Politics & Policy

Obama Is Right about Trump

Trump speaks at a rally in Charlotte, N.C., July 26, 2016. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)
Of course he is unfit for the office.

Barack Obama says Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, is “unfit to serve as president.” 

President Obama is correct.

It may be unusual for a sitting president to take such a strong public position on the race to replace him, but it’s not exactly without precedent. Harry S Truman had been out of office for only one administration when he opined before the 1960 election: “If you vote for Dick Nixon, you ought to go to hell.” He also called him a “no-good lying bastard” and a “no-good son of a bitch.”

Those remarks mostly were not intended for public consumption, though Truman wasn’t too careful about it. Dwight Eisenhower’s remarks on the Republicans’ candidate in 1960 — who was his own vice president — were private and less colorful but no less damning: “We nominated the wrong man.” And: “Goddammit, he looks like a loser to me.” But Ike had been famously dismissive of Nixon in public, too, most notoriously when asked how the vice president had contributed to his administration, answering: “If you give me a few weeks, I may be able to think of something.”

In the 1988 election, sitting president Ronald Reagan was asked for his opinion on Michael Dukakis, who was being pressured to release certain medical records. Reagan answered: “I’m not going to pick on an invalid.” This was taken as a reference to rumors that Dukakis was afflicted with depression or another mental-health problem. Reagan later apologized, saying he was just trying to make a joke that didn’t quite work.

President George W. Bush, his father’s son, clearly believed that getting into the 2008 muck on behalf of Senator John McCain was infra dig for a sitting president. He was also canny enough to realize that it probably would have done more harm than good.

Eisenhower, Reagan, even poor overmatched George W. Bush, who really just wanted to be a school reformer and not go chasing fanatical desert savages all around the world — for the Republican party to have gone from those men to Donald Trump is evidence that the unfitness extends well beyond the feckless and illiterate person of the candidate himself.

The candidate has been on a roll. He was criticized by the parents of a Muslim soldier killed in Iraq and responded that they were really upset because he plans to keep Islamic terrorists out of the country — “I think that’s what bothered Mr. Khan,” Trump insisted. These are the parents of a fallen American soldier, and Trump accuses them of being enablers of Islamic terrorism based on the fact that they have criticized him. Trump later showed off a Purple Heart medal someone gave him, saying he’d “always wanted to get the Purple Heart” and that this method was “much easier” than, say, earning one in combat. Trump, a draft-dodger whose disabling bone spurs seem to have disappeared (mirabile dictu) once bragged that evading sexually transmitted diseases over the course of what he promises has been a somewhat exotic sex life was his “own personal Vietnam,” so perhaps he believes he earned that Purple Heart at the Battle of Poontang.

Somewhere in the midst of all that, he assured us that he had good reason to believe the Russians would never invade Ukraine, which they did in 2014, annexing Crimea.

Trump apologists on the Right will no doubt insist that the president’s dismissal of Trump is unseemly, and perhaps it is. Hugh Hewitt responded with criticism of President Obama’s “lead from behind” strategy, his failure in Syria, etc., as though those were relevant to the question. Of course Barack Obama has been a terrible president. He could be ten times worse, a thousand times worse, Adolf Hitler, or the screenwriting team behind the Star Wars prequels and that would not change anything. This is a classical example of why the ad hominem fallacy is a fallacy: Yes, Obama is a preening mediocrity and a genuine dullard in the matter of international relations — but is what he said about Trump true?

Of course it is true.

Dennis Prager, who in January insisted that “Trump is unfit to be president” and that arguments about Supreme Court appointments were mostly baloney because there is no reason to have “confidence that he would nominate conservatives to the Supreme Court,” is lecturing Trump critics that we must support him in order to “prevent a left-wing Supreme Court.” Prager should read Prager.

Prager, who sells books about anti-Semitism, is among those getting into bed with every Jew-hating weirdo not named Al Sharpton to elect a candidate who opposes conservative ideas at nearly every turn, and who is — even Obama gets one right every now and again — morally and intellectually unfit for the office, and he is doing so on the strength of a Supreme Court argument that Prager himself thought was bumf just a few months ago.

Donald Trump could very well nominate Judge Judy to the Supreme Court.

If your argument is, “Regardless, I prefer him to Hillary Rodham Clinton,” okey-dokey. But let’s be honest about what exactly it is you prefer to Mrs. Clinton, what manner of man you would see entrusted with the most powerful political portfolio on Earth. If you are going to do that, then you should have the intellectual honesty and the moral courage to be straight and plain about what it is you are doing.  

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