MSNBC Panel All Agree: Trump a ‘Borderline Irrational Leader’ Like Kim Jong-un

On her 9 a.m. ET hour show, MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle and her panel of political analysts all agreed that Donald Trump was just as dangerous, if not more so, that North Korea dictator Kim Jong-un. Ruhle began the segment by fretting: “President Trump, we started with ‘fire and fury,’ now ‘fully locked and loaded’....But we’re talking about the threat of nuclear war.”

Former Obama State Department official and Time magazine editor Richard Stengel sneered: “You know, it’s disturbing. Apart from the fact that he seems to have borrowed the North Korean speechwriters, what’s disturbing is language like ‘locked and loaded’ is not diplomatic language....Trump using this bombastic language is that it can potentially cause a miscalculation, a mistake....we can have a terrible nuclear potential mistake.”

Ruhle then turned to “Republican interpreter” Robert Traynham to “dissect” Trump’s words. Traynham acknowledged that the President “believes the soft rhetoric, you know, these nuance statements, no disrespect to the State Department, has not worked. He’s got point there. He’s got a valid point.” However, he then compared Trump to the brutal North Korean leader:

You’re also dealing with a very emotional leader. When he’s offended, he’s offended.... And so, that’s the dangerous thing here, is that you have two very emotional leaders, dare I say borderline irrational, and they both have their thumb on the nuclear button and that’s what’s really, really, really scary here.

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Ruhle eagerly seized on that characterization: “...in terms of upping the ante, two borderline irrational leaders, Kim Jong-un and President Trump, these are two gentlemen who are not afraid of a fight, neither who back down, both who insist on having the last word.” Turning to Slate’s Michael Pesca, she worried: “Given that, that is the two individuals we’re working with, where could this go?”

Pesca actually argued that Kim Jong-un was more rational than Trump: “Well, first of all, I’d say Kim Jong-un is rational. He’s evil, he’s despotic, but nothing he’s done is not in his interest, in terms of pursuing nuclear.”

Later in the exchange, he warned: “Donald Trump is talking about, ‘If these threats continue, you’re gonna get fire and fury.’ Unless he delivers the fire and fury, which I hope to God he doesn’t...I hate even saying this on TV, because if we convince him that he made a red line, he might act on the red line.”

Stengel implored: “There’s no action that can or should be taken by either side....And the idea that these guys are in a bargain and a kind of dare is a terrible situation....There’s a lot of negotiation and diplomacy that can happen here, rather than this threatening crazy language.”

The biased panel discussion was brought to viewers by GEICO, Office Depot, and Bird’s Eye.

Here is a full transcript of the August 11 segment:

9:09 AM ET

STEPHANIE RUHLE: Now we have to turn to my stellar panel this morning. Richard Stengel served as Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the State Department under President Obama, Robert Traynham, a former Bush/Cheney senior adviser, both MSNBC Senior Political Analysts. And Slate’s Mike Pesca, host of The Gist podcast. Richard, I gotta start with you. President Trump, we started with “fire and fury,” now “fully locked and loaded.” You know, Kelly O’Donnell...

RICHARD STENGEL: Alliteration, Stephanie.

RUHLE: ...saying off-hand this is branding. But we’re talking about the threat of nuclear war. We’re talking about a nuclear nation. What do you make of all this?

STENGEL: You know, it’s disturbing. Apart from the fact that he seems to have borrowed the North Korean speechwriters, what’s disturbing is language like “locked and loaded” is not diplomatic language. It may might mean something to the North Koreans, but what does it mean to our allies, to the South Koreans, to Japan. They don’t know how to interpret this. And part of the problem with Trump using this bombastic language is that it can potentially cause a miscalculation, a mistake. Because nobody knows how it’s done. The way it’s traditionally done is the language comes to the NSC, it’s worked through the State Department and everybody else, it’s sent out to the allies so everybody’s on the same page, they know what it is. Now nobody knows what he means. And that means we can have a terrible nuclear potential mistake.

RUHLE: We have a Republican interpreter in the house today. So Robert, I want to share more of what President Trump said and maybe you can dissect it.

DONALD TRUMP: We are preparing for many different alternative events at North Korea. He has disrespected our country greatly, he has said things that are horrific. And with me he’s not getting away with it.

RUHLE: How do you interpret that, “with me he’s not getting away with that”? There's no diplomacy here. And many Trump supporters would say who needs diplomats.
    
ROBERT TRAYNHAM: Yeah, I’m going to try to thread a needle here. The positive to this is I think Donald Trump believes that we’ve been disrespected for the last generation when it comes to North Korea. I think he believes he inherited a mess, George W. Bush, Barack Obama. I think he believes the soft rhetoric, you know, these nuance statements, no disrespect to the State Department, has not worked. He’s got point there. He’s got a valid point. You’re also dealing with –

RUHLE: Well, we haven’t had a nuclear war with North Korea.

TRAYNHAM: Of course, of course. You’re also dealing with a very emotional leader. When he’s offended, he’s offended.

RUHLE: Which one are you talking about?

TRAYNHAM: Well, that’s my second point. And so, that’s the dangerous thing here, is that you have two very emotional leaders, dare I say borderline irrational, and they both have their thumb on the nuclear button and that’s what’s really, really, really scary here.

But Donald Trump has got, I think, a major point here that I don’t think he’s very articulate in expressing: “The situation that I’ve inherited is broken. This nuance stuff that we’ve tried over the last 20 years has not worked. The reality is, I inherited this mess and I’m try something different.” I'm not condoning it, but to your point, I’m trying to interpret what he’s thinking.

RUHLE: Understood. Michael, in terms of upping the ante, two borderline irrational leaders, Kim Jong-un and President Trump, these are two gentlemen who are not afraid of a fight, neither who back down, both who insist on having the last word. Given that, that is the two individuals we’re working with, where could this go?

MIKE PESCA: Well, first of all, I’d say Kim Jong-un is rational. He’s evil, he’s despotic, but nothing he’s done is not in his interest, in terms of pursuing nuclear.

(...)

PESCA: But think about the part where we’re communicating deterrence. Donald Trump is talking about, “If these threats continue, you’re gonna get fire and fury.” Unless he delivers the fire and fury, which I hope to God he doesn’t –  

TRAYNHAM: It’s his red line.

PESCA: Yeah, he – I hate even saying this on TV, because if we convince him that he made a red line, he might act on the red line. But think about what happens if he doesn’t act on this red line. The entire message of deterrence gets weakened. Maybe the North Koreans then start thinking, “Huh, maybe the United States doesn’t really retaliate no matter what we do. It just weakens our entire strategy of communicating,“You cannot use a nuclear missile or else you’ll get destroyed.”  

STENGEL: There’s no action that can or should be taken by either side. I mean, one reason that we haven’t had this resolve over all these generations is there are no good options, there are no good military options. And the idea that these guys are in a bargain and a kind of dare is a terrible situation. And so, the idea is to have something that people have talked about, military-to-military talks so that there aren’t mistakes. There’s a lot of negotiation and diplomacy that can happen here, rather than this threatening crazy language.         

(...)

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