Introducing the Mike Pence "conservative crank" test

Published in 1993, rediscovered by BuzzFeed this week, and 24-karat comedy gold all the way through.

Beware of political figures matching this description. I guess?

1. Does the host insist that policy debate is a broad road, easy to understand once the listener becomes enlightened to a few ‘simple’ truth? Or does the host concede that the route to reasoned policy is a narrow, difficult one of work, research and understanding?

2. Does the host traffic in information, or opinion? That is, does the host impart verifiable information that may be confirmed by friend and foe alike? Or does the host simply promote an opinion about facts and controversies on which he may or may not be fully informed?

3. Does the host engage in name-calling?

Can you be a “conservative crank” if you’re not a conservative? I think Trump’s off the hook on this one.

Below you’ll find video of him from last night expanding on his recent NATO comments, emphasizing that it’s not just NATO but other allies like Saudi Arabia, Japan, and South Korea who need to pay the piper if they want U.S. protection. There’s nothing crank-ish about that; a treaty is a contract and both parties need to meet their obligations under it. Talking about it publicly over and over again, though, knowing that Russia, China, and Iran will treat it as an invitation to test U.S. resolve in defending its allies if Trump wins, is pretty crank-ish. Also crank-ish: Not anticipating that his own prestige as a strongman will suffer if he backs away repeatedly from challenges like that as president until finally he decides to needs to do something bold to reassert “strength” and lands us in a major war. But oh well.

The most notable feature of Trump’s soliloquizing about alliances is the sense you get that he sees no intangible value to them, just the money he can shake loose by threatening to bolt. There’s no value in deterring great conflicts that might threaten U.S. interests; there’s no value in being able to project power globally (even though Trump himself talks frequently of bombing ISIS); there’s just the tribute to be paid by vassal states to the empire. It’s a true protection racket. Which makes me wonder: Why not put U.S. protection up for sale? If China is willing to “outbid” Japan by cutting us a bigger check, Trump could remove U.S. troops from Okinawa. If they’re willing to cut a really big check, maybe he’d consider joint U.S.-Chinese operations against Japan. The world’s greatest military don’t come cheap! Trump says at one point here about Saudi Arabia, “We have to walk. Within two days they’re calling back! Get back over here, we’ll pay you whatever the hell you want.” He’s half-joking but that phrasing about the Saudis being willing to pay anything is revealing in showing how he sees alliances as essentially a shakedown. If Japan decides it’s willing to pay the entire cost of American operations inside the country, notwithstanding the intangible value that the U.S. military accrues from having a base there, why wouldn’t President Trump turn around and say, “The price just doubled, pay up”? If this is all just an elaborate pretext for closing U.S. bases and bringing the troops home, do that and be done with it. Don’t treat the military as muscle in a protection racket.

Exit question: If you’re a U.S. ally watching this spectacle, why wouldn’t you (a) start looking into nuclear weapons in case President Trump walks away and (b) reach out to Moscow and Beijing to see what they’re willing to offer in terms of projection? They’d love to be able to project power the way the U.S. does. Here’s their chance.