WASHINGTON, June 5, 2016 — Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton gave a major foreign policy speech on Thursday, which turned out to be a savage attack on Donald Trump.
Clinton called Trump ignorant and weak, labeling his foreign policy program “dangerously incoherent.” She mocked his foreign policy expertise. “He says he has foreign policy experience because he ran the Miss Universe pageant in Russia,” adding, “The stakes in global statecraft are infinitely higher and more complex than in the world of luxury hotels.”
Clinton repeatedly emphasized that Trump is dangerous. “He’s not just unprepared—he’s temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility.” Trump could start a nuclear war because someone “got under his very thin skin.”
“Imagine Donald Trump sitting in the Situation Room, making life-or-death decisions on behalf of the United States. Imagine him deciding whether to send your spouses or children into battle. Imagine if he had not just his Twitter account at his disposal when he’s angry, but America’s entire arsenal … Do we want him making those calls—someone thin-skinned and quick to anger, who lashes out at the smallest criticism? Do we want his finger anywhere near the button?”
Trump has never denied that he is “dangerous.” Last week President Obama said world leaders were “rattled” by Donald Trump’s nomination. Trump fired back, “When you rattle someone, that’s good … If they’re rattled in a friendly way, that’s a good thing.”
Clinton used her speech to frame Trump as incompetent and weak. While it was billed as a major foreign policy speech, she didn’t lay out her own foreign-policy agenda. She did, however, address several broad issues such as the San Bernardino shooting, the Syrian civil war and instability inside the Iraqi government.
Clinton’s speech could best be characterized as “negative.” It was an attempt to convince voters that she would be the safer choice than Trump, but the approach was to attack Trump rather than establish her own bona fides and competence. In the spirit of a negative campaign, she spent more time on Trump’s character, personality and sanity than on her own vision for America:
“He’s not just unprepared—he’s temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility.”
“I will leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his attraction to tyrants.”
Clinton walks a fine line in that regard. Her foreign policy record is vulnerable to attack. She has experience, but Trump has savaged that experience as experience in failure. Clinton was out of the picture for Obama’s biggest foreign policy accomplishments (themselves open to intense criticism): the Iran nuclear deal, the end of the Cuba embargo, and negotiating the TPP.
Clinton’s decision to focus on Trump’s foreign policy inexperience highlights recent polls showing them in a near tie. Were she to talk about her own foreign policy vision, voters would be reminded of Benghazi, Libya and the “Russia reset.” Attacking Trump may be risky, but it may also be her best chance for success. Perhaps Jeb Bush would give her some pointers in that regard.