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Trump’s Most Important Sentence at the Debate

State of the Union: Trump trotted out a classic Mearsheimer point about the Ukraine war.
Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Presidential debates are more theater than substance. Aristotelian perspectivists would instantly recognize what happened tonight in America just as much as they’d have understood a debate in a Greek agora three thousand years back; in a battle of narrative, one should have strong convictions about their worldview to convince people. 

There will be more debates and debates about debates—who won, who lost—in the coming days and months. The most important for any observer of foreign policy was Trump’s throwaway comment about an ocean separating Ukraine and the U.S., with the whole rich continent of Europe in between. It is his policy and worldview, and has been for a while. 


Of all the kabuki, that was the core Trumpian realist instinct displayed on the biggest stage by a restrained, devastatingly accurate candidate. It is true. Ukraine is not on the American border. And there’s a whole continent, a very wealthy one, between Russian predation and American frontiers. 

A true America First worldview should focus on America's immediate border and the Western hemisphere rather than on Ukraine and Europe. George Washington understood that. John Quincy Adams understood that. Donald Trump understands that. Republicans must as well.