NBC's Commander-in-Chief Forum Played To Trump's Strengths

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to Matt Lauer during the Commander in Chief Forum in Manhattan, New York,
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to Matt Lauer during the Commander in Chief Forum in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 7, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Just like that, in the relative blink of less than a half-hour each, back to back, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have had their first joint encounter of the fall campaign. Advantaged by his life experience in authoritatively filibustering in limited time, fortunate in his good luck in going second and in having a moderator who repeatedly went at his opponent right at the top on her e-mail woes but allowed him to slide on his false claim that he opposed the invasion of Iraq, Trump did relatively well.

Much better than he should have, given the paucity of his knowledge and reality of his flip-flops, on the Libyan intervention as well as the Iraq War.

That said, I'm sure Trump appeared to the less than very knowledgeable viewer to belong on the same stage with the far more experienced former secretary of state, U.S. senator, and first lady.

About 18 minutes into her appearance, with time already running out, Clinton adopted a much sharper tone, appearing not at all relaxed. The turn came as NBC host Matt Lauer -- who I vividly recall giving sudden California gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger a much tougher time in a Today Show interview the morning after his "surprise" Tonight Show announcement than he just gave the Republican candidate in striking distance of the White House -- grilled Clinton on the controversial Iranian nuclear deal. He implied that, even though the initial impetus for the John Kerry-negotiated plan came from her, she herself doesn't really believe that Iran has abandoned its hopes for nuclear weapons.

In contrast, Trump, who went unchallenged on his false claims on Iraq and Libya, appeared relaxed and confident throughout.

Clinton did fine on substance, though when pressed repeatedly on her e-mail controversy she did say that some government systems had been penetrated while there is no hard evidence that her private system was. I hope she's not suggesting her security was better, given how slipshod her staff's handling of her lost e-mail archives was.

On ISIS, the Democratic candidate argued that the jihadist terror outfit should be taken on in the arena of ideas, vowing to continue the strong military attacks that are pushing the Islamic State back while promising no U.S. ground troops in Iraq or Syria.

For his part, Trump stood by his earlier bluster about "political correctness" supposedly preventing today's commanders from acting like World War II Generals Douglas MacArthur (who in reality allowed nearly all his planes in the Philippines to be destroyed hours after the Pearl Harbor attack) and George Patton (whose record actually does stand up very well).

Not that the career real estate developer has an actual plan of his own, conveniently pleading the need to avoid "broadcasting our strategy to the enemy."

Hmm, I think I remember Richard Nixon having a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War. That would be the war in which Trump was a chicken hawk draft dodger, something else he was allowed to slide on in this forum supposedly devoted to military veterans.

Trump did make some news while pushing his new theme of military expansion and "Peace Through Strength." Which he actually borrowed from Ronald Reagan, who in turn borrowed it from the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who also, as fate would have it, built a wall.

Trump now says that illegal immigrants who have served or want to serve in the military will be allowed amnesty, with proper vetting before being allowed to serve in the armed forces.

And recent problems with the Veterans Administration, especially around lateness and laxity in medical care, are to be solved by the vet receiving reimbursement for seeking and getting timely private medical care from the doctors of their choice. I can just picture private doctors confronted by impoverished vets demanding care.

It's the sort of glib assurance that a certain type of challenger can make. That would be a personality used to a lot of selling. (Problems with the VA are chronic, as my late father could well attest.)

Presumably the actual debates won't be quite so easy for the billionaire bully boy. In the meantime, Trump -- who is now pretty close in the latest national polls if he is not actually slightly ahead -- had a pretty decent night.

He even blithely talked up a new anti-Isis alliance with Russia and skated on some more blather about "taking" Iraq's oil.

Still think he can't win? Better get your mind right.

Less than nine weeks to go. Way too much time for Hillary's old plan to "run out the clock." As I've been mentioning for a while now.

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