In the weeks since Donald Trump secured the GOP nomination, Republicans have offered a variety of rationalizations for why a xenophobic demagogue with little policy knowledge and zero governing experience should be the U.S. president. Some have emphasized the mogul’s alleged pragmatic streak. Others have insisted that our system of checks and balances will allow a Republican Congress to keep Trump’s authoritarian instincts in check. All agree that, at the end of the day, electing Trump would give conservatives a better chance of cutting taxes for the rich and aid to the poor.
These arguments may not be persuasive, but they’re basically coherent. The same can’t be said about Donald Rumseld’s justification for endorsing the mogul. “The way I think of it is this,” Rumsfeld told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren Wednesday night. “On the Democrats’ side, we have a known known. On the Republican side, we have a recent entry, who’s a known unknown.”
Here, the former Secretary of Defense (and current app developer) references the infamous answer he gave in 2002, when asked if the Bush administration had any evidence that Iraq was supplying terrorists with weapons of mass destruction:
As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
This observation was a poor justification for assuming that Saddam Hussein was supplying WMDs to Al Qaeda. And it doesn’t work much better as a rationale for voting for Trump.
Rumsfeld’s argument is that he knows he doesn’t like the way Hillary Clinton handled the attacks on the Benghazi embassy. And he has a pretty good idea of what she will be like as president, since her political views and instincts are public knowledge. By contrast, he’s fully aware that he has no idea what Trump will do as president. Therefore, he will vote for Trump.
“I’m clearly going to vote for him,” Rumsfeld added. “I just can’t imagine not.”
There are a couple odd things about Rumsfeld’s reflexive endorsement of a “known unknown.” First, opting for unpredictable change over maintenance of the status quo — which is, more or less, what electing a center-left Democrat would mean — is the exact opposite of political conservatism. Second, Trump has spent most of his campaign savaging Rumsfeld’s policy choices and geopolitical worldview: He has criticized the Bush administration for failing to prevent 9/11; called the Iraq War a disaster that gave birth to ISIS; and argued that the very concept of “nation building” is idiotic.
Notably, many of Rumsfeld’s fellow members of the Republican foreign policy elite can imagine voting against Trump this fall. Co-founder of the Project for the New American Century Robert Kagan is now one of Hillary Clinton’s campaign fundraisers, while Brent Scowcroft, who served as a national security adviser to both Bush administrations, endorsed the Democratic nominee on Wednesday.