I had not taken seriously the possibility that Donald Trump could win the presidency until I saw Matt Lauer host an hour-long interview with the two major party candidates.... I not only consume a lot of news, since it’s my job, I also tend to focus on elite print news sources. Most voters, and all the more so undecided voters, subsist on a news diet supplied by the likes of Matt Lauer. And the reality transmitted to them from Lauer matches the reality of the polls, which is a world in which Clinton and Trump are equivalently flawed.We know that Lauer spent the first half of Clinton's time obsessing over emails. We know he let Trump get away with lying about the fact that he initially supported the Iraq War and the invasion of Libya. It's good to press this, and I'm glad the criticism is coming not just from angry liberals on Twitter but from The New York Times:
The criticism is good. It might serve notice to the moderators of the upcoming debates, and to pundits and journalists in general.
But in the short term, this means we're not talking about Trump's performance last night, which could have been the focus this morning. I didn't watch the whole forum -- as it turns out, I came in just after Clinton's email inquisition -- but I watched the second half of Clinton's appearance and all of Trump's, and I think Josh Marshall has a point:
Trump said a lot of stuff that should and I suspect will get scrutinized going forward -- like literally time bombs lit tonight and exploding over the coming hours....What if, instead of flooding the zone with complaints about Lauer, pro-Clinonites were flooding the zone with denunciations of all this?
He doubled down on the inane idea that we "should have taken the oil with us" and deprived ISIS of oil revenue.... how on earth do you take the oil with you? It's really big. It's in the ground. You can put it in a box or a hundred boxes and ship back home.... It is the kind of nonsense that can be repeated and make Trump look like a buffoon....
He praised Putin....
He affirmed a tweet in which he suggested that of course there are lots of rapes in the military because that's what happens when you put men and women together. In other words, that's what men do. Not good....
The exchange where Lauer kept asking him why he wouldn't discuss his ISIS plans and then asked why he had to ask the generals if he had a plan and then Trump said well, maybe I'll combine the two plans ... this is a case where people are selling Lauer a bit short. That made Trump look like a jackass. People know from a young age when someone is trying to bullshit their way out of question.
I'll grant, however, that some people actually like Trump's bullshit. Marshall tweeted that ISIS-plan exchange:
Totally coherent and clearly makes sense. pic.twitter.com/GSpYYSwtHW— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) September 8, 2016
If you like bluster, if you like a guy saying "Of course I'll win at everything because I'm the world's biggest winner," then this answer was reassuing to you.
We don't know what percentage of the country feels that way. Until now, it's seemed like a minority, if just barely. So Clinton supporters should proceed as if that's true. Put this answer into an ad with mocking pizzicato strings and title cards that say things like "So - one plan or two?" "One?" "No - two." "Whoops! One." Et cetera, et cetera.
Sell the notion that Trump flopped last night and maybe it'll become conventional wisdom. Sell the notion that Clinton was wronged last night and the C.W. will be that she lost. (Which is what I think is happening.)
The problem is, maybe too many Americans like the bluster. This is the risk going forward: We're looking to fill a job opening, and one candidate is a thoroughly unqualified, inexperienced man with swagger and bluster, while the other is a not-very-charismatic woman with a few trouble spots on her resume but also a tremedous amount of grounding in precisely what the job requires. Who should get the job? It's obvious that the woman should. But who tends to get hired in such circumstances? The man.
Gail Collins watched the forum and wrote this:
The biggest current veterans’ issue -- health care at the Department of Veterans Affairs -- came up only briefly. Trump urged people to check out the plan on his website, which is actually different from the plan he described on stage. Clinton happily dived into her wonk mode. (“I’ve met so many vets who get mustered out, who leave the service, they can’t find their records from D.O.D., and those records never make it to the V.A.”)That's it -- that's why Clinton should be elected. She's steeped herself in the issues. On issue after issue, she gets it.
Listen to her in these situations and you realize that this is a woman who has been to town hall meetings with virtually every single group of Americans who have a problem.
Marshall says something similar, but check his language:
... on question after question Clinton -- clearly by design -- tried to bury everyone in policy detail and command of the issues. She was smothering us with experience and we were smothered. You can think she's a liar and a crook and the worst person in the world. But you couldn't watch that segment and not realize she knows basically all the relevant issues inside and out. She's prepared. Whether you support her or like her is another matter. But she's prepared.I didn't feel smothered -- I was impressed, plain and simple. The question is, how many people are simply impressed by Clinton's command of the issues and how many feel "smothered"? Can we hope that the former constitute a silent majority?