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Clinton Plays Up Her Foreign Policy Experience; Portrays Trump As Unfit


Hillary Clinton at an event in San Diego yesterday went into full attack mode against her presumptive opponent in the presidential election.


HILLARY CLINTON: Now imagine Donald Trump sitting in the situation room, making life or death decisions on behalf of the United States.


CLINTON: Imagine him deciding whether to send your spouses or children into battle.


CLINTON: Imagine if he had not just his Twitter account at his disposal when he's angry, but America's entire arsenal.


It was billed as a foreign policy speech, and Clinton did call on her foreign policy experience extensively. But more than that, she focused on Trump, portraying him as unfit, childlike and erratic.

GREENE: Which led to this rebuttal last night from Donald Trump at a rally in San Jose.


DONALD TRUMP: You know, she's up there and - supposed to be a foreign policy speech. It was a political speech, had nothing to do with foreign policy. She made a political speech tonight folks, and it was a pretty pathetic deal.

CHANG: Let's talk about that speech with Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who's in our studio. Good morning, David.

DAVID IGNATIUS: Good morning.

GREENE: And also with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, who's on the line. Mara, good morning.


GREENE: So Mara, let's start with you. Trump is calling this a political speech, the Clinton campaign calling this a major foreign policy speech. But what exactly was she trying to accomplish here?

LIASSON: What she was trying to accomplish was to eviscerate Donald Trump. And I think this was the most effective speech she's given all year. It turns out that Hillary Clinton is at her most authentic when she's a street fighter. She said that he was dangerously incoherent. He was temperamentally unfit to be commander in chief, too undisciplined and erratic to have his finger anywhere near the button. They'll be cheering in the Kremlin if he's elected.

That's the kind of line Republicans used to use against the dovish Democrats. So she made her very own "Daisy" ad with that speech, and she did it by standing on the firmest ground she has which is foreign policy. This is the area where polls show she has the biggest advantage over Donald Trump.

CHANG: Mara, do you think Clinton kind of enjoyed herself throwing a few punches like that?

LIASSON: I think she was a happy warrior in that speech. She seemed to enjoy herself, yes. And I think what you're pointing out is that she seemed her most authentic. She seemed like she was talking about things she believed in. She - it didn't seem calculating and cautious. She really let it rip.

GREENE: And David Ignatius, what do you make of this? Is this Hillary Clinton the street fighter here?

IGNATIUS: Well, I thought the zingers were delivered with verve. I think she elected to get down and throw those punches. Roiters, right after the speech, likened some of the lines to a comedy roast. And you almost wanted to go bada-boom (ph) after she'd made some of them. But I think she, in fact, began what will be a much heavier lift than the speech would imply. Hillary Clinton has to make the case for the status quo in foreign policy. She has to say, contrary to Trump and all of the angry people who support him...

GREENE: Angry people who don't want the status quo, I mean, seems to be the message from it.

IGNATIUS: People who want to make America great again - as she said at the end of her speech, America is already great. We are strong. And she gave a very emotional patriotic image of her play in the United States of America, seeing it on runways around the world and that being a symbol of this strong country. And Donald Trump wants to run it down. Donald Trump has been saying that we're weak, in decline.

She had a fascinating little nugget that back in 1987, during the Reagan years that Republicans like to remember as the good time, Donald Trump was complaining and saying what a mess the country was. And her point was he always says that. He's just - he's a person running the country down. I thought she did an effective job without being tedious about describing the architecture of American power, our network of alliances, the reasons why it's important to cooperate with Japan, to be part of NATO, to do our defense in a collective way through these institutions. But through the campaign, telling a country that really thinks we're going in the wrong direction that the basics of American power are right is going to be much harder than it seemed yesterday.

CHANG: And Mara, if David is right, if this is - if this was a case for the status quo, who was this speech aimed at?

LIASSON: I think it was aimed at two groups. The first was Democrats, who were thrilled that she seems to have finally stopped throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what line of attack sticks against Donald Trump. And now she seems to have settled on this attack on his temperament. I also think it was aimed at Republicans, moderate Republicans, never-Trumpers, foreign policy hawks. She offered them a home when she used this speech to plant herself firmly in the center of the foreign policy debate, as David just said, with the bipartisan consensus about America's role in the world.

She said Trump would undo all the work that Republicans and Democrats have done for decades. It also seemed that she was picturing John McCain when she talked about during the Osama bin Laden raid, when the Navy SEALs moved the women and children aside - she said Donald Trump might not get it, but that's what honor looks like.

GREENE: David, let me finish with you. I mean, a lot of scaremongering in this speech about what a Donald Trump presidency would look like. Were there some flashes of optimism as well? You seem to suggest so.

IGNATIUS: I think there's a optimistic view of America's future, and that's central to who she is. But she began with what - the final crucial element of her campaign theme I think, which is - I call the fear factor. She has to make people frightened that they will not be safe and secure if Donald Trump is president. That image of his finger on the nuclear button will recur over and over again. We'll hear that a hundred times in this campaign because she's saying, you should be afraid if this man is elected.

GREENE: All right. David Ignatius of The Washington Post and NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, thank you both.

LIASSON: Thank you.

IGNATIUS: Of course. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.