Trump’s speech was short on foreign policy details, but that wasn’t the point

The World
Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, United States, April 27, 2016.

Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, United States, April 27, 2016. 

Jim Bourg/Reuters

Donald Trump offered his vision for what US foreign policy would like if he’s elected president. The prepared address broke no new ground, offered few policy details and was full of contradictions. 

But it would probably be a mistake to sneer at Trump on foreign policy, says David Rennie. The Washington bureau chief for The Economist has been on the campaign trail for several months. And Rennie says Trump’s speech was “smart politics.” 

“If you’re a member of the Washington foreign policy establishment, [one of the] former ambassadors and think-tankers that fill this town, you thought it was a very weak speech,” Rennie says. 

And for good reasons. 

“He talks about the world as if everything is just another real estate deal. He doesn’t seem to understand that when you’re sitting behind that big desk in the Oval Office, there’s a fire hose of events and demands for American intervention coming at you,” Rennie says.

“He doesn’t acknowledge that America’s absence [from parts of the world] might create a vacuum that might be dangerous,” he adds. 

But if Trump's goal with the speech was shore up Republican primary voters, it was a masterful stroke, Rennie suggests. 

“Remember, that same foreign policy establishment has lost almost all the credibility that it ever had, because — as Donald Trump kept repeatedly pointing out — they made so many catastrophic errors in terms of committing American blood and treasure over the last 15 years.” 

Reporting from the campaign trail, Rennie says he’s heard lots of genuine angst from American voters who are less inclined to nitpick over all the contradictions in Trump's speech on Wednesday. 

And there were numerous contradictions. 

One came when Trump used the phrase, “America first.” It’s an expression that goes back to 1940, used by those who opposed US intervention in World War II. Right after using it though, Trump went on to talk about US contributions to winning the war as one of the country’s greatest moments. 

Rennie says many of Trump’s strongest supporters, however, come from communities who’ve sent many of their sons and daughters to fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan. “You’re talking to the kind of people who feel that they personally have been betrayed,” Rennie says. And to these folks, Trump is saying, “America is too good, too generous, too kind, too soft. We need to be tougher, nastier, more selfish and then everything will magically come right.”