Either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz would fail the Alamogordo Test. This could spell disastrous defeat in any general election.
What is the Alamogordo Test? I hadn’t realized it myself until I watched — with my Advanced Placement History students — a dramatization of the first atomic test at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945. It then struck me — with a blinding flash of insight — that this is what the American voters have been saying to us since that date:
We want a President we can trust with that terrible weapon!
This Alamogordo Test is not partisan. In 2012, Gov. Mitt Romney casually referred to Russia as “our Number One strategic enemy.” He then moved on to make other points in his foreign policy debate with President Obama. In making such an earth-shattering pronouncement almost as an aside, Romney failed the Alamogordo Test.
Churchill, it should be remembered, did not call Russia our enemy in his carefully laid out “Iron Curtain” Speech of March 5, 1946.
JFK, in his storied Inaugural Address, referred not to the USSR by name, instead relying on the formulation “those who would make themselves our adversaries.”
Sen. John McCain appeared on the David Letterman show and there regaled his host and his audience with his parody version of the Beach Boys hit, Barbara Ann. Only McCain merrily sang “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” He was not serious about serious matters.
In the fall election canvass, McCain announced at first he would suspend his campaign and fly back to Washington to attend an all-day White House briefing on the economic collapse. Then, he said he would not debate, but soon reversed himself.
McCain appealed to convention delegates in an emotional peroration: “Stand with me! Fight for our country!” But when a concerned supporter in Milwaukee said he feared what candidate Obama would do to the country, McCain reassured him, saying: “You don’t have to fear Sen. Obama. He’s a very nice man.”
Such erratic behavior, such an on-again, off-again performance, failed the Alamogordo Test.
Sen. Obama — whatever the merits of his policy positions — moved serenely through the fall as “No Drama Obama.” And he passed the Alamogordo Test.
Eisenhower versus Stevenson? It wasn’t even close. Former President Harry Truman would even mock the indecisive Adlai as unable to say whether or not he needed to use the men’s room.
Skeptics might cite the 1992 and 1996 elections as exceptions to the rule that Americans want a President who can handle nuclear weapons. But those elections are the exceptions that prove the rule. In both cases, the nuclear threat from a Russia supposedly advancing toward democracy had receded.
No one in those elections could point to the Kremlin as “the locus of evil in the modern world,” as Reagan had termed it in 1983. Besides, the older, more seasoned politicians who lost to Bill Clinton — Bush and Dole — also had a split field with the addition of the quirky Ross Perot.
The most extreme example of the Alamogordo Test was 1964. Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign ran the so-called “Daisy Ad.” This Bill Moyers-approved attack was vicious.
But Johnson’s opponent, Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, had opened himself up to such rough treatment by his cavalier pronouncement: “I don’t want to hit the Moon. I just want to lob one [missile] into the Kremlin men’s room.” Barry own statements failed the test.
Perhaps the best example of using the Alamogordo Test to clarify the issues was President Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign commercial. The ad asks voters to consider whether there is a bear in the woods. “If there is a bear, isn’t it smart to be as strong as the bear?” This ad treated the voters as adults and did not seek to frighten them into rushing the voting booths.
While Trump has expressed his admiration for Vladimir Putin and his 27,000 nuclear weapons, he has nonetheless behaved in the most erratic and unpredictable fashion. He excuses violence by his campaign staff and incites his supporters. He even offers to pay for the assailants’ legal expenses. His speeches are full of threats and violent language toward opponents here, and enemies abroad. It is little wonder that women voters by large majorities view him with alarm.
Cruz has crafted his own video firing his semi-automatic rifle to cook his bacon. Voters will see this flippant attitude toward a lethal weapon as a representation of his trustworthiness to have control of nuclear weapons.
Add to this his oft-repeated slogan of “carpet-bombing ISIS” and you have the image of a violent temperament. Ironically, it was FDR who ordered the carpet-bombing of Germany in World War II and it was Dwight D. Eisenhower who executed the President’s orders.
Neither FDR nor IKE was ever quoted as approving of carpet-bombing. And thus neither man had the least difficulty persuading Americans to trust him as Commander-in-Chief.
I am not one who thinks former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton should be trusted to take that “3 a.m. phone call in the White House.” We saw what happened when that call came in — from Benghazi.
Still, compared to Cruz or Trump, she would pass the Alamogordo Test. And that is a thought that keeps me up at night.