Donald Trump uses an excellent strategy to make the media cover him excessively: he’ll make an incredibly outrageous statement that his hawkish followers love and then vaguely backtrack a few days later so that he can keep up “reasonable” appearances.
We’ve witnessed this cycle endlessly. He most recently employed this in his disavowal of the Ku Klux Klan; after giving CNN’s Jake Tapper an ambivalent response to condemning David Duke and the KKK, he came out a few days later saying that yes, of course, he disavows Duke and the KKK. It was enough time for certain followers to receive a huge wink from him regarding potential sympathies with the KKK, but also enough to appease other supporters who may have been concerned with his statement.
It’s a win-win-win for Trump—he gains media coverage, support from his extremist base, and keeps his image relatively reasonable.
He’s now doing the same with torture. Trump has readily admitted—on multiple occasions—that he would kill the families of terrorists, bring back waterboarding, and implement other forms of interrogation and torture that would be “a hell of a lot worse.”
During the GOP presidential debate on Thursday, Trump emphasized that he would enact these promises. When questioned by the moderator on how he would convince military leaders to do so, considering torture is illegal, Trump boasted, “They’re not going to refuse me…I’m a leader, I’ve always been a leader, I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”
Now, suddenly, all of this is just not true.
Trump wrote a statement to the Wall Street Journal on Friday, claiming, “[I would] use every legal power that I have to stop these terrorist enemies. I do, however, understand that the United States is bound by laws and treaties and I will not order our military or other officials to violate those laws and will seek their advice on such matters. I will not order a military officer to disobey the law. It is clear that as president I will be bound by laws just like all Americans and I will meet those responsibilities.”
It’s obvious what Trump really thinks—that war crimes are perfectly fine. He’s said so multiple times. This statement only gives fuel to his followers who can now defend him if this issue comes up.
Trump plays an extremely dangerous and horrific game, but he does play it well.