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Trump’s Missing Foreign Policy Advisers

Trump speaks at Washington rally against the Iran deal back in September 2015. Credit: Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA/Newscom

Trump is the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination, but unlike most major party front-runners at this stage he has no public list of foreign policy advisers (or any other kind of policy advisers, come to think of it). That might not be such a great problem right now if it weren’t for the fact that Trump keeps promising to release a list of his foreign policy advisers and then fails to follow through. Dan Drezner comments:

So in case you’re wondering whether or how Trump will honor any foreign policy pledge he has made during this presidential campaign, remember that he has not kept the one concrete, tangible promise he has made during this election cycle.

Two of Trump’s biggest weaknesses on foreign policy are the incoherence and the sheer vagueness of his views. He is frequently all over the map on foreign policy, which makes it both very difficult to pin down with any certainty what he might be expected to do once in office and it makes it almost impossible to hold him accountable for campaign commitments later on. That’s even more of a problem because he has a tendency to try to have things both ways on many issues, and has initially supported some military interventions only to turn against them later while denying that he ever supported them. He professes to hate the nuclear deal with Iran, but clearly doesn’t understand it.

If it’s true that politicians generally honor their foreign policy campaign pledges, Trump isn’t interested in making very many specific commitments that might so constrain him. Having a list of foreign policy advisers would give the rest of us some clue what his policies would look like, and so perhaps it is also no accident that this list has not been forthcoming. Trump may say he doesn’t want to let “the enemy” know what he’s going to do, but it’s also clear that he doesn’t want to alert the public or his domestic critics to what he would do. While this may not be a major problem at the moment, it will become one if it continues to fester.

The lack of a conventional list of foreign policy advisers is good news only in the sense that we can be reasonably sure that most of the worst hawks in the GOP aren’t on it. Between letters denouncing Trump and declarations by prominent hard-liners that they’ll support Trump under no circumstances, many of the GOP’s usual suspects on foreign policy have happily removed themselves from consideration. While that is welcome news for the most part, it poses two problems for a Trump general election campaign and for a possible Trump administration. It means that Trump’s campaign will be at a constant disadvantage when debating foreign policy despite the many glaring flaws in Clinton’s own record. It also raises another warning flag that a Trump administration would be poorly-staffed and ill-prepared to govern, and you can guarantee that will be used against the GOP in the general election.

Clinton has a lousy record and accepts many dangerous assumptions about the U.S. role in the world, but there’s no question that she will be well-briefed and can speak the lingo that foreign policy professionals and pundits expect to hear. Trump isn’t and for the most part doesn’t. That may be an important part of what his supporters like about him, but it could also make him an easy target in general election debates. This isn’t a problem that’s going to fix itself, and it’s one of many things that the Trump campaign has to take a lot more seriously than it has.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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