As the 2020 election gears up, it seems apparent that Mike Pence’s days as vice president are numbered. Trump’s preference is obvious: Kim Jong Un.
The vice-presidential candidate often plays the attack dog in a campaign — hurling invectives, slinging mud and taking the heat for expressing the id of the candidate, who can remain more statesmanlike. Not that Trump has ever shied from exercising his terrible tongue, but this go-round, as it increasingly appears that former Vice President Joe Biden could whup him in the general election, Trump has resorted to quoting other reckless idiots.
In Kim, the erstwhile “Little Rocket Man,” Trump has found a loyal pup to yip for him. Recently, when North Korea’s state media referred to Biden as a “fool of low IQ,” Trump first gave cover to his pet, dismissing North Korea’s recent missile tests, then expressed his appreciation for Kim’s loyalty and his legendary wit:
“North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me,” he tweeted. “I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse.”
He added: “Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?”
To the question, yes. He’s probably signaling something along the lines of I’ll cover yours if you’ll cover mine.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, I reckon, from which we may infer that Trump is running scared. But, gee, “small weapons”?
Not only did John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, cite the missile tests as contra U.N. resolutions, but so did Trump’s host in Japan over the Memorial Day weekend. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that because of his country’s proximity to North Korea, Japan feels threatened.
While the president of the United States shrugs and says that the “small weapons” don’t bother him personally, older Americans back home may have recalled how threatened they felt in 1962, when Soviet missiles were discovered in Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida. Then-President John F. Kennedy deployed a naval blockade to prevent Russian ships from bringing any more military supplies to the tiny island and ultimately forced Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to remove the missiles already there.
Funny, but Kennedy never mentioned his artfulness, even though the 13-day negotiation between the two countries was a great, big deal. A nuclear confrontation was avoided — and the world exhaled.
Trump’s cavalier attitude toward Kim and his suggestion that the dictator was simply seeking attention were most certainly the president’s attempt to scratch his loyal hound behind his well-exposed ears, thus keeping channels open for his own fantasy nuclear deal, not to mention future North Korean appraisals of his opponents.
But why would Kim chuck his nuclear arsenal, sacrificing his only leverage for relevance in exchange for the removal of a few sanctions? So what if his people are starving? Kim has suffered no more distress over the misery of his people than he did over the execution of his uncle, per his command.
How reassuring that the president of the United States finds solace in Kim’s company, wisdom in his commentary and faith in his promises.
Trump’s reelection strategy, meanwhile, is abundantly clear and annoyingly consistent. He seeks to “shock the conscience,” as Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg so aptly put it. With a simple branding label — “Sleepy Joe Biden” — Trump essentially choreographs a 24-hour news cycle of condemnation. But the damage has been done. The brand sticks, he gets air time, and precious few notice that he’s furthering his alliances with dictators for personal gain.
Whatever he seems to be doing — talking trade with Abe, trading compliments with Kim — Trump finds a way to fold in campaign messages. In Japan, standing at a lectern aside the prime minister, he rebuked fellow American Biden and praised a dictator. To reporters’ questions, he said: “Kim Jong Un made a statement that Joe Biden is a low-IQ individual. He probably is, based on his record. I think I agree with him on that.”
On a positive note, some in Washington’s press corps are wearying of Trump’s game. Recently, Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty tweeted that she wouldn’t repeat any of Trump’s nicknames for other presidential contenders. She’s a better woman than I. Alternatively, we could flip the tables and just-say-no to Humpty Dumpty Trumpy.
His gig is by now well understood — and, one hopes, nearly up.
Parker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post. Email her at email@example.com.