Tonight on CNN, on Erin Burnett’s program, Alex Castellanos and Jeffrey Lord discussed the recent comments from Donald Trump regarding the September 11 attacks (video is here, on Burnett’s “Tweets” feed). Trump has been hitting Jeb Bush, suggesting that Jeb should stop saying that George W. Bush kept America safe, when, Trump says, George W. Bush was at the helm when the attacks occurred. Trump claims now that he was not blaming President Bush for the 9/11 attacks, but also takes his line of argument to another level of Trumpian-style absurdity by suggesting that the attacks might not have occurred if he were President, and that the terrorists would not have even been in the country under a President Trump. When you consider his statements in their totality, it’s hard to understand how he is not holding President Bush responsible for the attacks. And President Clinton, too, if you think about it.
In one response on CNN’s State of the Union program, Jeb suggested that such an attack on his brother was tantamount to criticizing Franklin Roosevelt for the attack on Pearl Harbor. During Lord’s defense of Trump tonight, Lord – who is a regular Trump defender on CNN – argued that FDR was, in fact, criticized over Pearl Harbor, and even cited Thomas Dewey as suggesting that FDR was a traitor and should be impeached (Castellanos was understandably flabbergasted by the comparison). But Lord pressed on, saying that Jeb was misinformed about American history because the record clearly showed that FDR was criticized over Pearl Harbor.
Two points on this. First, the narrower point. Lord, I think, misrepresents Jeb Bush’s response. Jeb Bush merely wondered whether Trump would criticize FDR for the attack on Pearl Harbor: “Next week Trump will probably say that FDR was around when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.” But Jeb never said that FDR was not subjected to criticism regarding the attack. He was only questioning whether Trump – not Thomas Dewey or anyone else in 1941 or 1944 – would criticize or hold FDR responsible for the Pearl Harbor attack. And that is a legitimate question. Lord never answers that problem, nor does Trump. To say that others criticized FDR on this issue is different than saying that the criticism itself is sound. Perhaps Lord is aware of some statement by Jeb that FDR was never subjected to criticism regarding Pearl Harbor, but I am unaware of any such statement from Jeb, and the statement that Jeb made to Jake Tapper does not even come close.
But even if we assumed for the sake of argument that Jeb was saying what Lord represents him as saying, and that Jeb didn’t know about the history concerning FDR that Lord cites, the question arises: so what? How does that possibly aid Donald Trump? Lord’s attempted defense tells us nothing about why Donald Trump is right. It tells us, perhaps, what Tom Dewey thought about FDR, but that’s surely not a good reason to take Trump’s side. Like most “defenses” of Trump, Lord’s convoluted messaging ends up being an attack on someone else for something they did or failed to do, rather than an actual defense of Trump. Peddling fringe theories and arguments does not help the candidate, except with fringe voters. And those voters do not decide elections.
This leads to the broader point. I have heard Jeffrey Lord many times speaking on behalf of Trump on CNN. Whatever Lord’s virtues, this role is not for him. The point of having supporters go on television and defend a candidate is that they will do a good job, perhaps even a better job, of making the candidate’s case. And when your candidate makes an absurd statement, the preferred defense will attempt to clean it up: “the important point that he was really making was . . . ,” followed by a stronger, cleaner, and more articulate pronouncement of the candidate’s position. It should not be hard to find someone who can articulate political arguments better than Donald Trump. But Lord consistently fails at this, and tonight was a perfect example.
Of course, I confess I have never seen a Trump defender on television who successfully carried out the task of painting Trump in a more favorable light. So perhaps, to be fair, the problem is not theirs. Would you want to be the one defending Trump on national television? Can Trump’s childish bloviating be painted in a more favorable light? This is not to say that all of Trump’s words are indefensible; they aren’t. But what does it say about a candidate that in a world littered with highly skilled, camera-ready, smart, savvy political spin doctors, no one – no one – appears to be up to the job of defending that candidate? It turns out, then, that the most intelligent and articulate defender of Donald Trump is . . . Donald Trump. Think about that for a moment. Then, cue the obligatory shudder.