Donald Trump
Credit: Alex Hanson/Flickr

Donald Trump’s national security advisor, Michael Flynn, traveled to Japan in mid-October when things were looking pretty grim for his candidate. He was there “on the invitation of a U.S. company for which he serves as an adviser,” and he met with a wide array of current and former officials from the majority and minority parties.

Of course, Trump had said some really asinine things about Japan and especially about nuclear proliferation during the campaign, so it was natural that folks would want to ask Flynn about them.

But Flynn said not to worry.

In his meetings, Flynn is said to have claimed Trump’s controversial campaign-trail remarks were merely part of the rhetoric needed to secure an election win, according to informed sources. His actual policies after taking office would be different from what he said to galvanize his support base, Flynn predicted.

This isn’t unprecedented. Barack Obama made noises about revisiting NAFTA during his 2008 campaign but Austan Goolsbee went to Canada and reassured them that it was just “rhetoric needed to secure an election win” intended to “galvanize the base.”

“Noting anxiety among many U.S. domestic audiences about the U.S. economic outlook, Goolsbee candidly acknowledged the protectionist sentiment that has emerged, particularly in the Midwest, during the primary campaign. He cautioned that this messaging should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.”

This isn’t some kind of great excuse, by the way. I don’t remember too many people being impressed or approving of Obama and Goolsbee’s two-faced game when it was divulged. It was also about a trade agreement that, while very important, didn’t rise to the level of encouraging Japan and South Korea (and Saudi Arabia) to become nuclear-armed states.

I seem to remember Hillary Clinton taking on some water after it was revealed that she had told finance industry executives that effective leaders sometimes need “both a public and a private position.” Maybe she was thinking of how Abraham Lincoln navigated the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, but people didn’t like the sound of it and it badly hurt her campaign.

In the context of everything else that is going on and that raises serious concerns, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal that Trump would say one thing on the stump while privately believing something completely different.

But there’s always the possibility that Trump didn’t say that he thought more countries should have nuclear weapons because he believed that that was exactly what the Republican base wanted to hear. Frankly, that theory doesn’t make any sense. A more likely answer is that Trump just wanted to argue that America shouldn’t pay to protect our lazy allies anymore than his voters should foot the bill on food stamps that go to people who are too lazy to work.

And he’s an idiot.

What he’s not is a straight-shooter who tells the truth and doesn’t engage in political rhetoric.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at