(The Economists) A HEAVILY trailed speech by Donald Trump on counter-terrorism, delivered in Ohio on August 15th, included little that made sense as a plan for keeping America safe, but offered some fresh insights into the self-obsessed, fact-scorning temperament of the businessman who wants to hold the world’s most powerful job.
As his poll numbers slide and the murmuring from his allies grows in volume, Mr Trump increasingly sounds like someone with a political version of Tourette’s Syndrome. Much of the speech could have been given by any of the 16 Republicans that the businessman defeated for the party’s presidential nomination, amounting to a committee-drafted recital of conventional conservative talking points. A subdued Mr Trump, reading from a teleprompter, dutifully accused Barack Obama of staging a blame-America “global apology tour” after taking office in 2009, and—together with his first secretary of state, Hillary Clinton—of destabilizing the world by coddling tyrants and snubbing allies, while refusing to take seriously the threat from Islamic terrorism.
But every now and then Mr Trump sensed an opportunity to boast about how prescient he had been in his assessment of foreign affairs, even as a private businessman with no seat in the councils of state, and began shouting about some of his favorite ideas, and how clever they were. Rather often this required brutalizing the historical record. In his Ohio speech Mr Trump claimed, falsely, to have opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq from the very start, then called Mr Obama “incompetent” for withdrawing troops too fast from Iraq. He scolded the “Obama-Clinton group” for toppling the Qaddafi regime in Libya (though he actually praised that overthrow at the time). Mr Trump simultaneously grumbled that the Obama administration had both betrayed Reaganite ideas about freedom, and naively thought that democracy could ever be brought to such countries as Iraq.
He sounded much more excited when his text gave him the chance to engage in personal abuse, accusing Mrs Clinton of wanting to be “America’s Angela Merkel”, claiming that the German chancellor has allowed “massive immigration” bringing “catastrophe” to her country. Mr Trump sounded even happier when peddling conspiracy theories, as when he flatly declared that Mrs Clinton “lacks the mental and physical stamina” to take on IS “and every other challenge we face.” He sounded happiest of all when he congratulated himself for his idea that America should have seized Iraqi oilfields (while shunning all other forms of nation-building in Iraq), leaving behind American troops to guard this war booty. “I said: ‘keep the oil, keep the oil, keep the oil, don’t let somebody else get it’,” Mr Trump said, adding: “In the old days, when we won a war, to the victor belonged the spoils.”
The audience in Ohio liked some bits of Mr Trump’s speech, as when he promised to dismantle terror networks in America “viciously if necessary”. His supporters were quiet through one of the few passages that amounted to a foreign-policy strategy that Mr Trump could realistically deliver as president, possibly because it was a fresh statement of his desire to forge closer links with the authoritarian government of Russia led by President Vladimir Putin, and “find common ground” in the fight against IS and in Syria policy.
A short while before Mr Trump’s speech, Hillary Clinton, campaigning in the scrappy, blue-collar city of Scranton, Pennsylvania, preemptively mocked her rival for taking so long to reveal his counter-terror plans, saying that his secret is that “he has no plan”. Mrs Clinton was joined in Scranton by the vice-president, Joe Biden, who condemned Mr Trump’s praise for authoritarian leaders, saying that the businessman “would have loved Stalin”, and joked that Mrs Clinton had forgotten more than Mr Trump and his entire foreign policy staff ever knew about geopolitics.
Real Cold War veterans may be forgiven for finding the 2016 election a little odd. The party of Eisenhower and Reagan has nominated a man who calls looting of foreign assets the highest priority for America in war, and who sucks up to Russia. The Democrats are running on their candidate’s national-security credentials. Meanwhile Mr Trump—judged simply as a man standing on a stage—sounds angrier and unhappier every day. This election is not about to grow more inspiring.