In Ohio Speech, Donald Trump Lays Out Foreign Policy Priorities
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Donald Trump laid out his foreign policy priorities in a speech yesterday. He promised to crush and destroy ISIS and to embrace an immigration policy that he called extreme vetting.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DONALD TRUMP: The common thread linking the major Islamic terrorist attacks that have recently occurred on our soil - 9/11, the Fort Hood shooting, the Boston bombing, the San Bernardino attack, the Orlando attack - is that they have involved immigrants or the children of immigrants. Clearly, new screening procedures are needed.
GREENE: And let's talk about this speech. Joining me in the studio, Republican political strategist Mike Murphy, who has advised John McCain, Mitt Romney, ran Jeb Bush's political action committee. Mike Murphy, you've been involved in GOP politics for a little while.
MIKE MURPHY: Many decades.
GREENE: So this speech, so much of it about combating terrorism, it sounded to me in some ways like the last Republican president, George W. Bush, who spent a lot of time wanting to wipe out terrorism in the world. Trump has criticized many people from Bush's foreign policy circles. But is that - can we make that comparison here?
MURPHY: Well, it's kind of a mishmash, like all things with Trump. I think he has the focal point in this speech, the focus on fighting terrorism, much like the president did, but his understanding of the sophistication of the world, you know, his tactical reach of what would work and what would not is kind of disappointing, frankly, because it's not very sophisticated.
GREENE: So what's something that would work?
MURPHY: Well, (laughter) that's the big debate in American foreign policy cycles. Do you try to contain ISIS or do you try to get a political mandate from the people to actually put troops on the ground and try to wipe them out? And then what do you do with all that territory afterward? It's a murky thing. I think the disengagement of the Obama administration, though, has been a mistake.
And any Republican, at least in the House or Senate that's in this debate, would want a more muscular engagement.
GREENE: OK, so Trump's reengaging in a way that you like when it comes to fighting terrorism...
MURPHY: Well, no, I - see, I'm anti-Trump because I think he lacks the sophistication to be president.
GREENE: But wouldn't he surround himself with advisers, potentially? You know, he's, I mean, there have been comparisons to what Henry Kissinger said about foreign policy. Isn't there a chance he would surround himself with people who really know what they're doing?
MURPHY: The problem is it's easy to chain Trump to a teleprompter for one day and crib a few thoughts of the past that make some sense geostrategically (ph). But when you get down to his instincts and his decision-making power, it's almost always a train wreck. I mean, we're now into the world of extreme vetting. That's like electroshock persuasion.
Everything Trump does is this hyped-up kind of caudillo Juan Peron strongman stuff. And there's no...
GREENE: Did you say electric-shock persuasion?
MURPHY: Yeah, no, I'm just talking about the language Trump always uses.
MURPHY: You know, extreme vetting - there's never vetting. It has to be extreme vetting.
GREENE: Something extreme.
MURPHY: Everything is that blunt instrument touch. That is good barstool philosopher talk, but in the complicated world of foreign policy, it doesn't really mean much. And then, frankly, he's still alienating immigrants. There's always a villain in any of Trump's speech, and it's always somebody from abroad - immigrants, now the children of immigrants are suspects.
So in that speech, I saw the same old Trumpian (ph) stuff that, frankly, I think the speech will do nothing to move the needle for him.
GREENE: Well, Mike, you've been part of a good number of campaigns. I mean, they ebb, they flow. Poll numbers can change. The media can sometimes sort of paint an election as over months ahead of time. I mean, people are beginning to say that with Trump's poll numbers right now in swing states and overall, he's in big, big trouble. I mean, do you see a turnaround possible?
MURPHY: Well, I think he is in trouble 'cause we've had the conventions, which is the setting point. And the reaction of the conventions have been for voters to flee Trump. So he's in trouble. But, you know, 80, 85 days in American politics is a long time. I'm not sure what the Trump path is out of it because I don't know how you get Trump out of the Trump equation.
He was his own strength during the primaries. But now in a general election, Trump being Trump has such limited appeal. And the more trouble they get in, the more Trump digs down. So if somebody can tell me a way to fix Trump, then I can tell you how to fix the campaign.
GREENE: Well, what would you say? I mean, is there a way for him to, quote, unquote, "be himself" in the way that voters seemed to like during the primaries but not get into some of the troubles that voters have found, you know, worrisome?
MURPHY: Well, his problem is the only voters that have liked him are a little less than half the voters in the Republican primaries. But that's over now, and everybody understands that except Donald Trump. In the general election, he's alienating all those swing voters by the very style that helped him in the primary. So I don't think he knows his act doesn't play anymore.
And I don't think he knows how to change it. I get this question a lot, what could Trump do? And I can only say, don't be Trump. And that's existentially pretty hard.
GREENE: I mean, let's say this is the moment. I mean, was this speech sort of a starting point? And if he is more disciplined, one might say, I mean, could we see the beginning of kind of a...
MURPHY: See, I don't buy it because the media measurement is, hey, he did three teleprompter speeches in a row. It's an all-new Trump. No, it isn't. It's Trump being forced at gunpoint by his staff to read text somebody writes for him that's not really Trump, although, I'd say this speech, this foreign policy speech is still very Trumpian (ph). It does nothing to help him.
And since the convention, when they've set up this debate between America's Gotham City needing a savior, a Batman of sorts, and the more upbeat, Reaganesque vision, ironically, the Democrats were selling, they won that jump ball. And I don't think it'll change unless Trump fundamentally does. And that's not who he is.
GREENE: Do you get a pit in your stomach when you give the Democratic Party credit for being Reaganesque this year?
MURPHY: Yes, yeah, my head wants to explode. But I have to give them tactical credit. Trump opened up a huge barn door with his dark, dire convention and they drove their whole convention through it. I do think her speech was the weakest part because she wrote it (laughter), the one speechwriter they couldn't fire. But all in all, they won the battle of the conventions.
And it'll surprise me if Trump is ever ahead in the polling going forward.
GREENE: OK, Mike Murphy, thanks so much.
MURPHY: Thank you.
GREENE: That is Mike Murphy, a veteran Republican strategist, also host of the new podcast "Radio Free GOP."
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.