Trump Time Capsule #62: 'A Man Who Can Be Baited With a Tweet'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Last night, in her overall very successful acceptance speech, Hillary Clinton said with ruthless precision about her opponent:

Ask yourself: Does Donald Trump have the temperament to be Commander-in-Chief?

Donald Trump can't even handle the rough-and-tumble of a presidential campaign.

He loses his cool at the slightest provocation. When he's gotten a tough question from a reporter. When he's challenged in a debate. When he sees a protestor at a rally.

Emphasis added, as it was in her delivery:

Imagine—if you dare, imagine—imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.

I can’t put it any better than Jackie Kennedy did after the Cuban Missile Crisis. She said that what worried President Kennedy during that very dangerous time was that a war might be started—not by big men with self-control and restraint, but by little men—the ones moved by fear and pride.

And here is Donald Trump’s response this morning, after some apparently-staff-generated tweets last night whose grammar and syntax were more stately than his norm (and whose message ID said “iPhone” rather than the Android Trump seems to use personally):

Think of the strategic outlook you are seeing demonstrated on Trump’s side. On national TV, a woman has said that it is easy to get under his skin — after a much richer real billionaire has made fun of him with, “I’m a New Yorker, and New Yorkers know a con when we see one.” And Trump’s response is … to take the bait and show that it has gotten under this skin.

Something is wrong with this man, if in no other way than in simple impulse-control.


After the jump, a reader on the implications of episodes like these:

I found myself reflecting this morning on what ought to rank as Hillary’s most crucial argument of the evening [the one I have quoted above, about his temperament]. It beggars belief that charges like these have to be levied against a major party nominee. I genuine worry that the gravity of the situation isn’t registering with large swathes of the voting public. ...

Imagine Trump in the Situation Room. Imagine him in the press briefing room responding to any fast-moving major geopolitical or economic crisis. Now bring all the available evidence of his conduct to bear—for instance, using the transcripts of unprepared remarks in interviews or his rallies. They read even worse than they sound. This man—in his native environment of unshackled stream-of-consciousness, staggering ignorance, and immunity to facts—cannot maintain a coherent thought longer than 8 or 10 words. He interrupts himself constantly. He can contradict himself in the space of 30 seconds.

The signaling done by the President to our allies and foes alike is incredibly important, and the President needs to have an understanding of how we came to be on whatever footing we’re on with regard to another country. Trump won’t know any of this, won’t care to learn it, and will he even pay sufficient attention if he's briefed by all the “best people” he says he would hire? We can’t have a President freestyling in front of microphones and then trying to pass it off as something he didn’t mean or was intended as sarcasm when things go sideways.

I am beyond convinced that the case has been made that he is manifestly, historically unfit for the office. But does the press have the ability (or staying power) to keep this central issue on the front burner? Almost every day brings another barrage of Trump inanity, many of which in isolation in any other election would be widely agreed to be disqualifying—and the news cycle homes in on it, fact-checking away and getting reaction from the pundits.

Depressingly, we are being inured to Trumpism. We’re at risk of the forest being missed for the trees.