The more that Donald Trump is forced to expound on issues, the more jaw-dropping gaffes, inconsistencies and contradictions emerge. That was vividly on display March 30 when he suggested in an MSNBC interview that under an abortion ban he would want “some form of punishment” meted out to women.
His campaign quickly put out a statement reversing that, while denying that it was reversing anything:
“If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman. The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb. My position has not changed – like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.”
This is quintessential Trump. He wanders into a policy arena unknown to him (meaning any policy arena), says something silly, and then must wiggle out of it either by contradicting himself immediately or by having aides try to clean it up later.
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Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, put out a statement aptly describing Trump. “Once again Donald Trump has demonstrated that he hasn’t seriously thought through the issues, and he’ll say anything just to get attention," Cruz said. “On the important issue of the sanctity of life, what’s far too often neglected is that being pro-life is not simply about the unborn child; it’s also about the mother – and creating a culture that respects her and embraces life. Of course we shouldn't be talking about punishing women; we should affirm their dignity and the incredible gift they have to bring life into the world."
Had Trump bothered to learn anything about the pro-life movement since his claimed conversion from his pro-abortion stance, he would know that his stance is unacceptable within the pro-life movement, not to mention with those favoring abortion rights. Trump does not, however, seem to possess the slightest intellectual curiosity – about beliefs he says he now holds, about foreign policy, about the Constitution or even about the delegate rules (as he let on in CNN's town hall on March 29).
“This is what happens when somebody who is pretending to be pro-life and has a penchant for demeaning women tries to answer tough questions about abortion,” Tim Miller, communications director of the anti-Trump Our Principles PAC, told me. “Donald has unprecedented unfavorable ratings with women and if he is our nominee we will suffer massive losses down ballot beyond what people are currently predicting.”
We are not alone in noticing how little Trump knows about anything other than his real estate business. Andrea Mitchell remarked:
“He would stop importing oil from Saudi Arabia if they don’t pay more for their defense. We need oil. We are not energy independent. We rely on oil still for our daily needs. He is completely all over the lot. On Iran he complained that Iran isn’t buying our planes. It had to be pointed out to him that Iran is still under sanctions and cannot buy American planes. He thinks North Korea and Iran are the biggest trading partners when North Korea’s biggest trading partner is China. He is completely uneducated about any part of the world.”
It is odd, since he presumably has access to experts (at least he keeps saying he does), staff to provide material to him and plenty of time on his jet to plunge into briefing books. When he says NATO does not address terrorism (other than the Afghanistan war?!) or will not rule out using nuclear weapons in Europe or wants to let Japan and South Korea get nukes or says things like “The problem is we have the Geneva Conventions, all sorts of rules and regulations, so the soldiers are afraid to fight,” it becomes obvious that he lacks even a rudimentary understanding of national security. (Imagine asking him what specifically is wrong with the Geneva Conventions.) When he says cutting out “waste and fraud” will take care of Social Security, he plainly has not looked at the facts. There is no reason – other than pure ignorance – for him to say his Supreme Court nominee would look into Hillary Clinton’s email scandal or his sister the judge “signs” bills.
The media keep insisting that this is all a devilishly clever plan to distract the public. Perhaps it is. But what is to be gained, for example, by displaying a shocking lack of understanding as to what the judicial branch does?
It is equally if not more likely that Trump is entirely out of his depth. By his own admission, all he does is work and play golf, so it is not as if he has spent years learning public policy, let alone history and Constitutional law. Being focused on constantly making money (and ancillary functions like litigation, book tours and social events) does not leave much time for reflection or learning about non-business-related matters.
It is also entirely possible that his massive ego will not allow him to acknowledge what he does not know and get up to speed. The result is a campaign increasingly manic in tone with serial blunders. Whether he can accumulate 1,237 delegates before the wheels come completely off the (campaign) bus remains an open question.
Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Washington Post. Twitter, @jrubinblogger