Just when it starts to seem that Donald Trump can’t surprise the jaded American media anymore, the Republican nominee manages to go just a little bit further.
During a press conference Wednesday morning that was bizarre even by Trump’s standards, he praised torture, said the Geneva Conventions were obsolete, contradicted his earlier position on a federal minimum wage, and told a reporter to “be quiet.”
But the strangest comments, easily, came when Trump was asked about allegations that Russian hackers had broken into the email of the Democratic National Convention—as well as further suggestions that Vladimir Putin’s regime might be trying to aid Trump, who has praised him at length. Trump cast doubt on Russia’s culpability, then said he hoped they had hacked Hillary Clinton’s messages while she was secretary of state.
“By the way, if they hacked, they probably have her 33,000 emails,” he said. “I hope they do. They probably have her 33,000 emails that she lost and deleted. Because you’d see some beauties there.” A few minutes later, he returned to the idea, speaking directly to the Kremlin: “I will tell you this: Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
It was a stunning moment: a presidential nominee calling on a foreign power not only to hack his opponent and release what they found publicly, but hoping the Russians had stolen the emails of a top American official, perhaps including classified information.
Following Trump’s thread on Russia was practically impossible. On one hand, he portrayed the act of hacking into Democratic emails as “a total sign of disrespect,” yet in the next breath he pleaded with foreign powers to do just that. He said he was “not going to tell Putin what to do.” He also insisted, “I have nothing to do with Putin. I don’t know anything about him, other than he will respect me.”
Trump previously claimed a friendship with the Russian president. “I got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes, we were stablemates,” he said. That was later revealed as a lie: Although both men were on the same episode of the show, they had never met.
Trump has given conflicting signals about his connections to Russia elsewhere, too. On Tuesday, a spokeswoman told Newsweek that he had no business with the country. In 2008, however, Donald Trump Jr. said that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets … We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia,” as The Washington Post reported.
Trump struck a balance Wednesday, insisting that Putin was a strong leader but tempering his praise. In one of the odder moments, Trump charged Putin with racism and then immediately said he hoped Putin would like him.
“Putin has said things over the last year that are really bad things, okay. He mentioned the ‘n’ word one time. I was shocked to hear him. You know what the ‘n’ word is, right? Total lack of respect for President Obama. Number one, he doesn’t like him. Number two, he doesn’t respect him. I think he’s going to respect your president if I’m elected, and I hope he likes me.”
He has less affection for France, where Islamist terrorists killed a priest on Tuesday. “I wouldn’t go to France,” Trump said. “I wouldn’t go to France, because France is no longer France.”
What if Clinton or Obama had wished that a foreign power had hacked a political opponent’s emails?
For an ordinary candidate, that would been extraordinary enough of a press conference. But Trump was barely getting started. NBC’s Katy Tur asked him point-blank whether he believed the Geneva Conventions were out of date.
“I think everything’s out of date. We have a whole new world,” Trump said. He then reaffirmed his support for torture, even though there’s no evidence it’s an effective intelligence-gathering tool. “I am a person that believes in enhanced interrogation, yes. And, by the way, it works.”
He launched into a tirade against Clinton’s running mate, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. But Trump repeatedly accused Kaine of trying to raise taxes while governor of New Jersey. He was eventually corrected; it was unclear what caused the slip, although some reporters noted the similarity between Kaine’s name and former Governor Tom Kean (whose name is pronounced “cane”) of New Jersey.
Trump’s flip-flop on his relationship with Putin was not the only reversal. In May, Trump said he wanted to abolish the federal minimum wage. On Wednesday, he gave a somewhat confusing answer, saying, “I would like to raise it to at least $10,” yet also suggesting that perhaps states rather than the federal government should do that.
Just for good measure, Trump threw in a shot at Obama, who is scheduled to speak at the Democratic National Convention Wednesday evening. “I think President Obama has been the most ignorant president in our history,” he said. “When he became president, he didn’t know a thing. And honestly, today he knows less.”
By the end, Wednesday’s press conference made Trump’s weird speech on Friday seem positively quotidian. These sorts of outbursts are the kinds of things that are disqualifying for most candidates. It’s hard to imagine what would happen if Clinton or Mitt Romney or Obama had publicly wished that a foreign power had hacked a political opponent’s emails—especially a cabinet secretary. But Trump’s supporters have been unbothered so far. As Trump gleefully pointed out during the press conference, several recent polls show him leading Clinton. Who knows what inspired Trump to spout off on Wednesday, though. With the DNC in full swing, perhaps he just couldn’t bear to surrender attention to the Democrats any longer.