By Mark Green
Before "deplorables" and pneumonia, Shrum & Frum discuss who gained and learned the most from the NBC Forum (seen by 14 million) before the first Debate in two weeks (70 million). Agreement: Trump is nearly "unfactcheckable" given his niagara of lies while Clinton has to get off defensive and tell swing Rs that he's too dangerous.
Commander-in-Chief Forum: Using the Reagan-Carter test of who gained the most (not who "won" the debate on content), rate Clinton-Trump. Bob Shrum says that Trump probably did that night but lost the next day because "the land mines he laid for himself [Putin, generals "rubble", sexual assault in military, CIA briefing] blew up in the media." David Frum thinks that "whoever's explaining is losing and, for the most part, Clinton was on the defensive and Trump offensive" (in both meanings of the word?).
While Frum lamented that "Trump lies too much to be always corrected," he agrees that DJT just "brazened his way through" the lie that he had opposed the Iraq invasion at its start and was crazy to propose that we "take the oil" because it would require huge fleets of tankers and soldiers. "It would be cheaper just to buy it" (oh, and it's a war crime to plunder the vanquished).
They added to the unanimity that Matt Lauer was the big loser because of his one-sided, shallow "gotcha" questions that, in the words of Frank Rich, "played to Trumps strength" of self-confident BS. So what has been learned by future moderators -- beyond not treating the man different than the woman -- and by HRC for the big Debates?
Shrum, who's coached several Democratic presidential nominees: ""Hillary can't simply try to out-debate him but instead talk past him to the moderate swing Republicans listening. So whether he brings his mild or wild game, she can't pick at everything he says but instead be prepared for that moment or two -- like Reagan's 'there you go again'-- that can turn the debate around." Frum concurs but stresses that her essential goal is "to remind voters that he's simply too dangerous to be trusted with our national defense. She has to make it about our financial and military security."
Host: Yes, Lauer choked when it came to easy follow-up questions (except for his obsession with emails). But what if anything can HRC do in the face of a onslaught of lies? Ideally, she needs to preempt, rebut, elevate but do not keep wrestling with this big tar baby of an opponent. So prepare a few preemptive phrases to explain why, respecting the audience and stakes, she won't try fix every falsehood and then 'pivot' to either a) something more awful he did or b) her better idea.
"Oh Donald!" [said like Edith would say "Oh Archie!]; "Donald, get real"; "you do know the rules allow you to occasionally tell the truth?"; "no wonder the Reagans/Bushes/Romney families oppose your candidacy as too dangerous for America"; "none of what he just said is true, as fact-checkers will tell us tomorrow. But let me highlight just one example..."; "you're aware that loudly repeating a falsehood doesn't make it true?"; if he's gonna lie about me in every breath, I'll have to tell the truth about him when he did xyz." Even "there you go again" if done first. But something.
The key always dismiss an attack with a counter-fact or validator before moving quickly to her larger point. Atwater, Frum and Trump understand the truism -- again, if you're explaining, you're losing.
*Scandal Scorecard. Unlike a multi-candidate primary when an attack by A on B could help C or D, an essentially one-on-one general election means that any any successful attack on A will help B. Therefore, this year's presidential Fall election seems like a race to claim the other is the more corrupt liar. So, who is?
Schrum acknowledges Clinton's high negative numbers, citing however the Washington Post editorial that day which concludes, "enough with the emails, move on to real issues." And the Clinton Foundation has done enormous good despite some occasions when a Foundation staffer suggested, say, a Nobel winner get an appointment with the SecofState. He adds that the illlegal gift from Trump's charity to AG Pam Bondi as her staff was considering a case against Trump U -- and his $150k fund-raiser for her after she dropped any investigation -- is a real scandal with an understandable quid pro quo...but the weekly drip-drip from pretty innocuous emails keeps dominating coverage. (Ironic how the media indulges in the double standard of letting him off the hook because of so many scandals -- "nothing new here" -- and fibs while pouncing on her few controversies over a lifetime of public service.)
Frum explains that such a contest hurts Clinton more "because when people feel that politics is failing them and is hopeless," they're more likely to vote for the more extreme outsider in a what-the-hell spasm. David does think that the Clintons "have done many sleazy things, even if not illegal," and then he cuts to the chase: "She not only has to explain just how dangerous he is when it comes to fiscal and military security but also show that he's not really such a successful businessman since that's the core of his appeal. If he cheats so many small people out of $10,000, he can't really be such a big guy. That's why she should daily pressure him to release his taxes."