Let’s keep in mind the context for the debate over where Trump stood on the Iraq war: During this campaign he has repeatedly bragged about his farsightedness in opposing it. Here’s Trump in a September 2015 debate:
I’m meeting with people that are terrific people, but I have to say something because it’s about judgment.
I am the only person on this dais — the only person — that fought very, very hard against us [ph], and I wasn’t a sitting politician going into Iraq, because I said going into Iraq — that was in 2003, you can check it out, check out — I’ll give you 25 different stories.
In fact, a delegation was sent to my office to see me because I was so vocal about it. I’m a very militaristic person, but you have to know when to use the military. I’m the only person up here that fought against going into Iraq.
It’s true that the evidence that Trump affirmatively supported the Iraq war in the run-up to it is not especially strong. In September 2002, he answered, “Yeah, I guess so,” when asked whether the U.S. should invade. Today, his defenders–notably RNC spokesman Sean Spicer and Fox News–are claiming that a January 2003 Fox News clip “backs up” Trump’s claims. At that time Trump said, “Perhaps [Bush] shouldn’t be doing it yet. And perhaps we should be waiting for the United Nations.” Sean Hannity, meanwhile, says that Trump expressed his opposition to him privately.
None of this comes close to providing evidence that 1) Trump had “fought very, very hard” against the Iraq war or was “so vocal” about it or that 2) anyone sent “a delegation” to his office about it or that 3) there were “25 different stories” documenting his opposition. No evidence has ever been provided for any of these claims, and there is no reason to think that they are true.
During that September 2015 debate, Trump was interrupted by Senator Rand Paul, who wanted to talk about his own opposition to the war, and then continued,
TRUMP: If you don’t mind, Rand — you know, you are on last — you do have your 1 percent.
I would like — and I think it’s very important. I think it’s important, because it’s about judgment. It’s about judgment.
I didn’t want to go into Iraq, and I fought it, because what I said — what I said…
PAUL: May I make a response to that?
TRUMP: … was you’re going to — you’re going to destabilize…
PAUL: He’s referred to me.
TRUMP: … the Middle East, and that’s what happened.
Maybe he said an invasion would destabilize the Middle East to Hannity, but he never said it anywhere that has been documented. His original claim, frequently repeated, wasn’t that he had privately and quietly had misgivings about the war. It was that he deserved credit for having fought against it. That’s a story he made up.