Radio host Hugh Hewitt interviewed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on his radio program on Thursday, and the results were not pretty.
Trump bumbled basic foreign policy question, didn’t understand the differences between Hamas and Hezbollah, and mistaked the Quds Force — an Iranian paramilitary unit — for the Kurds, a Middle Eastern ethnic population. At one point during the interview, Donald Trump brushed away concerns about his lack of military or foreign policy experience or knowledge by saying, “I will be so good at the military, your head will spin.”
Various pundits and publications across the political spectrum immediately pounced on Trump, mocking him for his inexplicable ignorance:
Trump: The Kurds, by the way, have been horribly mistreated by … Hewitt: No, not the Kurds, the Quds Forces, Iranian Revolutionary Guards
Michael Barbaro (@mikiebarb) September 3, 2015
Trump predictably lashed out at his critics following the interview. He even attacked Hugh Hewitt personally, calling him a “third-rate radio announcer” for asking what Trump said were unfair “gotcha” questions.
Some critics, however, might be forgetting a similarly cringe-inducing foreign policy interview with a Republican presidential frontrunner. In 1999, then-Gov. George W. Bush was interviewed by Andy Hiller of WHDH, a Boston NBC affiliate. Just as Hewitt asked Trump if he knew who Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was, Hiller peppered Bush with questions about the identities of various leaders throughout the world. At the time, Bush didn’t have a clue:
The questions were put to Bush by political reporter Andy Hiller during a break in Bush’s campaigning in New Hampshire. Hiller is known locally for asking sassy questions of political leaders.
Hiller asked: “Can you name the president of Chechnya?”
“No, can you?” Bush replied.
“Can you name the president of Taiwan?” Hiller asked.
“Yeah, Lee,'” responded Bush, referring to Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui.
“Can you name the general who is in charge of Pakistan?” asked Hiller, inquiring about Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf, who took over last month in a military coup.
“Wait, wait, is this 50 questions?” replied Bush.
Hiller replied: “No, it’s four questions of four leaders in four hot spots.”
Bush said: “The new Pakistani general, he’s just been elected – not elected, this guy took over office. It appears this guy is going to bring stability to the country and I think that’s good news for the subcontinent.”
Hiller persisted, saying “Can you name him?”
Bush said: “General. I can name the general. General.”
“And the prime minister of India?” asked Hiller, inquiring about a man who was recently re-elected and who last year tested a nuclear bomb.
Bush said: “The new prime minister of India is – no.”
Bush’s bumbling interview was big news. Just like today, the media world buzzed about the Republican candidate’s performance. The candidate’s opponents were gleeful, while his allies worked quickly to downplay the significance of the interview.
There was no excuse then, nor is there any excuse now, for a top presidential candidate to waltz into media interviews without having adequately prepared. Trump’s arrogance — his belief that he can credibly talk about any subject regardless of how little he knows about it — got the better of him. But sometimes a little perspective on the overall electoral significance of blips like these can be enlightening.
George W. Bush went on to win the Republican presidential nomination and the White House in 2000. That disastrous interview didn’t help him, but it also wasn’t fatal to his chances. The answers to the two following questions will likely determine how this latest episode affects Trump’s standing in the polls: 1) do his supporters even care about his demonstrated ignorance on matters of foreign policy, and 2) to the extent they do care, will he take any steps to make sure he doesn’t repeat that performance going forward?
The next GOP presidential primary debate is scheduled for September 16 on CNN. Hugh Hewitt will be there to ask questions of the candidates. We’ll know then if Donald Trump learned his lesson, or if he plans to double-down.