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When it comes to Syrian refugees and fighting Islamic State, Trump wings it

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times

The other day, my sister told me a friend of hers had revealed his growing interest in the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. The things Trump says “make a lot of sense,” the friend said, echoing the opinion of millions of voters who have already been drawn to The Donald’s campaign.

What do we make of this phenomenon? How can people believe Trump makes a lot of sense when most of the things he says are nonsense?

Given that holding a lead in presidential polling a year before an election only occasionally proves to be an indicator of eventual success, the fact that Donald Trump is still in first place among contenders for the Republican nomination may not be as politically significant in the long run as it now seems. Still, it is significant that half of Republican voters say they currently back either Trump or Ben Carson, the other outsider candidate who has a lot to say but does not appear to know much.

Lately, Trump has been talking a lot about Syrian refugees, the Syrian civil war, the battle against Islamic State and Muslims in America:

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• Trump castigated President Obama for planning to bring 250,000 refugees into the country. He said the U.S. should not accept any refugees and that those already here should be sent packing.

• Trump moved from his previous position that the U.S. should let the Russians do the fighting in Syria to his current assertion that, were he president, the U.S. would take charge and bomb Syria relentlessly to finish off Islamic State.

• Trump has stated and then revised or retracted a number of statements about U.S. Muslims. They should all be registered, tracked, put in a database and have their mosques closed — or maybe not. Now, he says at least the few who are on terrorism watch lists should not be allowed to buy guns (a pretty sensible idea that the National Rifle Assn. has blocked in the past).

I can see how, at first glance, such comments might seem to make sense. They make sense in the way a drinking buddy spouting off at a bar makes sense. Tough talk has a gut appeal, and it is easier to comprehend the world’s problems if they are presented in the simple terms of a street fight. Still, even a person with only a passing acquaintance with the complexities of the Mideast or American constitutional law could quickly deduce that Trump has not thought this all through. He is like a kid saying the first thing that pops into his head when someone asks a current-events question.

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Here are just a few things that Trump’s bravado does not take into account:

• Obama has no intention of bringing in 250,000 Syrian refugees. That is a fictitious number that Trump seems to have pulled from thin air or snatched from some paranoid Internet screed. Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that he does not let facts get in the way of a good rant.

• Trump’s previous inclination to let the Russians lead the charge in Syria ignored the fact that Putin’s forces are not in Syria to defeat Islamic State; they are there to prop up Syrian President Bashar Assad. Until Assad goes, Turkey and Saudi Arabia will hold back from full engagement in fighting Islamic State because they are enemies of Assad. Most foreign policy and military experts agree that it would be far better to have Muslim troops taking on the terrorists than an army of Americans. That is why the Turks and Saudis need to be on board. That is also why Trump’s new pledge to flatten Syria with American bombs is such a bad idea. The result would be thousands of civilian casualties. Rather than finishing off Islamic State, such an indiscriminate military assault would likely produce a new generation of terrorists.

• Trump’s jumble of ideas about tracking American Muslims and shuttering mosques runs directly into one big roadblock: the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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The thing is, I believe Trump could be talked out of any of these positions because he has changed his mind many times before (that is why he is probably less scary as a possible president than Carson, a man convinced that God tells him what to think). Trump is just winging it; coming up with answers to questions without really taking much time to think. He has no policies, no detailed plans, he just has impulses and notions and illusions about how tough guys act. Obviously, there are millions of Americans who analyze the world in the same way. It is no surprise that they like Trump because, other than his billions of dollars, he is a guy just like them.

Now, they are standing with him as he defends his claim that he saw “thousands” of Muslims in Jersey City celebrating as the twin towers came down on Sept. 11. There seems to be no record of such an incident and Trump is unable to give evidence that it is true, but that does not matter to his fans. Katy Tur of NBC asked Trump supporters entering a rally in Columbus, Ohio, whether they were bothered by what seems to be another Trump fantasy. Not a single one expressed concern, Tur reported. Instead, they blamed the liberal media for making up lies about their candidate.

The American myth is that anyone can grow up to be president, but the reality is that few of us are qualified for the job — and that includes Donald Trump. There is another long-standing myth about the wisdom of American voters. That one, too, appears to be built on shaky ground.


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