RALEIGH, N.C. — Donald Trump praised former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein Tuesday night, allowing that he was a "really bad guy" but had redeeming qualities when it came to his handling of terrorists.
Trump lauded the former U.S. adversary for how "well" he killed terrorists, recalling that he "didn't read them the rights, they didn’t talk. They were terrorists, over." Now, Trump assessed, "Iraq is Harvard for terrorism. You want to be a terrorist, you go to Iraq."
Hillary Clinton's campaign seized the opportunity to once more paint Trump has unfit for office. "Donald Trump’s praise for brutal strongmen seemingly knows no bounds," Senior Policy Advisor Jake Sullivan said in an emailed statement. "Trump's cavalier compliments for brutal dictators, and the twisted lessons he seems to have learned from their history, again demonstrate how dangerous he would be as commander-in-chief and how unworthy he is of the office he seeks."
This isn’t the first time Trump has cast the brutal dictator in a positive light — or called Iraq an Ivy League locale for aspiring terrorists. Throughout the primaries Trump glossed over Hussein’s violent history in favor of what he viewed as a more stable Middle East ruled by Saddam’s viciousness.
In an October exclusive with NBC’s Chuck Todd, Trump asserted that the Middle East would be better off today if Moammar Gadhafi of Libya and Saddam Hussein were still in power. "It’s not even a contest," Trump told Meet the Press. Trump continued to push this idea at a rally in Franklin, Tennessee, telling the crowd that despite Hussein's "vicious" rule in Iraq "there were no terrorists in Iraq" while he ruled.
"You know what he used to do to terrorists?" Trump polled the Tennessee crowd. "A one day trial and shoot him…and the one day trial usually lasted five minutes, right? There was no terrorism then."
Trump didn’t just praise Hussein for keeping terrorists at bay, but seemed to tacitly accept the dictator's use of chemical weapons. During a December rally in Hilton Head, South Carolina, Trump took a cavalier attitude toward Iraq's use of chemical weapons under Saddam.
"Saddam Hussein throws a little gas, everyone goes crazy, 'oh he’s using gas!'" Trump said. Describing the way stability was maintained in the region during that time, Trump said "they go back, forth, it’s the same. And they were stabilized."
Trump lamented how the United States intervened in the region during a speech in South Carolina late last year. "if you go after one or the other, in this case Iraq, you’re going to destabilize the Middle East. That’s what’s going to happen," he said.
On Tuesday night, at rally focusing heavily on Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, Trump revived the old riffs from his primary playbook. "We shouldn’t have destabilized Saddam Hussein, right? He was a bad guy, really bad guy, but you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good."
Trump’s statements were noteworthy for the company he made them in. At Trump’s side Tuesday: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, who was on the trail with Trump for the day. Corker is being vetted for vice president and his trail time in North Carolina was considered by many to be an audition.