Last night, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton got in some debate practice during a forum with the Today Show's Matt Lauer, with each candidate separately talking about how they'd deal with tough stuff as Commander-in-Chief. And Lauer, who is apparently a journalist of some sort, did a really great job of letting Trump lie to his face and get away with it, so it looks like we're one step closer to having President TeenyHands paint the Oval Office in gold trim.
Lauer grilled Clinton particularly hard about that email server that has not yet led to the Earth opening up and swallowing us whole, but is somehow the most atrocious act committed by any presidential candidate on the history of this planet, so thanks a lot Colin Powell. Clinton doubled down, claiming there was nothing classified on the server (there might have been, but it looks like she wasn't aware of that) and apologizing ("As I have said repeatedly, it was a mistake to have a personal account. I would certainly not do it again. I make no excuses for it. It was something that should not have been done.")
Clinton also addressed Libya, her vote for the war in Iraq, and how she'd handle ISIS—all of these are fair questions on which to press a presidential candidate, but though Lauer's supposedly really great with women, he did a stand-up job interrupting her every thirty seconds.
Meanwhile, Lauer didn't bother interrupting Trump, even when he flat-out lied to his face about his support for the Iraq War. "I was totally against the war in Iraq," the anthropomorphic caramelized creme brulee asserted, despite the fact that he did in fact voice support for the invasion of Iraq, but that was waaaay back before he decided to run for President, so it doesn't count! He also supported military action in Libya, but you wouldn't know it from Lauer's interview, considering he claimed that Clinton "made a terrible mistake on Libya." Lauer, apparently blinded by Trump's sparkling XY chromosomes, did not press him on this, though he did repeatedly ask him if he was prepared to be president. Spoiler! He's not.
The way to show Trump isn't prepared is to ask him specific, detailed questions, not keep saying "Are you prepared?" over and over.
— Jonathan Chait (@jonathanchait) September 8, 2016
There was one good thing that came out of this forum—Lauer made Trump address this cool Tweet he made in 2013:
26,000 unreported sexual assults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 7, 2013
Trump, for the record, still stands by this Tweet, because women should just expect to be raped whenever a man is within their vicinity. He also stands by his apparent best friendship with Vladimir Putin, who has committed a large number of atrocities over the years—when Lauer asked him about the invasion of Ukraine, etc., Trump spat back, “Do you want me to start naming some of the things that President Obama does?” (Obama doesn't jail journalists or put out anti-gay propaganda, for one thing).
Still, this forum was a mess. You can argue that Clinton's a little shady on the email servers, and some other things, but her fact-checks don't come with the same blaring LIES LYING LIAR alarm that Trump gets, and Lauer let all that fly by. A number of political analysts have pointed out that journalists tend to softball Trump, in part thanks to his reluctance to give straight answers, and also perhaps because he's so inept that to attempt to discuss complex matters of importance with him is a maddening task (though, in theory, he at least knows about Aleppo).
But if you cross-examine Hillary on serious policy and ask Trump to name his favorite color, obviously one candidate's sound bites will come across better to an uninformed population than the other, and that candidate's name rhymes with Shmump. As Jonathan Chait writes in NY Mag:
Lauer’s attempt to press Trump was the completely ineffectual technique of asking repeatedly if he is ready to serve as commander-in-chief. Lauer probably believes the answer is no, but nothing about this question would drive home Trump’s extraordinary lack of knowledge. Instead it allowed him to performatively demonstrate his confident, alpha-male reality-show character as a prospective chief executive.
Both of these beliefs stun and appall foreign-policy experts in both parties, as readers of the Washington Post or the New York Times know. But the average undecided voter isn’t reading those newspapers. The average undecided voter is getting snippets of news from television personalities like Lauer, who are failing to convey the fact that the election pits a normal politician with normal political failings against an ignorant, bigoted, pathologically dishonest authoritarian.
Unfortunately, the President of the United States occasionally has to do hard things, so letting Trump get away with lying outright about the things he has and has not opposed or said; praising a leader who jails journalists and activists and supplied weapons to Bashar Al-Assad; and claiming, again, THAT MEN RAPE WOMEN IN THE ARMY BECAUSE THERE ARE WOMEN IN THE ARMY; is just a recipe for fucking disaster come November.
— Dan Scavino Jr. (@DanScavino) September 8, 2016