The real Donald Trump appeared last Saturday evening near the end of a Colorado Spring, Colorado airport rally. The new, teleprompter-controlled persona Trump has become, switched to his real self and launched into a three-minute, off-the-cuff, personal attack, this time on former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
Gates had apparently been on Trump’s mind since early that morning. The Wall Street Journal‘s well read Opinion page had carried a Gates-written essay that sharply criticized Trump and ended by concluding he was “unqualified to be commander-in-chief.”
Needless to say, in the long essay, entitled “Sizing Up the Next Commander-in-Chief,” Gates also pointed out his own doubts about Hillary Clinton in that role.
Nevertheless, Trump apparently was outraged and at 7:21 a.m., Saturday morning, tweeted to his 11 million followers: “I never met former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He knows nothing about me. But look at the results under his guidance – a total disaster.”
That wasn’t enough. At 4:14 p.m., as Trump was on his way to Colorado, he again tweeted against Gates: “Never met but never liked dopey Robert Gates. Look at the mess the U.S. is in. Always speaks badly of his many bosses, including Obama.” Critics have called Gates many things, but the childish word “dopey” was never one of them.
In his Journal essay, Gates’ critiques of Trump and Clinton are worth noting. On complex challenges to the U.S. presented by China, he said neither “has said or done much to give anyone confidence.” On Russia, he pointed out neither “has expressed any views on how they would deal with Mr. Putin.” Gates did describe Trump as “naïve and irresponsible” for his admiring Putin, “the man and his authoritarian regime.”
Gates said both “have a credibility problem in foreign affairs,” citing Clinton on Libya and trade agreements.
He, however, put Trump’s credibility problems “in a league of his own,” citing his support for building the infamous wall between the U.S. and Mexico; torturing suspected terrorists and killing their families; Saddam Hussein’s so-called success against terrorism; linking America’s acting on NATO treaty commitments to countries’ defense spending and threatening to withdraw U.S. troops from other countries who don’t fully pay for their presence.
Gates placed in a special category Trump’s statements insulting servicemen, their families, the military in general, and senior military leaders. He described Trump’s suggested purge of senior military leaders who were “embarrassing our country” as “an unprecedented and unconscionable threat.”
Trump, he said, “has yet to learn that when a president shoots off his mouth there are no do-overs.”
Gates’ conclusion that Trump “is stubbornly uninformed about the world and how to lead our country and government, and temperamentally unsuited to lead our men and women in uniform,” clearly gnawed on Trump all day.
That evening, by the time the real estate mogul neared the end of his planned speech at the noisy Colorado Springs rally, he decided to be his real self and ad-lib.
After chants of “USA, USA,” Trump stopped reading from the teleprompter and gave some of his stock, stump speech remarks about America “not winning anymore” and World War Two Generals MacArthur and Patton “spinning in their graves” over not defeating ISIS, leading up to his own secret plan to deal with the terrorist group.
“I will give you good results no matter how I get there,” Trump said to great cheers.
Encouraged by the response, he began, “We had a clown today, an absolute clown Robert Gates. He’s supposed to be an expert, he’s been there forever.” Trump went on, “He says bad about everybody he’s worked for…He spoke badly about Bush. He spoke badly about Obama.” Then Trump added, “He’s a nasty guy. Probably has a problem that we don’t know about.”
That was classic Trump, insinuating something personal about a critic without any facts and without a second thought.
Trump complained, “Never met the guy…saw him on television and never liked the guy, the end result is look where we are, the guy’s a mess. He’s a mess. So he goes out and says negative things about me. I never met him, I never talked to him.”
In a remark that ranks alongside his 2015 statement, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me,” Trump said, “Believe me. I am so much better at what he’s doing than he is, you won’t even believe it.”
Unless Trump was talking about misleading the public, no one with understanding of national security matters would ever believe Trump knows more about them than Gates.
Trump had five deferments from the draft during the Vietnam War and has claimed his “military experience” came from attending a military high school. He was attacking a man who served as an Air Force intelligence officer at the time of the Vietnam War, spent 27 years at CIA including two as director, and was described by Saturday’s Wall Street Journal as having served eight presidents over 50 years dealing with national security issues.
At the Saturday rally, Trump could not stop himself on Gates, “Look what he gave us. Look at the mess. Of all these people that have been there for so many years …Look at the Middle East, if we had never touched it we would have been in much better off than we are right now.”
Gates was not in the George W. Bush administration at the time of the Iraq invasion, but he was Defense Secretary at the time of the Bush agreement to withdraw combat troops from that country, and he was there when it took place under President Obama. Gates balked at getting involved in Libya and was against getting too deeply into the internal civil war in Syria.
In 2011, while defense secretary, he famously said in a speech at West Point, “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined.’”
Trump, of course, did not say any of this – he probably didn’t know it. But no matter, because in his self-centered mind, all Gates had ever done was to attack him, which for Trump meant he could say anything.
Trump summed up on Saturday this way: “We’re dealing with incompetent people. We’re dealing with stupid people. We’re dealing with people like Robert Gates that don’t have a clue, and then when leave office, they criticize everybody.”
He added what was obvious: “I don’t like critics. I don’t like critics. I like the people that get it done and get it right.”
Trump’s almost three minute, temperamental tirade against Gates proved again the former defense secretary’s main point was correct: Trump “is unqualified and unfit to be commander-in-chief.”