foreign policy statements. The last Republican foreign policy principal, Robert Gates, is even more blunt, joking about moving to Canada if Trump is elected.
This is curious because foreign policy advisers are usually the biggest bandwagoners in politics. While there are some obvious ideological differences within the parties, most of them want to back a winner so they can go serve in the next administration. This is why they usually coalesce around the titular front-runner.
Since Trump is now the front-runner, I suspect you will see some movement in that direction. But at this point, Trump is staying away from GOP foreign policy advisers, and they’re reciprocating in kind.
So I’ll just ask the question again: when is Donald Trump going to introduce his foreign policy team?