The issue didn’t come up during last week’s GOP debate, so Trump didn’t have the chance to elaborate on his declaration that he would have approved the project only if the Canadian company forked over 25 percent of its profits.
“I want a piece of the deal,” Trump told Bret Baier of Fox News. “When I say I want a piece, I’m now representing our country the way I would represent myself.”
Trump and his GOP rivals did not represent themselves well at their most recent debate. Confronted with substantive policy questions, they produced some moments that were embarrassing enough to make this viewer yearn for the much-maligned CNBC moderators.
Those moderators, you might recall, made little effort to conceal their contempt for the presidential aspirants or for the audience. Instead of requiring the contenders to explain and defend their policy positions (which is, after all, is the debate’s purpose), the moderators posed clown questions and in the process made themselves the debate’s biggest losers.
“This is not a cage match,” Republican candidate Texas Senator Ted Cruz declared. “And if you look at the questions: Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, will you insult two people over here? Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?”
“How about talking about the substantive issues?” Cruz pleaded.
Be careful what you wish for.
At last week’s debate, the candidates were challenged on substance and the results weren’t always pretty. Cruz engaged in a cringe-inducing exchange on bank bailouts with Ohio Governor John Kasich. The upshot: neither appeared to have heard of the FDIC, which insures deposits up to $250,000. The bank bailouts didn’t protect depositors, since their assets already were secured by a program that’s been around since the 1930s.
But you wouldn’t know that listening to Cruz and Kasich carry on. When Kasich erroneously suggested that protecting depositors required the Solomonic hand of an “executive” to pick and choose among depositors who could “afford” to lose their money and “the hard-working folks” who couldn’t, Cruz triumphantly proclaimed, “So you would bail them out.”
“When you are faced with banks going under,” Kasich replied, “and people who put their life savings in there, you got to deal with it.”
Actually, you don’t got to deal with it. The FDIC already does. Whether or not you agree that the government was right to bail out financial institutions, the actions were not undertaken to protect depositors.
Kasich also called for the U.S. to establish a “no-fly zone” in northern Syria. On this, he has plenty of company on both sides of the aisle. Hillary Clinton has embraced the idea, as have (in alphabetical order): Bush, Carson, Christie, Fiorina and Rubio. Trump has been cryptic, calling for a “safe zone” (whatever that is), while Cruz didn’t answer the question directly during a recent “Meet The Press” appearance.
Many critics of the President’s inscrutable war of choice in the region have urged the creation of a no-fly zone almost since the Syrian civil war’s inception, but circumstances changed dramatically with Russia’s entry into the conflict. Rand Paul seemed to be the only candidate who noticed.
“Russia flies in that zone,” Paul reminded viewers, “at the invitation of Iraq. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but you better know at least what we’re getting into.”
OK, so Paul flubbed the question too, since the candidates have generally talked about establishing a no-fly zone over portions of Syria, not Iraq. But he at least recognized the perils of pursuing this strategy now that Russian warplanes are flying missions in Syrian airspace.
Establishing a no-fly zone in Syria over the objections of its government is a serious matter. Risking armed conflict with Russia in the process is downright dangerous. Candidates who advocate such steps must explain to voters what these actions would accomplish, what could go wrong and why it’s worth the risk.
Then there’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal the Administration negotiated with nine Asian governments. China, Mr. Trump informed the audience, is “the number-one abuser of this country. And if you look at the way they take advantage, it’s through currency manipulation. It’s not even discussed in the almost 6,000-page agreement. It’s not even discussed.”
“We might want to point out,” Mr. Paul interjected, “China is not part of this deal.” Which might explain why the agreement doesn’t discuss Chinese monetary policy.
At this point in the campaign, candidates shouldn’t be botching questions on trade deals, bailouts and no-fly zones. Republican candidates did, retreating to pat answers that betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of critical issues. That’s not a winning strategy.
Voters deserve better than a President who is glib, smart and thoroughly ill-equipped to meet challenges at home and abroad, as we were reminded again when Islamic State terrorists struck Paris just hours after President Obama had boasted of having “contained them.”
He has left the world more dangerous and the nation more divided than he found it. Repairing the damage and healing the wounds will require an extraordinary leader. Such leadership was little in evidence during last week’s debate. There still is a long way to go in this campaign, more than enough time for the candidates to think through their positions and master policy details. Those who want to convince voters that they’re up to the challenge should get busy.
And if things don’t work out for Trump, there are other countries that may one day be in the market for new leadership. His insistence on getting “a piece of the deal” on the Keystone permit suits him very well for the presidency of countries like Venezuela and Russia.
Watch your back, Vlad.