Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a speech about his vision for foreign policy at the Mayflower Hotel April 27, 2016 in Washington, DC.
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A foreign policy speech that marks his pivot to the general election

By Chris Matthews
April 27, 2016

Donald Trump is above all else a marketing genius.

He knows that to get a message across to a large number of people, you must keep it simple, and repeat it incessently. Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” sounded facile to the nation’s political pundit class, but to a majority of Republican primary voters, it sounded like a wonderful idea they won’t soon forget.

Now that Trump has all but tied up the nomination, he is pivoting to a general election audience and attempting to sound “presidential,” presumably in contrast to the more bombastic, off-the-cuff style that dominated his run for the Republican nomination. With an eye on this goal, Trump delivered a scripted foreign policy speech, with the help of a teleprompter—not the norm for The Donald—that outlined his views on foreign policy.

The central theme, like that of his overall campaign, was simple. “The direction I will outline today will also return us to a timeless principle,” Trump said, “My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people, and American security, above all else. That will be the foundation of every decision that I will make.”

Like Trump’s desire for America to be great, it’s difficult to quibble with the idea—presented by Trump as a radical one—that an American President should put the interests of America and the American people first. But just like Trump’s economic ideas, when you dig into the meat of the speech, it’s tough to say what exactly Trump would do differently. “And then there’s ISIS. I have a simple message for them,” Trump said. “Their days are numbered. I won’t tell them where and I won’t tell them how. We must as a nation be more unpredictable. But they’re going to be gone. And soon.”

It makes a certain kind of sense when Trump says he the reason he can’t tell us just how he’ll defeat ISIS is because he doesn’t want to tip his hand. But it certainly puts voters who are looking for a change from Obama administration policy on the issue in an awkward position. How are they supposed to know if a Trump administration will have any better ideas on how exactly to oust a terrorist organization from a war-torn and lawless region, half a world away, that the American people have little appetite for occupying?

Again and again, Trump’s foreign policy promises returned to his unshakable belief that he knows what needs to be done to get the American economy growing much faster than it is today. The first foreign policy weakness Trump identified in his Wednesday speech was that “America’s resources are overextended.” Trump elaborated:

President Obama has weakened our military by weakening our economy. He’s crippled us with wasteful spending, massive debt, low growth, a huge trade deficit and open borders.

Our manufacturing trade deficit with the world is now approaching $1 trillion a year. We’re rebuilding other countries while weakening our own.

Ending the theft of American jobs will give us the resources we need to rebuild our military and regain our financial independence and strength.

I am the only person running for the Presidency who understands this problem and knows how to fix it.

While it’s true that the United States would be able to support more military spending if it had higher employment and faster economic growth, there’s little reason to believe that the trade plans Trump has outlined would do anything to create those conditions.

Fortune recently took an in depth look at Donald Trump’s business track record and what it would says about what kind of president Trump would be. One of the lessons we learned was that Trump never doubts his own ability. As one executive told Fortune, “Donald’s ego is so big, he believes he can run anything.”

This impulse has not served Donald well during his ill-fated forays into the gambling business—as the feature shows—but it sure has worked in Republican politics. Donald Trump has been a runaway hit with the Republican primary electorate, who clearly don’t wish to be bothered with details as to how he’ll make America great again.

And Trump is betting on the idea that the American people won’t be asking too many questions as to how he’ll fix the many problems that plague the world today.

 

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