Trump kept asking during a foreign policy briefing why can’t we use nuclear weapons

So the current guy wants to pay terrorists for taking hostages and the next guy is open to dropping the bomb? Good work, America. This discerning “elect the polar opposite on foreign policy of whomever we last elected” strategy is paying big dividends.

Team Trump naturally denies that he ever said any such thing (fans will presumably split into the usual camps of “Trump never said that” and “Trump is right”) but lefty Judd Legum made an interesting catch from a Trump interview with Chris Matthews in April:

TRUMP: Look, nuclear should be off the table. But would there be a time when it could be used, possibly, possibly?

MATTHEWS: OK. The trouble is, when you said that, the whole world heard it. David Cameron in Britain heard it. The Japanese, where we bombed them in ’45, heard it. They’re hearing a guy running for president of the United States talking of maybe using nuclear weapons. Nobody wants to hear that about an American president.

TRUMP: Then why are we making them? Why do we make them? We had (inaudible).

That last line is almost verbatim what Scarborough accuses him of saying in the briefing, per his source: “If we have them, why can’t we use them?” It’s not that Trump is eager to use them; read the full Matthews transcript and you’ll see him emphasizing that he would be “very, very slow and hesitant to pull that trigger.” The question is, does he see nukes purely as a deterrent, to be used only in retaliation or other extreme circumstances? Or does he see them as part of the conventional U.S. military arsenal, albeit as the least favored weapon? In other words, is the choice in Syria against ISIS between an air campaign and an air and ground campaign? Or is it between those two plus a third option of wiping Raqaa off the map and incinerating the taboo on nuclear weapons in modern warfare in the process? It’s one thing to talk tough publicly about sand glowing in the dark, as Ted Cruz did last fall. But Scarborough’s not accusing Trump of posturing for votes. He’s accusing him of asking about this earnestly, in private,

It’s strange to think of Vladimir Putin favoring someone for president of the United States who might have an itchy finger on the nuclear trigger but John Schindler explains his comfort level well. They share an outlook, and that outlook doesn’t involve clashes between great powers.

The ancients had a take on foreign relations that was memorably expressed as “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” This law of the jungle led to countless wars right until the mid-20th century, when the appalling cost of letting aggressors simply do as they wished became obvious to all but the blind.

Donald Trump’s foreign policy vision, with its desire to please dictators until they hopefully behave, seems to be more comfortable with the norms of the ancients than with those of the current century. This is why Crimea matters. Trump’s concept of international relations will only encourage more aggression against the weak while quite possibly unleashing major war and geopolitical hell with it.

So long as American nuclear weapons aren’t being used to damage Russian interests, their use — or even their threatened use — would be a gift to Putin in handing him a precedent to cite in wielding his own nuclear saber more aggressively. And as a bonus, the more erratic American shows of power become, the greater the incentive for lesser powers to decide that, between the two, Putin is the more stable, reliable ally. But then, we’ve already crossed that bridge with Trump’s NATO comments. If you’re a foreign leader who’s worried about what a Trump administration would mean for your country, you were worried about it before Scarborough started whispering about Trump’s freer hand with nukes. Which reminds me: Trump has already suggested openly this year that one way U.S. allies like Japan might do more to support their own defense is to … acquire nuclear weapons. The fact that he would be that indifferent to global proliferation supports the possibility that he’d also be less strict about using America’s arsenal.

A question in closing. Scarborough said this happened “several months ago.” Even if you don’t think what Trump allegedly said is a big deal, Scarborough himself clearly does. In which case, why is he only mentioning it for the first time today? Did he find out about it only recently, or has he been holding onto it for months but kept it close to the vest because Trump was a chummy regular guest on “Morning Joe” for most of the year before turning on Scarborough? If you have to reason to believe that Trump might start a nuclear war, you might not want to condition this revelation on access to the candidate.

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