There are two big problems in trying to analyze Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy speech.
The first echoes a conundrum I mentioned back in November. The core theme of Clinton’s speech on Thursday was pretty simple: I’m a grown-up, my opponent is a thin-skinned child, and who do you want to be sitting next to the nuclear codes?
These were the most damning sentences of Clinton’s speech.
Donald Trump’s ideas aren’t just different — they are dangerously incoherent. They’re not even really ideas — just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies.
He is not just unprepared — he is temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility.
This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes — because it’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.
It’s a compelling argument, both in terms of foreign policy and in terms of the 2016 campaign. When the best defense that elected Republican officials can offer for Trump right now is: “We have a Congress. We have the Supreme Court. We’re not Romania,” it suggests that the presumptive GOP nominee for president is not to be trusted with power.
Josh Barro ably sums up why Clinton’s thesis is compelling:
A great thing about this argument is that it’s a good reason for a conservative to vote against Trump, or for a moderate to do so, or a liberal, or a socialist, or somebody almost anywhere else on the political spectrum. If you’re against nuclear war and global economic crisis, then this argument speaks to your concerns.
The thing is, this speech was almost entirely about Trump and very little about Clinton. Sure, she referenced her foreign policy experience, but as other commentators pointed out, politicians ranging from Bernie Sanders to Marco Rubio could have said 95 percent of that speech without any alterations whatsoever. It was not so much a speech about Clinton’s positive attributes as Trump’s negative qualities.
This leads to the second problem: Commentators are already saying that Clinton is to the right of Trump on foreign policy, following up on previous pundit claims that Clinton is more hawkish than Trump on matters of national security.
But those appellations don’t really work in this case. Left-right distinctions are pretty useless when it comes to talking about foreign policy. Hawk-dove distinctions can be more useful in general but not in this case. Trump has made so many nutty statements that it’s pretty easy to paint him as the more hawkish candidate.
Look, if you want to intellectualize the foreign policy portion of this campaign, let me suggest relying on Walter Russell Mead’s typologies. On foreign policy, this election is about Clinton uniting the Hamiltonians and Wilsonians, the Jacksonians finding their savior in Trump, and the Jeffersonians pulling their hair out in despair. But I’m not even sure that’s completely accurate.
Clinton gave a good foreign policy speech. Just don’t think about it too much, because her core argument is “I’m an adult and therefore not Donald Trump.”