Hillary Clinton said Thursday that electing Donald Trump would be a “historic mistake” that would endanger national security and likely lead to war — but the former secretary of state’s own foreign policy record is checkered at best, analysts say, and it’s no sure thing that voters will trust her over the Republican billionaire on global affairs.
Mrs. Clinton’s major foreign policy address, in which she painted Mr. Trump as erratic, irresponsible and dangerous, was the opening salvo of what is sure to be a central theme in the general election campaign.
She said her experience in the Senate and as the nation’s top diplomat give her a clear advantage over Mr. Trump and that Americans ultimately will conclude she is better equipped to protect the homeland and advance U.S. interests abroad.
But polls tell a different story. A near majority of voters trust Mr. Trump more than Mrs. Clinton when it comes to battling the Islamic State group, a recent Quinnipiac poll shows.
And Mrs. Clinton’s own spotty record on foreign policy — her 2002 vote to authorize the Iraq War, her support for overthrowing Moammar Gadhafi that has left a power vacuum and terrorist haven in Libya, her failed “reset” with Russia and other questionable positions — could come back to haunt her in November.
“Hillary Clinton has her own weaknesses. Her own foreign policy is full of ill-considered judgments and championing causes that ended up being failures,” said Trevor Thrall, senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute’s defense and foreign policy department.
While it’s no given that Mrs. Clinton will carry a clear advantage on foreign policy through the campaign, she intends to keep it front and center. She warned in her San Diego speech Thursday that a Trump administration would be more than a minor setback for U.S. influence and power abroad.
“Making Donald Trump our commander in chief would be a historic mistake, and it would undo so much of the work Republicans and Democrats alike have done over many decades to make America stronger and more secure,” she said. “It would set back our standing in the world more than anything in recent memory, and it would fuel an ugly narrative about who we are — that we’re fearful, not confident, that we want to let others determine our future for us instead of shaping our own destiny. That’s not the America I know and love.”
Mrs. Clinton cited Mr. Trump’s kind words about Russian President Vladimir Putin, his seeming willingness to let Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia acquire nuclear weapons, his proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S., his plan to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and other positions as reasons why the Republican is unfit to lead the nation. She also said his temperament could lead him to make rash decisions and involve the U.S. in bloody wars abroad.
Surveys tell a conflicting tale of whom voters trust more on foreign policy. While the Quinnipiac poll found that 49 percent of voters say Mr. Trump would do a better job of fighting the Islamic State, compared with 41 percent for Mrs. Clinton, the survey found that 53 percent think the former first lady would do a better job of handling a generic “international crisis.” Just 40 percent said Mr. Trump would do a better job.
With the edge on foreign policy seemingly up for grabs, the billionaire Republican wasted little time in criticizing Mrs. Clinton’s speech and questioning her judgment on global affairs.
“Crooked Hillary no longer has credibility — too much failure in office. People will not allow another four years of incompetence,” he tweeted Thursday afternoon. “Bad performance by Crooked Hillary Clinton! Reading poorly from the teleprompter! She doesn’t even look presidential!”
Mr. Trump has shown he will not back down from a foreign policy fight with Mrs. Clinton. He has taken aim at her 2002 vote to authorize the Iraq War, among other judgments.
Analysts say Mrs. Clinton is particularly vulnerable on that front, especially because her Democratic primary rival, Sen. Bernard Sanders, has relentlessly hammered away on her Iraq War vote and her perceived blunders as secretary of state.
“Bernie Sanders has already laid the groundwork for Trump,” Mr. Thrall said. “Bernie already pointed out how her judgment has been poor on Iraq, that she wanted to go into Libya. … Given that Hillary has already been criticized by a very popular Democrat on these issues, it makes it even more appealing to Trump to hammer on these same issues.”
Mrs. Clinton is making the case that a Trump presidency would carry dire consequences for the nation’s servicemen and women.
“He is not just unprepared; he is temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility,” she said. “This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes, because it’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because someone got under his very thin skin. We cannot put the security of our children and our grandchildren in Donald Trump’s hands.”