If the “Commander in Chief” Forum were a baseball game, moderator Matt Lauer would be an out-of-shape pitcher. His first few innings, against Hillary Clinton, he had a sharp fastball with good control. When Trump came on, Lauer started throwing slop—slow pitches right over the plate that were easy to hit.
But it didn’t seem to matter: Hillary hit every question out of the park, mixing facts with realism and reasoned analysis. Trump popped everything up to the third baseman, except when he struck out.
Let’s start with Lauer’s warnings to each candidate before he started pitching questions. He strictly told Hillary not to talk about her opponent, but to focus on what she would do. She pretty much followed his directives, except to point out that Trump had originally been in favor of the Iraq War. When it was Trump’s turn, however, instead of issuing a direct request, he sheepishly sort-of, kind-of made a wishy-washy supplication. Hillary pretty much followed his instructions, mentioning Trump for well less than a minute. Trump, however, put cork in his bat: forgetting he has spent months equating Hillary with President Obama, he spent virtually all of his time attacking the President, which, of course, meant he didn’t answer the questions.
Lauer’s questions to Clinton were tough, and he made sure she stayed on point. When Clinton needed to fill in some detail before answering a question, Lauer would insist she stick to the question, to which she replied she was but needed to give the background and then proceeded to make the necessary logical jumps to get to the answer. Lauer did not interrupt Trump or press him when he changed the subject of the question or refused to answer the question, which was pretty much all the time. He allowed Trump to go on and on about irrelevancies. For example, when asked what he would do once ISIS was defeated, Trump never broached the subject but attacked both Obama and Hillary. Lauer let it pass.
Lauer spent a third of Hillary’s time on her email scandal. In this part of the forum, Hillary hit a massive home run, similar to Mickey Mantle hitting the ball out of Ebbets Field and into the street to put the Yanks ahead for good in the 7th game of the 1953 World Series. (I give this comparison because Mantle’s feat is usually forgotten; a few innings later a psychopathic teammate Billy Martin made a flashy defensive play.) When Lauer, asking one in a series of very specific questions about the emails, commented that Federal Bureau of Investigation’s head James Comey said that her private server could have been hacked, Hillary correctly pointed out that there is no evidence it ever was hacked, whereas we know for a fact that State Department and other government email systems were hacked.
In fact, Hillary was pretty much Babe Ruth during her entire appearance. She answered every question directly and factually, corrected the mistakes Lauer and the questioners from the audience made—always in a nice way—and did not quibble or try to shape her remarks to the audience. In a short amount of time, we found out a lot about what she thinks:
- She will not put ground troops into Iraq and Syria, preferring to combine our air force with aid and counsel to our on-the-ground allies to defeat ISIS.
- She will always use force as an absolute last resort.
- She will not privatize the Veterans Administration (VA) healthcare system.
- She believes that people on the no-fly list should not be allowed to buy or own firearms.
She was definitely scoring points with the audience. One example: From the facial and body language of one man asking about the VA, you could tell that he disliked Clinton and believed the Kool-Aid about her. By the end of her answer, you could see his face softening its frown and his body getting more relaxed, less stiff, as he seemed to begin to realize that Hillary knows what she’s talking about and has an extensive history passing legislation and supporting organizations that help veterans and their families.
Although he was treated with kid gloves and asked softball questions, Trump essentially “took a collar,” which means he struck out or popped up all of Lauer’s easy pitching. Here are accurate paraphrases of some of the slop questions Lauer threw to Trump with the gist of the Donald’s answers, followed by my comment:
- What have you done that qualifies you as commander in chief? I ran a successful (sic) company and have good judgment. A lie, since other than his TV show and brand licensing, his businesses have been failures.
- Did you learn anything from the confidential briefings you have received? I learned that the people giving the briefings don’t like what the President and Clinton are doing. I hope someone contradicts Trump on this assertion, which must be a lie. Think about it: would every staff member giving briefings be disloyal, because that’s what it would take to keep hidden the disloyalty of even one in front of a candidate.
- What about your praise of Putin? Here is the exact quote: “If he says great things about me, I’ll say great things about him.” A statement appropriate at a networking cocktail party for sales executives, but not about foreign affairs.
- Are you studying foreign affairs to learn more? I’m studying sometimes when I have a spare moment from running my business and running for office, but I have a lot of common sense. Trust me, folks.
There’s something to fault with each of these answers. Looks like a lot of pop-ups and maybe a “can of corn,” which is an easy fly to the outfield.
Lauer’s presentation of this last question was obnoxiously obsequious. With the fearful demeanor and voice of a supplicant to the Pope, he said, “You can’t be expected to know the details…” Yes he can, should and must be expected to know the details of defense policy, and from day one. Why would we lower the standard for Donald Trump that we have set for every one of our presidential candidates since Harry S. Truman and Thomas Dewey?
Like an aging slow lefty called in to get one batter, Lauer did strike out the mighty Donnie on the matter of his “secret plan” to defeat ISIS. If he had a secret plan, Lauer asked, why did Trump want to give “the generals” 30 days to come up with a plan? In a series of half-completed jumbled-together sentences that would have done George W. proud, Trump never broached the subject of why he wanted the general’s plans, but said he might use his plans, the generals’ or a combination. It was classic sputtering, followed soon after by irresponsible aggressiveness when Trump insisted he would fire all the current generals. Lauer never connected the dots: Trump wants to give new generals who aren’t current with on-the-ground specifics a mere 30 days to work up a plan.
Trump seems to love channeling Richard M. Nixon. He is calling himself the “law and order” candidate, like Nixon did. He has a secret plan to defeat ISIS, just as Nixon had a secret plan to end the Vietnam War. He has been caught and fined for a number of campaign giving violations, has bragged about buying politicians and may have paid off the attorney generals of several states not to pursue lawsuits against his eponymous university. Nixon, Watergate.
One more comparison. Maybe I inferred too much and I can only speak for myself, but by the end of her time, Clinton looked and sounded like a young Ernie Banks, ready to play a double header in the hot Midwest sun. Trump, by contrast, appeared to lose energy as his last minutes on stage ticked down. Some pundits have noted that Trump tended to make all his noise in the first half of the Republican debates. It could be Trump knew that viewers tend to dwindle away the longer a debate lasts. But it could also be that this 70-year-old professed fast-food fan with a large rubber tire around his middle was getting tired.
I come to the debates as a decades-long pacifist, so I reject many of the premises from which our defense policy has evolved over the past century or so. I would rather our candidate be more dovish than any of the candidates who ran for office this year of either party, except possibly Rand Paul. But between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as commander in chief, the choice is about as easy as that between Babe Ruth and Chuck Conners, who hit .238 with two homers for his pro career and later became a television actor. I'm with her.
Judging from the reaction when each candidate appeared, the audience of veterans agrees with me that Clinton is the better choice. The applause for her was both louder and longer than what Trump received. After seeing days of the media’s softball coverage of Donald Trump and their almost morbid fixation on emails that continue to show absolutely no wrong-doing by Hillary (except the admitted mistake of having a private server), it was gratifying to hear the many more vets in the audience voting with their hands for Clinton than for Trump. Now they—and we—have to vote for real on or before Election Day.