Sen. Tom Cotton certainly has strong opinions about why Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be president. That doesn’t mean he’s ready to make a full-fledged case for Donald Trump. Cotton, an Iraq war veteran who is seen as a rising star in the Republican Party, passed on what seemed to be clear set-ups by NBC’s Chuck Todd to praise Trump. Todd then specifically asked the senator from Arkansas whether his foreign policy views weren’t closer to Hillary Clinton’s than to Trump’s. Hardly an unthinkable question considering how many Republican foreign-policy experts have endorsed Clinton.
“I can assure you that I'm not very close to Hillary Clinton. I think she's disqualified herself from commander in chief by her cavalier attitude towards our nation's secrecy laws,” Cotton said. “And she has been responsible for many of the worst decisions of the Obama administration.”
That’s when Todd called on Cotton to stop arguing against Clinton: “What’s the case for Trump?” The senator seemingly couldn’t help himself: “Well, Chuck, the case against Hillary Clinton's judgment in foreign policy is very strong to say nothing of her support for Obamacare or immigration or the fact that she would …” Todd cut him off and repeated the question: “OK, but what's the case for Donald Trump?” And that’s when Cotton made it clear he wouldn’t be answering the question with any degree of detail:
Donald Trump can ultimately make the case for himself. But Donald Trump, like most Americans, like most Republicans, believe in protecting America's core national interests. He believes as do I, as do most Americans, that we aren't yet doing enough to take the fight to the Islamic State. That the intervention in Libya was ill-considered and slapdash at the time. And we're living with the consequences of it now. That we have to get tougher when it comes to our intelligence and law enforcement practices to stop Islamic terrorism. On those matters, our party is largely united. And I say that we have the vast majority of Americans with us.
Todd pressed again: “You don’t come across as an enthusiastic Trump supporter.” Cotton didn’t deny that was the case: “Maybe I don't just demonstrate enthusiasm much in life, Chuck, especially in such dangerous times as these.”
The exchange illustrates how many Republicans in elective office are trying to walk a fine line between embracing their party’s presumptive nominee and outright distancing themselves from him. “The safest route for many,” writes the Los Angeles Times’ Christi Parsons, “is to sidestep direct questions about Trump and turn the conversation to their critiques of Clinton.”