On Sunday night, Donald Trump and Mike Pence sat down with 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl for their first joint interview. It got weird quickly.
"You said you would declare war against ISIS," Stahl asked Trump. "What exactly do you have—"
I assume Stahl would have finished the question with "in mind." But Trump jumped in. He was ready, or seemed to be. "It is war!" He interjected.
Stahl, too, was prepared. "When you say, ‘declare war,’ do you want to send American troops in there?" she asked.
Well, no, he apparently didn’t mean that.
"I am going to have very few troops on the ground," Trump replied. "We're going to have unbelievable intelligence, which we need, which, right now, we don't have. We don't have the people over there. And we're going to have surrounding states and, very importantly, get NATO involved because we support NATO far more than we should, frankly, because you have a lot of countries that aren't doing what they're supposed to be doing. And we have to wipe out ISIS. And speaking of Turkey, Turkey is an ally. Turkey can do it by themselves. But they have to be incentivized. For whatever reason, they're not. So we have no choice."
The theme of the first night of the Republican National Convention is "Make America Safe Again." The enemy we’re presumably Making America Safe Again from is ISIS.
So here is Donald Trump’s plan to destroy ISIS: He will declare a war. He will promise, from the outset, not to include substantial numbers of American troops in that war. He is going to make NATO fight the war by threatening to withdraw American support from NATO. And he believes Turkey, which was roiled by an attempted coup as recently as Friday night, can wipe out ISIS if we just give the country the right incentives. (Presumably, the fact that ISIS has killed dozens in Turkey through a series of terrorist attacks isn’t sufficiently motivating.)
At about this point in the interview, you could see Pence get concerned. What happened next deserves to be quoted in full:
Lesley Stahl: But declare war—
Donald Trump: —get neighboring states and I'm going to get — we are going to get NATO; we're going to wipe 'em out. We're gonna—
Lesley Stahl: But declare war?
Mike Pence: Lesley—
Lesley Stahl: What does that mean—
Mike Pence: This is — this is the kind — this is the kind of leadership that America needs, and it—
Lesley Stahl: But what—
Mike Pence: —and it begins with deciding to destroy the enemies of our freedom.
Lesley Stahl: How?
Mike Pence: And how we do that? I have every confidence. You — you remember I served on the Foreign Affairs Committee. And I'm very confident that when Donald Trump becomes president of the United States, he'll give a directive to our military commanders, bring together other nations, and we will use the enormous resources of the United States to destroy that enemy.
Got that? We could be safe again — we just need a president comfortable "deciding to destroy the enemies of our freedom." Having served on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mike Pence knows that what’s missing is "a directive to our military commanders" that will harness "the enormous resources of the United States," although apparently not ground troops.
Again, this wasn’t a pop quiz. This was a planned 60 Minutes interview. This was a question about a core slogan of Donald Trump’s campaign. I appreciate that there aren’t easy answers to the problems of ISIS. But it doesn’t feel like Trump and his running mate are trying to come up with answers at all. It’s just nonsense.
And that wasn’t even the worst of it.
"We did go to war, if you remember," Stahl said. "We went to Iraq."
"Yeah," Trump replied, "you went to Iraq" — note the use of the second person there — "but that was handled so badly. And, by the way, that was a war that we shouldn't have entered."
Recall, at this point, that Trump is sitting next to his running mate, Mike Pence. And Mike Pence supported the Iraq War. This is something Stahl noted.
"Your running mate voted for it," she said.
Trump’s reply? "I don't care."
Stop for a moment and let that sink in. Trump did not try to explain away Pence’s vote. He did not say that Pence had learned from his vote. He just said, flatly, "I don’t care."
Stahl, at this point, seemed genuinely shocked. "What do you mean you don't care that he voted for it?"
"It's a long time ago," Trump said. "And he voted that way, and they were also misled. A lot of information was given to people." Here, again, it’s worth quoting what came next:
Lesley Stahl: But you've harped on this.
Donald Trump: But I was against the war in Iraq from the beginning.
Lesley Stahl: Yeah, but you've used that vote of Hillary [Clinton]'s that was the same as Gov. Pence as the example of her bad judgment.
Donald Trump: Many people have, and frankly, I'm one of the few that was right on Iraq.
Lesley Stahl: Yeah, but what about he—
Donald Trump: He's entitled to make a mistake every once in a while.
Lesley Stahl: But she's not? Okay, come on—
Donald Trump: But she's not—
Lesley Stahl: She's not?
Donald Trump: No. She's not.
Lesley Stahl: Got it.
Let’s recap: Donald Trump says he opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning, which he didn’t. He says one reason you can’t trust Hillary Clinton’s judgment is that she supported the war in Iraq. But his vice presidential pick also supported the war in Iraq, and his justification for that is, literally, "I don’t care." When asked to explain the discrepancy, his answer, literally, is that Mike Pence is allowed to make mistakes and Hillary Clinton isn’t.
Trump is getting obvious questions, and he’s not even pretending to have answers. It’s like he’s not even trying.
There are days when I wonder if Donald Trump really wants to be president, and this is one of them.