Hillary Clinton on Thursday warned voters that electing Donald Trump would be a “historic mistake,” unleashing her most forceful and direct attack on the celebrity billionaire to date. Her campaign hyped her remarks ahead of time as a major foreign policy address, but it quickly became apparent her speech would delve into her policy views far less than it would into those advanced by Trump.
“We’re choosing our next commander in chief, the person we count on to decide questions of war and peace, life and death. And like many across our country and around the world, I believe the person the Republicans have nominated for president cannot do the job,” Clinton declared at the San Diego event. “Donald Trump’s ideas aren’t just different, they are dangerously incoherent. They’re not even really ideas—just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds, and outright lies.”
Clinton’s remarks were a blistering criticism of the man she’s all-but-certain to face in the general election, and it was evident that she’s now turning her attention away from the Democratic nominating contest, which isn’t quite in her rearview mirror just yet. She made no mention of Bernie Sanders during her 30-odd minutes on stage, and largely described her own worldview in unmistakably centrist terms aimed at the broadest swath of voters possible. With the exception of a brief mention of climate change and a strong defense of the Iran nuclear deal, her speech wouldn’t have sounded all that odd coming out of the mouths of a moderate Republican. She even nodded directly to the opposing party while on stage, once when she name-dropped Ronald Reagan and a second time when she spoke of “the work that Republicans and Democrats alike have done over many decades to make America stronger and more secure.”
Aside from the usual anodyne lines about the unique greatness of America that come standard in a foreign policy address, Clinton’s speech was a forceful one made all the more so by the fact that she was often able to attack Trump’s stated positions simply by reading them aloud:
He actually said, and I quote, maybe Syria should be a free zone for ISIS. Oh, okay, let a terrorist group have control of a major country in the Middle East. Then he said we should send tens of thousands of American ground troops to the Middle East to fight ISIS. He also refused to rule out nuclear weapons against ISIS, which would mean mass civilian casualties. It’s clear he doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about so we can’t be certain which of these things he would do. But we can be certain that he’s capable of doing any or all of them.
Clinton’s strong performance should temporarily calm the nerves of those Democrats who are currently freaking out that she won’t be able to exploit Trump’s history of saying nonsensical and dangerous things about world affairs. Her pitch was simple and straightforward: The country can’t risk having Trump’s finger on the button. “Imagine if he had not just his Twitter account at his disposal when he’s angry but America’s entire arsenal,” she said.
While Clinton didn’t offer anything new in terms of her own policy views, she did unleash a new twist on one of her favorite talking points that turned it into an effective takedown of her opponent. “During the raid to kill [Osama] bin Laden when every second counted,” she said, “our SEALs took the time to move the women and children in the compound to safety. Donald Trump may not get it, but that’s what honor looks like.” Expect to hear that one a few more times between now and November.
Trump and his Republican allies (now featuring Paul Ryan!) will undoubtedly return fire, and they may yet find success by forcing Clinton to defend her tenure as secretary of state. For now, though, the best the presumptive GOP nominee could muster was this: