(Updated at 10:20 pm EDT, 6/3/16)
What an insulting campaign we have on our screens.
An impenetrable cloud of character assault, aspersions, invectives and innuendo -- not to mention a Twitter crossfire fit for a schoolyard -- hangs today over a presidential election just five months away. The morning-after reviews of Hillary Clinton's frontal assault on Donald Trump depict the delivery of her diatribe as "lacerating, mauling, stinging, blistering'' and "withering'' -- an "evisceration.'' He called it simply "pathetic."
And a tirade of tweets that started before her speech was even finished continues today, with Trump tweeting: "In Crooked Hillary's teleprompter speech yesterday, she made up things that I said or believe but have no basis in fact. Not honest!" No details here, of course, in a message apparently confirming the web-video Clinton is airing at her own account today, tweeting: "Donald Trump's foreign policy team: one 'very good brain' with very thin skin.''
It may take some time to assess the fallout of all this radioactive rhetoric on a contest in which the two presumptive nominees of the nation's leading political parties are perceived more unfavorably than any front-runners in either party since 1984, when CBS News starting surveying voters on this question. A solid majority of voters hold a dim view of both Clinton and Trump, and it's difficult to see how the debate underway will improve that.
The candidates' words are calculated for their immediate effect on the instant cable news cycle, yet one searing day of vilification will not settle a match in which the average of the most recent public opinion polls portrays a dead heat between the two. We are in for a months-long pummelling of audible-call artillery from both camps, a punishing volley of direct hits.
At his own rally in San Jose, Trump dismissed Clinton's assault as a "sad... political speech" and characterized the candidate as a puppet of teleprompter President Barack Obama. "Yes, sir, Mr. President, sir. What would you like? What would you like me to say, sir?"' mocked Trump, in a parroting of Clinton's relationship with the White House which he attributed to Clinton's fear of indictment over her private email account as secretary of state. "Because you know why? She doesn't want to go to jail. That's why."
In an interview with The New York Times during Clinton's speech, Trump called Clinton's performance "terrible" and "pathetic." He added: "I'm not thin-skinned at all. I'm the opposite of thin-skinned."
Trump retaliated later today with an assessment as blistering as Clinton's: "Frankly, I honestly believe -- and I really mean this -- I think that Hillary Clinton is unfit to lead our country, certainly at this time," Trump told an audience. "I think she's unfit. She doesn't have what it takes."
"I really believe I have the greatest temperament there is and the temperament that this country needs at this time,'' Trump said. "Look, let me tell you, I have a tough temperament, but we need a tough temperament. Now my temperament is totally controlled, so beautiful."
Clinton, he contended, is "greedy -- -- she's greedy as hell -- and that's, I think, the reason she wants it," Trump said. "But she doesn't have the talent for the job. She's not a natural for the job."
It's a question of leadership, both maintain, each insisting the other lacks what it takes to lead the most powerful nation on Earth.
"Americans aren't just electing a president in November,'' Clinton said. "We're choosing our next commander-in-chief -- the person we count on to decide questions of war and peace, life and death. And like many across our country and around the world, I believe the person the Republicans have nominated for president cannot do the job.''
"Donald Trump's ideas aren't just different -- they are dangerously incoherent,'' Clinton said. "They're not even really ideas -- just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds, and outright lies. He is not just unprepared -- he is temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility.''
"This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes -- because it's not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.''
Trump's reply in San Jose: "Hillary said, 'Oh, Donald Trump, his finger on the button.' I'm the one who didn't want to go in Iraq, folks."
The essential message of Clinton's rebuke will be repeated day after day by the candidate and surrogates: Trump is downright dangerous. "We cannot put the security of our children and grandchildren in Donald Trump's hands. We cannot let him roll the dice with America.''
"Making Donald Trump our commander-in-chief would be a historic mistake. And it would fuel an ugly narrative about who we are -- that we're fearful, not confident; that we want to let others determine our future for us, instead of shaping our own destiny.''
There were probably 15 individual speeches embedded in the template she coolly delivered yesterday. The Times says the speech was "roughly 10 days in the making,'' crafted by a sizable team of wordsmiths with late-draft advice from Obama's own former chief speechwriter.
Yet from the start of his own upstart claim to the Republican nomination, Trump has displayed a debilitating ability to shoot first, landing wounding salvoes without the assistance of any consultants. He already has crafted his refrain: "Crooked Hillary." Mocking his penchant for attacking rivals on Twitter during her speech, Clinton said: "I'm willing to bet he's writing a few right now:" Trump was tweeting: "Bad performance by Crooked Hillary! Reading poorly from prompter! doesn't even look presidential!"
The play on the teleprompter is reminiscent of the way Obama was mocked during his first campaign for president. This time, though, the opposition has demonstrated an uncanny talent for the impromptu remark that captures the cable chyron of the moment.
It'll be telling to see who looks presidential when this nasty race is run -- whose pejoratives are more penetrating, and who actually turns out to vote.
"This isn't reality television -- this is actual reality,'' Clinton said yesterday, mocking Trump's credentials as the star of television's "The Apprentice'' and deriding his foreign policy credentials as the sponsor of a Miss Universe contest in Russia. "Now imagine Donald Trump sitting in the Situation Room, making life-or-death decisions on behalf of the United States,'' said Clinton, recounting her own experience at Obama's side in the Situation Room as he made the call on Osama bin Laden.
"Imagine (Trump) deciding whether to send your spouses or children into battle,'' she said. "Imagine if he had not just his Twitter account at his disposal when he's angry, but America's entire arsenal.''
"I watched Hillary today, it was pathetic,'' Trump said from his own rally stage. "It was so sad to watch. She's up there, supposed to be a foreign policy speech. It was a political speech. It was pretty pathetic.''
"We are in a movement -- they've never seen anything like it... Some of these pundits have even said, almost all of them, that's there's never been anything like this that's ever happened in the United States, never been,'' Trump said. "We have a movement going on, we're on the cover of every newspaper, every magazine. Time magazine many times... I just learned they're doing yet another cover on Trump, I love that.''