At the very start of the NBC forum on national security affairs, Matt Lauer asked Hillary Clinton what were the qualities she thinks are most important in a Commander-In-Chief. She cited steadiness, willingness to listen to others and to evaluate what they say, temperament, and judgment as key.
Then, she proceeded to flunk her own test while Trump passed it with flying colors.
Judgment? After subjecting the country and her own political career to a scandal of her own making by using a separate, private server?
Judgment? By endorsing the war in Iraq at every turn?
Steadiness? When each new day brings a new fanciful explanation of why she had the server?
Instead, it was Trump who passed the test.
After all, this debate — on foreign affairs and national security — was in Hillary’s ball park. It was a home game for the former Secretary of State. A road game for Trump. But it was Trump who appeared more at ease with the subject matter, scoring his points effectively but with bombast, buffoonery, or sarcasm.
For her party, Hillary came across like a jukebox. When a topic came up, she would press A-5 or B-17 and the appropriate script would come to mind. There was no warmth or even interrelationship with Lauer.
Hillary has set a low bar for Trump. She has called him dangerous, demagogic, sexist, extremist, wacky, loony, and everything else. All Trump has to do when he walks out on stage is to defy those stereotypes and he comes out ahead.
There are three precedents for presidential campaigns that were built around scaring people: Johnson’s warnings about Barry Goldwater and the bomb, Nixon’s attack on George McGovern’s extreme defense cuts, and Carter’s characterization of Reagan as a shoot-from-the-hip cowboy.
Neither Goldwater nor McGovern had televised debates in which to defend themselves and debunk the stereotype. But Reagan did and, after America met him, it was hard to find the danger that Carter spoke of so often.
Once we get past the name calling, Hillary has nothing left to throw at Donald. She squandered her convention without setting up issue contrasts with Trump, so confident was she that the name calling will stick.
Hillary is like someone trying to run up a down escalator. Each step — taken at great effort (and much coughing) — is countered by the inevitable, irreversible downward movement of the machine, powered in this case by her own blunders rather than by electricity.