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March 24, 2016

Donald Trump's Meeting with the Washington Post Editorial Board Was A Rambling Mess


Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump met with the Washington Post editorial board recently for an on-the-record discussion, and it was, well, unusual—just like his presidential campaign (transcript here).

The meeting was a chance for Trump to have a serious policy discussion with journalists—most of whom are probably skeptical of him—and prove there’s more to him than his self-praising one-liners and his “very good brain.”

The ed-board tried mightily to keep Trump focused on the issues. They failed. Still, that doesn’t mean they—and we—can’t learn from the meeting. Here are some takeaways.

Trump can’t make a complete sentence.Remember when your teachers tried to instruct you how to diagram a sentence? Well, try diagramming this one from Trump:

I’ve been treated very, very badly by The Washington Post, but, you know, I guess — and I’m your neighbor, I’m your neighbor right down the road, in fact we’re actually giving a press conference there in a little while, I think your people are going to be there.

Or this sentence:

We could open it [a new Trump building] actually sooner but we’re going to break it in a little bit, so we’re going to open it in September, and it’s under budget, even though we’ve increased the quality of the finishes substantially, marble finishes, very high quality of marble, so we’re under budget and ahead of schedule.

The interview is filled with similar, rambling, stream-of-consciousness statements that start one place and end up some place completely unrelated—and often beside the point.

Trump has no policy specifics. Those considering running for president usually do a lot homework, sitting down with some of the best thinkers on their side in order to learn about various domestic and foreign policy issues, and then develop at least some talking points about how they would address those challenges. That’s not Trump.

s he explained on MSNBC’s Morning Joe with respect to his foreign policy advisors, “I’m speaking with myself, number one.”

On several occasions, Post editors put very specific foreign and domestic policy questions to Trump. He frequently began an answer and then wandered off into stream-of-conscious rambling. In his one-hour ed-board meeting, he used the filler-phrase “you know” nearly 90 times. It’s a sign he was trying to come up with something on the spot, rather than drawing from well-prepared positions.

Whenever the editors tried to bring him back to the questions, he did it again.

Near the end of the interview, when asked about ISIS, Trump punted by responding, “I’ll tell you one thing, this is a very good looking group of people here. Could I just go around so I know who the hell I’m talking to?” The Post people introduced themselves and went on to a different topic.

To be fair, Trump occasionally was able to relay the seeds of ideas, some of which were perfectly reasonable—such as revisiting NATO funding and responsibilities or creating enterprise zones in low-income areas. But there was no detail.

One real revelation. The one thing I did learn from the interview comes in this Trump statement: “But—and honestly, you know part of—I always say we have to be unpredictable. We’re totally predictable.  And predictable is bad.”

Well, if unpredictability is his goal, he’s got that box checked. He has to be the most unpredictable candidate—and by extension, this has to be the most unpredictable election—the country has seen. No one, including foreign leaders, knows what Trump will do next—and it’s not entirely clear even he knows. But I think it’s an open question as to whether unpredictability is a good thing, especially when a person has his finger on the nukes.

It won’t hurt him one little bit. Everyone should read the interview transcript or watch it on video. I haven’t even touched on the discussion about the size of his hands—and, um, other things.

Donald Trump, who is clearly intelligent and a successful businessman, is completely out of his league when dealing one-on-one with people who know history and policy. I shudder to think what it will look like if—or when—he engages in one-on-one debates with Hillary Clinton.

Which brings me to the last question: Does Trump’s policy ignorance make any difference? In years past, presidential candidates needed to be well-versed on policies or they would be hooted out of the race. But in this election year, knowledge has given way to brashness, and if that’s what voters want, Trump’s their man.


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