It’s time to reconsider the possibility that Donald Trump is a secret Hillary Clinton supporter, as opposed to merely a man whose campaign is a garbage fire. While we learned on Tuesday that Clinton will not be indicted over her use of a private email server, Republicans managed to salvage the day by focusing on FBI director James Comey rebuking Clinton for her “extremely careless” behavior, and calling for even more hearings on the matter.
Now suddenly Saddam Hussein was trending on Twitter, and replacing headlines about Clinton’s email scandal. Republican commentators were not amused:
Nor was Paul Ryan, who looked surprised when Megyn Kelly concluded their Tuesday night interview by asking where his party stood on mass-murdering tyrants (moments after the House Speaker explained that campaigns should not use anti-Semitic imagery). “He was one of the 20th century’s most evil people,” said Ryan. “He was up there. He committed mass genocide against his own people using chemical weapons.”
Republicans might have been surprised by Trump’s timing (if they haven’t been paying attention to his campaign of late), but their candidate’s admiration of Hussein is no secret. He’s made the same point many times, dating back to at least 2004, when he told the Dallas Morning News, “No matter how much you hate Saddam Hussein, and obviously he was a horror show, he kept terrorists out of Iraq.”
In a 2011 interview with Human Events he said:
Whether you like Saddam Hussein or not, and I don’t — he was a bad guy — but he used to shoot the terrorists; he used to kill them. He didn’t give them a trial like this country, where the trial lasts for 21 years. He used to shoot the terrorists and kill them. There were no terrorists, very little terrorists in Iraq.
And in a January 2014 speech at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics and the New England Council’s “Politics & Eggs” event he reiterated: “You know, whether you like Saddam Hussein or not, he used to kill terrorists. I mean, terrorists did not have fun in that country. Now, that’s the Harvard of terrorism.”
Then in October 2015, he noted that Hussein “would kill the terrorists immediately,” adding that Iraq was better off during his reign. “People are getting their heads chopped off, they’re being drowned. Right now, they are far worse than they were, ever, under Saddam Hussein or Gaddafi,” he said.
At the time, Iraq War veteran and Republican representative Steve Russell rejected Trump’s analysis, telling CNN it was “absolutely absurd” and “demonstrates a complete lack of the facts.” “He’s wrong,” Russell said. “Regardless of what people think about the Iraq War, human rights advocates worldwide believe that the one silver lining that came out of the Iraq war was the demise of Saddam Hussein.”
Undeterred, Trump repeated the line in December 2015, telling Fox News:
Had we spent zero dollars in Iraq and all of the places over there, we would have been in much better shape. Right now the Middle East is a powder keg. Whether you like Saddam Hussein or not, he was great at one thing, he killed terrorists. They were executing terrorists on a daily basis. Now it’s the harbor of terrorism. You want to be a terrorist, go to Iraq. We have really messed up the Middle East.
Then in February 2016, he said it again:
You know, Saddam Hussein was a bad guy, but one thing about him: He killed terrorists. Now, Iraq is Harvard for terrorists. You wanna become a terrorist? Go to Iraq. Saddam Hussein understood and he killed terrorists. Bad guy, but if the President and other people — and, frankly Obama, who is no better because the way he got us out was a disaster. Look what’s happened since then: a disaster. Shouldn’t have been there, shouldn’t have gotten out the way we got out — but, if the president went to the beach, we would have been better off, believe me.
Tuesday night’s remarks were a slight departure, since Trump elaborated for the first time since 2011 on what exactly he admires about Hussein’s anti-terror policy: that he executed those he deemed terrorists without due process. But in general, Trump’s position on Hussein has been shockingly consistent. It predates by at least two years his now-rejected belief that Clinton should be forgiven for her vote to authorize the Iraq War, and is “very smart and has a major chance to be our next president.”
Thus, there’s no reason for Republicans to worry that with this one remark Trump has undermined his case against Clinton on Iraq:
Of course, the Clinton camp did jump on Trump’s remark, with this statement from Jake Sullivan, a senior policy adviser:
Donald Trump’s praise for brutal strongmen seemingly knows no bounds. In reality, Hussein’s regime was a sponsor of terrorism — one that paid families of suicide bombers who attacked Israelis, among other crimes. Trump’s cavalier compliments for brutal dictators, and the twisted lessons he seems to have learned from their history, again demonstrate how dangerous he would be as commander-in-chief and how unworthy he is of the office he seeks.
But it seems unlikely that Trump’s position on Hussein (and flip-flopping on Clinton’s fitness for office) will alienate his supporters. After all, what’s more politically incorrect than praising a man who was known to finance and support various terrorist groups for boldly flouting basic human rights?