Yesterday was apparently the day the press decided to go all in to defeat Donald Trump. Rumors and speculation ran rampant about the campaign "meltdown" and imminent defections from Republicans.
In truth, there have been only a couple of defections, and most of the reporting about disarray in the campaign appears to be froth.
But one accusation against Trump yesterday stood out. On Joe Scarborough's MSNBC show, he related an anecdote so profoundly disturbing that, if true, would disqualify Donald Trump from becoming president.
"Several months ago, a Foreign Policy Expert on the international level went to advise Donald Trump. And three times [Trump] asked about the use of Nuclear Weapons. Three times he asked at one point if we had them why can't we use them," Scarborough said on his "Morning Joe" program.
Scarborough made the Trump comments 52 seconds into an interview with former Director of Central Intelligence and ex-National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden.
Scarborough then asked a hypothetical question to Hayden about how quickly nuclear weapons could be deployed if a president were to give approval.
"It's scenario dependent, but the system is designed for speed and decisiveness. It's not designed to debate the decision," Hayden said.
Hayden was CIA director from 2006 to 2009 during the George W. Bush presidency. He was the National Security Agency director from 1999 to 2005, spanning the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Watch: What are some major concerns about Trump's handling of national security? Hayden and #morningjoe weigh in. https://t.co/FyFoSmJlJI- Morning Joe (@Morning_Joe) August 3, 2016
Scarborough does not identify the "advisor," nor does he give any context for Trump's questions. For instance, what were the candidate and his advisor discussing? Were they talklng about scenarios where nuclear weapons might be used? If so, Trump may have been inquiring about why it was efficacious to use nukes in one scenario but not another? But without the context of the conversation, it's impossible to judge Trump's questions.
The Trump campaign denied that the anecdote was true.
Daniel Drezner had similar concerns:
1) Exactly when did you find out about this information? You say in the clip that it happened several months ago - were you sitting on it for all this time? Did you just learn about it? This matters because this is the kind of anecdote that I would be screaming from the rooftops. We're deciding the leader of the free world in November, and this kind of appalling ignorance is worth highlighting. Just dropping this bomb casually during a televised conversation seems odd.
2) Was this conversation with your source off the record? Your hesitancy in even discussing this information, and your statement that you need to be "careful," suggest that something prevented you from just blurting out this super-scary anecdote. Was it because the conversation with the expert was off the record? Were you concerned about outing your source? I get it, like me, you're not really a journalist. The thing is, you are doing and saying things in a journalistic capacity, so the rules do matter. Still, if you learned about this, did you do everything in your power to get your source to go on the record?
3) Who was the expert?! As Spoiler Alerts has frequently noted, Trump's foreign policy team runs the gamut from incompetent to nonexistent. At the beginning of the clip, former CIA director Michael Hayden confirms that none of his peers is talking to Trump. So just who was the foreign policy expert who talked to him? Logically, the set of foreign policy experts who talk to both Trump and Scarborough can't be that large, so I suspect that this information will be puzzled out pretty soon.
4) How do you feel about your show's take on Trump in 2015? I know that you and The Donald have had a falling out as of late, but a case can be made that you were one of the chief enablers of Trump's campaign in the fall of 2015 - to the point where you had to deny any official relationship with him on air. In the cold light of the 2016 general election, do you regret any of that at all?
Daily readers of this site know how I feel about Donald Trump. But realistically, nobody could be so stupid about nuclear weapons as to ask the question why can't we use them. And given the unknown provenance of the anecdote, we have to assume Scarborough was either exaggerating or lying.