While Shocking, Trump Isn’t Wrong On Leadership

Trump Actually Has Some Valid Points

By TOM JACKSON, News Talk Florida Columnist

By most accounts, Donald Trump stepped in it — yet again — Wednesday night at the Commander-in-Chief Forum. Never mind that NBC’s post-event flash poll indicated Trump won the night … although “didn’t lose” might be the superior characterization.

After all, although Trump, the billionaire and GOP presidential nominee, was his typical unspecific, ill-informed, blustering, insult-flinging self — the guy, in other words, who mesmerized millions of Americans over a dozen years in various iterations of “The Apprentice” — Hillary Clinton came off dour, evasive, defensive, robotic and disingenuous.

In short, Hillary Clinton came off as, well, Hillary Clinton. Fascinatingly, when it came to laying blame for Herself’s revealed awfulness, the left didn’t blame the Democratic nominee, but instead flayed the inquisitor, NBC “Today” host Matt Lauer.


Dear liberals: Welcome to the other side. Republican candidates have endured the perceived animus of Democrat-tilting moderators since Carter-Ford.

Of course, in this case, Democrats criticizing a moderator is more like the home team coach working the referees. They aren’t supposed to get tough calls on their home floor. And any general election forum or debate is, in their minds, a home game.

The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto notes this, wryly, and adds a wrinkle in Friday’s “Best of the Web” opinion letter:

“On Twitter, BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski reports ‘basically universal condemnation from journalists for Lauer letting Trump get away with Iraq War comments.’ [Trump claims always to have been against the invasion; he wasn’t.] That’s hyperbolic — Kaczynski’s evidence consists of four tweets — but the condemnation is widespread. David ‘Iowahawk’ Burge quips: ‘I expect campaigns to “work the refs.” What’s weird is watching the refs work the refs.’ ”

We’ll learn soon enough whether Lester Holt — the first debate referee, uh, moderator — is susceptible to the earful Hillary’s assistants are unloading on Lauer.

But enough, for now anyway, about Hillary’s awfulness.

Let’s examine, specifically, what caused the most heartburn from Trump’s largely zany half hour: His description of Russian head honcho Vladimir Putin as more of a leader than President Obama. In the aftermath, everyone from Slate.com on the left to Lindsay Graham on the more-or-less right retreated to their fainting couches, hands clasped to their foreheads.

All this angst would be appropriate if what Trump said was wrong. But was it? The afternoon before the Donald, not for the first time, pronounced his assessment, a Russian fighter jet spent nearly 20 minutes buzzing a U.S. surveillance plane in international air space over the Black Sea, at one time, according to reports, passing within 10 feet.

And this wasn’t the first time.

Several times this year, Russian fighters sported with American planes over the Baltic Sea. And they’ve buzzed U.S. Navy ships. Each time we shake our fists in righteous condemnation, but the barrel rolls keep on coming — and wouldn’t without Putin’s approval.

Notice, also, that Trump didn’t say Putin was a better leader, or a more benevolent leader, or a more thoughtful leader. He didn’t say Putin had a better short game or a better jump shot, or even that Putin could slow-jam the news better than Obama.

He said, simply, in the leadership department, Putin has more of what humans recognizes as actual, you know, leadership. OK, he threw in that business about Putin’s alleged astronomical job-approval rating, which was dumb. But there’s abundant evidence that, otherwise, Trump’s thesis is spot-on.

Vladimir Putin

Russia annexed Crimea and has all but acquired eastern Ukraine on Obama’s watch. While Syrian thug leader Bashar al-Assad — whom Clinton praised as “a reformer” — was stomping all over Obama’s red lines, Putin moved in to lend military support against ISIS, Turks and Syrian rebels … from an airbase in Iran, no less.

I’m no Trump apologist, and I’m certainly not signing on to be one of his surrogates who spend their days Trumpsplaining. But one of the reasons he seemed to have won the night is because, despite the horror expressed on both sides of the Camp of Elites, Americans understand exactly what he was saying:

Putin is a badass. Of all the influential actors on the global stage just now, Putin is the king of badassery. He never apologizes. He never explains. He simply does and lets others deal with the consequences.

This is not to suggest the next American president ought to return like for like. There are other ways of showing strength, as Ronald Reagan did when he walked away from Mikhail Gorbachev at Reykjavik, Iceland, and implored the Soviet leader to tear down the Berlin Wall.

Alas, neither Trump nor Clinton exhibits much in the way of Reagan’s steely resolve. Clinton seems unsteady, first pursuing passivity during uprisings in Iran and Egypt — one could have taken down the mullahs; the other enabled the Muslim Brotherhood at the cost of a longtime U.S. ally — but championed the bombing campaign in Libya that produced a failed state.


And Trump seems preternaturally thin-skinned. On the other hand, at least this can be said of Trump: He knows how to negotiate. He wrote the book on it. That’s something to keep in mind when Trump says as long as Putin talks nice about him he’ll talk nice about Putin. Remember, generations of Western leaders have excoriated him publicly to little effect.

Also, we’ve had more than seven years of President Obama coddling dictators. Clinton was his delivery clerk presenting the “reset” button to Russia’s foreign minister. It was Obama who ridiculed Mitt Romney’s assessment of America’s chief international rival. It was Obama who whispered to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and a hot mic that, after the 2012 election, he’d have “more flexibility” to work with Putin.

It was Obama who made a bad deal with Iran over a nuclear program that the mullahs began violating before the ink was dry. It was Obama who tasked John Kerry with praising the Iranian Revolutionary Guard for its tender treatment of U.S. sailors who ought not have been captured in the first place.

It was Obama who took in a baseball game with Cuban dictator Raul Castro even as island brute squads cracked down on political dissenters.

Listen to Tom Jackson, Joe Henderson, Alan Steinberg and Jim Williams in the latest edition of The Politically Incorrect Podcast.

Veteran journalist and center-right blogger Tom Jackson has worked for newspapers in Washington D.C., Sacramento, Calif., and Tampa, Fla., racking up state and national awards for writing, editing and design along the way. Tom also has been published in assorted sports magazines, and his work has been included in several annual “Best Sports Stories” collections. A University of Florida alumnus, St. Louis Cardinals fan and eager-if-haphazard golfer, Tom splits time between Tampa and Cashiers, N.C., with his wife, two children and a couple of yappy dogs.