I didn’t watch NBC’s “Commander-in-Chief Forum” last night. The less I see of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the happier I tend to be.
The attacks on Lauer stem in part, I believe, from a desire to signal to Lester Holt and other debate moderators that they better go Candy Crowley on Trump if they hope to preserve their reputations. But I doubt that the mainstream media would be so worked up if Trump hadn’t had a reasonably good evening.
Rich Lowry thinks Trump did for two reasons. First, he probably “seem[ed] plausible to the average viewer”:
[Trump] has an executive bearing and if you don’t care too much about the details of any of this stuff, a lot of what he says will sound like common sense. And every day when he can seem just a little more plausible as commander-in-chief is a good day for him.
Second, Hillary Clinton did poorly:
Hillary was on the defensive for much of [the event]. Her email explanations were insipid and unconvincing, as always. But there is no way for her to break out of the box on this issue because she can’t just tell the truth — i.e., she wanted to keep her records from public view in violation of the rules.
She didn’t help herself when she tried to stop Matt Lauer from getting her to move on from one question — there’s a graceful way to do that and she didn’t manage it. Her shots at Trump felt forced, and especially at the end, rushed.
It was quite a brittle performance for someone who has been doing this for so long. She always has a lot of explaining to do and doesn’t do it particularly well.
Byron York views the Forum as a sign of things to come in the debates. He thinks the exchanges last night suggest a natural advantage for Trump:
[Clinton] has a record in government to defend, while he doesn’t. On that score, Trump, at 70 a newcomer to politics, seems new, while Clinton, at 68 a veteran of decades in public life, seems, well, not new.
The format of the NBC forum, in which the two candidates were separated by only a commercial break, put that contrast into higher relief than ever before.
Byron notes that, naturally enough, the first three areas of questioning for Clinton all involved her record as a a public official: her mishandling of confidential emails, her vote for the Iraq war, and her role in the Iran nuclear negotiations. In each case, Clinton, naturally enough, was on the defensive.
Trump has no such record to defend. All he has is various pronouncements, many of them off-the-cuff. With only these to shoot at, we can understand why liberal journalists were so angry that Matt Lauer failed to call Trump on his false denial that he said, pre-Iraq invasion, that he supports the invasion.
Of course, Clinton has significant advantages of her own. But for Democrats hoping Clinton will land a knockout blow in the upcoming debate, Wednesday night was a cautionary moment. It showed that Trump has some serious strengths of his own, and that in what could be the most asymmetrical matchup ever, Clinton’s experience might not be the advantage her supporters hope it will be.
In my view, the advantage in the first debate will probably go to the candidate who learns the most from last night’s preview event and puts the lessons to use. If Hillary has an advantage, it may lie in what the moderator, Lester Holt, learned from last night, courtesy of the liberal mainstream media.