American voters got a preview of the presidential debates this week.
During Wednesday’s “Commander-in-Chief” forum, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appeared separately for 30 minutes each, taking questions about military, national security and veterans issues that the next “commander-in-chief” will face.
Clinton was grilled about her handling of email and her 2002 vote supporting the Iraq War. Trump was asked about his plans to defeat ISIS and his admiration for Vladimir Putin.
If the reaction by political pundits are any gauge, style will be as important as substance in determining who won the debates.
As Debates Near, Forum Shows Potential Trump Advantage
Byron York – Washington Examiner
NBC’s “Commander in Chief Forum”…showed an advantage Trump might have when the two meet face-to-face: she 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.
One common theme of all the questions: They focused on things Clinton did in her years in office, in the Senate and as secretary of state. She started out by citing her experience, so Lauer and the audience answered, in effect, “OK, let’s talk about your experience.”
Trump has no such experience….That’s the challenger’s advantage: The candidate who has done less on the national stage has less to answer for, and his hopeful promises and pronouncements are less weighted by an actual record.
Trump Flunks the Commander-in-Chief Test
Jennifer Rubin – The Washington Post
Clinton started off playing defense on — what else? — her emails….She needs to develop a brief and definitive statement, off of which she can pivot and get on to friendlier terrain….She also insisted that no ground troops would go to Iraq or Syria, making the cardinal error of ruling out options and, worse, ignoring the 5,000 or so troops already there.
None of that — if you can believe it — was anywhere as awful as Trump’s rambling, incoherent and at times jaw-dropping performance. He once again fawned over Vladimir Putin…Trump repeatedly insulted the military. (“I think under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the generals have been reduced to rubble. They have been reduced to a point where it’s embarrassing for our country.”) A moment later he declared, “I have great faith in the military. I have great faith in certain of the commanders, certainly.” Hmm.
Hillary Clinton Fails to Deliver a Foreign Policy Vision
Peter Beinart – Defense One
On substance, Trump was, as you might expect, absurd….But in crass political terms, Trump did well….because he capitalized on the public’s sour mood: He said the war in Iraq was a disaster, the withdrawal from Iraq was a disaster, the war in Libya was a disaster, and the management of the Department of Veterans Affairs is a disaster. And he blamed Clinton because she was part of those decisions and he was not.
Clinton, on the other hand, offered no vision at all….Asked about her vote to invade Iraq, she apologized, and said, “It is imperative that we learn from the mistakes like after action reports are supposed to do, so we must learn what led us down that path so it never happens again.” Makes sense. But Clinton never explained what she had learned….
To be fair, Clinton is in a tough spot. As the de facto incumbent, she owns Obama’s failures. But because of her vote on Iraq, she owns George W. Bush’s too.
NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum Was an Authoritarian Farce
William Salatan – Slate
Trump still managed, through boastful indifference, to reveal the most important thing about his presidency: He would make the United States an authoritarian country….
(In) his answer to a question about ISIS. “I’ve always said [we] shouldn’t be there,” Trump said. “But if we’re going to get out, take the oil.”…This is a policy of explicit theft….
Trump expanded on his admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin…in Trump’s view, Putin’s approval rating in Russian polls signifies not that Putin has intimidated his people, but that they respect him—or that intimidation counts as respect….Putin shouldn’t be criticized for his invasions or his espionage against us, because Obama does questionable things, too….Trump’s definition of leadership is “strong control over a country,” even by Putin’s methods….it’s better to be a united country like Russia than to be a “divided country” like America.
Trump’s Town Hall Surge
Jacob Heilbrunn – The National Interest
Trump was weak on details, but strong on his presentation. He is well suited to what former ambassador Richard Burt has called a “foreign policy by bumper sticker” debate….
If last night’s performance is anything to go by, he may even come out ahead in the debate, because he has a much greater ability to play to the camera than she possesses. He can brazen it out. Clinton can’t….
For all the tut-tutting among the foreign policy elite about Trump’s rise, national-security experts should be delighted that there is any debate at all about foreign policy. By unceremoniously questioning the liberal order that has prevailed over the past decades, Trump is prompting another look at America’s role in the world.