CNN's Donna Bash acknowledged last week that the media holds Donald Trump to a different standard of lower expectations because he is a first-time politician. That was certainly true in Wednesday night's Commander-in-Chief Forum, jointly sponsored by NBC and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and moderated by NBC's Matt Lauer.
The first question from Lauer to Hillary Clinton made it quite obvious that 30 minutes (minus ad time) for each candidate was far too little time for a serious discussion of important topics, at least for Clinton. Donald Trump probably was happy not to have to display his lack of knowledge any further -- it was devastatingly lacking as it was. But it was important that Clinton be able to answer the question Lauer asked her with detail and nuance, not sound bites. And he kept interrupting her, asking other questions, and trying to hurry her along. He came across as bullying IMHO.
Lauer also asked tough questions of Trump, but he did not interrupt him in the same way. I've read that it was the candidates' choice to have only one hour, total; my guess is that "candidates" means Trump. I'm sure Clinton would have liked more time.
The other impression about Lauer and Clinton was that he focused far too much on the email controversy (one report said it was 30% of her time), leaving too little time for important policy questions more related to being commander-in-chief. And then he tried to hurry her through her answers. Her detractors won't accept her simple answer that she neither sent nor received any emails that were properly marked as classified. That's true, but it satisfies no one; so she needs to be able to give a more explanatory answer. And Lauer wouldn't let her do so. She was justifiably annoyed, but then the press charged her with seeming "angry and defensive."
Given that, however, there was no doubt that overall Clinton impressed me as presidential, while Trump showed once again why a Trump presidency would be a disaster. Sam Stein, political editor of the Huffington Post, discussed some statements Trump made that "would destroy any other presidential candidate." But, because Trump says so many outrageous things, we have lowered our expectations of him; and, because of the sheer number of them, "they were treated almost casually." Here's what Stein found so objectionable -- along with my thoughts about the list.
1. He said that "the generals" under Obama "have been reduced to rubble;" so when he's in office, he will have "different generals." What's wrong with this comment? He was speaking to a group of veterans, including generals. Donald Trump can't just go in and choose "different generals," as he suggested. It was an outrageous thing to say, particularly in this context before a military audience. It just proves how unfit he is for the job.
2. Trump repeated his admiration for Vladimir Putin and praised him as a strong leader, citing Putin's 82% approval rating and his "strong control over his country." What's wrong with this? As Rachel Maddow commented afterward, "Sure, some dictators get re-elected with 117% of the vote." Putin completely controls the media in Russia, controls people by fear and intimidation, and there is strong suspicion that he is behind the murder of journalists and opposition leaders. When Lauer asked him about Putin's invasion of Ukraine and annexing part of Eastern Europe, Trump's reply was, "You want me to start saying all the things that Obama has done?" As Stuart Stevens, who ran Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign, said: "If Senator Obama had praised Putin as a better President than the American, Republicans [meaning he, as the campaign manager] would have demanded he quit the race."
3. In discussing sexual assault as a problem in the military, Trump repeated what he has said before, essentially blaming it on the fact that women are allowed to serve alongside men in the military. What's wrong with this? It's the old excuse of: "boys will be boys," so it's really the girls' fault. In 2016, that is an outrageous position, and certainly not one that the military takes. And not just the military women. Military men have far more respect for their women colleagues than Trump does. It just adds to his reputation as a misogynist.
4. He has repeatedly lied about his history of support for the Iraq War. And he repeated the lie again, despite fact-checks that have recorded evidence of Trump supporting the invasion of Iraq. Matt Lauer, however, let him get away with it, although Hillary Clinton (who was appeared first in the Forum) had already called him on his lies about this.
5. He either lied or made highly inappropriate revelations about what went on in his recent intelligence briefings, claiming that the briefers made it clear to him that Obama had not taken their advice on counter-terrorism policies. What's wrong with this? It came perilously close to proving that he is untrustworthy in handling classified material. But beyond that, it is obviously a lie, and has been called as such by former CIA officials since then. Michael Morell, former acting CIA director, says intelligence briefers do not make policy recommendations; they give information. So Trump's saying Obama didn't take their advice cannot be true. Also, intelligence operatives are highly trained not to reveal their personal thinking by their body language. This undermines Trump's claim that he could tell the briefers were unhappy with Obama by reading their body language, a skill he claims to be very good at. Whether it was a lie or a leak, what he said about the briefing should disqualify him not only for the presidency but also for any further briefings.
6. Sam Stein didn't mention this one, but to me it's important. Trump played coy about his "secret plan" to get rid of ISIS (which he says he can accomplish in a week.) At another time, he says that our big mistake about Iraq was that we should have "taken their oil." He seems not to realize that he is advocating that the United States decide to invade another country and then just "take their oil," which would be a violation of military code as well as international rules of war.
In addition to these stand-out outrages, Trump displayed his shallow grasp of so many important issues, his lack of understanding how it all works, and his rash temperament -- all of which make him unfit to be commander-in-chief, or any other aspect of being president.