Donald Trump had an overall positive assessment of the strategic value of nuclear weapons for the US during the Tuesday-night Republican presidential debate.
CNN debate moderator Hugh Hewitt asked Trump about what Hewitt characterized as one of the most important responsibilities of any US president: the management of the US's nuclear arsenal, which consists of some 4,717 warheads.
Hewitt asked if Trump had "a priority among the nuclear triad" — a catch-all phrase for the three-tiered aircraft, land-based missile, and sea-based system for delivering nuclear weapons.
The "triad" allows the US to launch nuclear weapons even if one element of the "triad" is disabled, or in the event of a preemptive nuclear attack on the US. The US is currently undertaking an estimated $355 billion nuclear modernization effort that will replace nuclear-capable missiles and upgrade sea-based platforms, like nuclear-equipped submarines.
Trump began his answer by broadly arguing for his own sound judgment, claiming that he opposed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and emphasizing "that we need someone we can absolutely trust who's really responsible, who really knows what he or she is doing."
Trump emphasized that "nuclear changes the whole ballgame," implying that "the power is so massive" that the US can maintain its security without having to forward deploy its military.
But Hewitt didn't ask Trump about the strategic benefits of nuclear weapons, or his suitability for managing the US nuclear arsenal. Rather, he was asking which element of the "triad" Trump believed was most important to maintain, querying him on whether he had a "priority" among the three legs of the triad.
Trump didn't specify which leg would get his attention as president, but he gave a characteristically sweeping assessment of his view on nuclear weaponry.
Said Trump: "With nuclear, the power, the devastation is very important to me."
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