Doing what the rest of the media has been trying to do for months, NBC host Matt Lauer tried at a televised town hall discussion to depict Republican Donald Trump as temperamentally unsuited to be president of the United States.
Just as Lauer tried to portray Trump as a loose cannon, he stopped – at least for the time being – giving his enemies ammunition.
The attempt seemed to fall flat because a more disciplined Trump has recently begun coming across in public as more of a presidential figure and less as an eccentric, shoot-from-the-hip billionaire. Trump has helped himself dramatically with his more focused attacks on Democrat Hillary Clinton and his visit last week to Mexico City. The meeting with President Enrique Peña was a public relations disaster for Mexico that has claimed the scalp of at least one government official there.
The forum came hours after Trump delivered a major, serious speech on foreign policy and military matters. He vowed to revitalize the military and pointed an accusing finger at the catastrophic foreign policy course set by President Obama and Clinton, his former secretary of state.
Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton took shots at each other in separate appearances at the Commander-in-Chief Forum in New York hosted by Lauer. The event took place last night on Pier 86 in Manhattan aboard the decommissioned USS Intrepid, which is now the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. (A transcript of the forum is available here.)
Notably, Lauer failed to ask Hillary any questions about the allegations of corruption swirling around the bribe processing center known as the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. As Breitbart News observed, Lauer “spent more than a third of the allotted 30 minute timeframe probing Clinton about her use of a private email server while sending and receiving classified documents, but declined to ask one Clinton Foundation-related query.”
Lauer reportedly has ties to the Clinton Foundation, having been listed as a “notable member” of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), a high-profile project of the foundation. NBC denies Lauer was a member of CGI, saying he interviewed President Clinton from a CGI conference for the “Today” show, which he-costs.
Following the lead of the Clinton campaign, Lauer tried to set Trump up as someone who is impolitic, flies off the handle, and lacks the right kind of personality to be president.
Lauer said Trump says “inflammatory things” that if said by a president “can spark a conflict, you can destabilize a region, you can put American lives at risk.”
“People talk about you and commander-in-chief, and not just Secretary Clinton,” Lauer said, “but some of your Republican opponents in the primary season, and they wonder about your temperament. They say, does Donald Trump have the temperament to be commander-in-chief?”
“You said something recently that I found interesting. You admitted that sometimes in the heat of a debate or when you’re talking about a lot of issues you say things that you later regret. So can we afford that with a commander-in-chief — to have a commander-in-chief who says things that he later regrets.”
Trump acknowledged he regretted his approach to some things during primary season and “would have liked to have done it in a nicer manner.” But in the end “I had 16 very talented people that I had to go through, and that was a lot of people … I was able to get more votes than anybody ever has gotten in the history of Republican politics.”
Lauer said Trump has complained that military commanders today have become too politically correct by the time they reach the top. “And we know that’s not a compliment coming from you,” he said. “Have you lost faith in the military commanders?”
Trump refused to take the bait. He replied:
“I have great faith in the military. I have great faith in certain of the commanders, certainly. But I have no faith in Hillary Clinton or the leadership. You look at what’s happened. And, you know, when she comes in and starts saying, oh, I would have done this, I would have — she’s been there for 30 years. I mean, we need change, Matt. We have to have it, and we have to have it fast.”
During her half-hour segment at the forum, Clinton, who hasn’t held a proper press conference in nine months, was forced to articulate her views in public. To no one’s surprise, she attacked Trump repeatedly as unpresidential.
When Lauer asked Hillary, “What is the most important characteristic that a commander-in-chief can possess?” she replied:
“Steadiness. An absolute rock steadiness, and mixed with strength to be able to make the hard decisions. Because I’ve had the unique experience of watching and working with several presidents. And these are not easy decisions. If they were, they wouldn’t get to the president in the first place.”
Appealing to low-information voters, Clinton offered the feeble, opt-repeated excuse that it was “a mistake” to have a personal email account as secretary of state. She insisted her behavior was not disqualifying at the presidential level.
“I would certainly not do it again. I make no excuses for it. It was something that should not have been done. But the real question is the handling of classified material, which is I think what the implication of your question was. And for all the viewers watching you tonight, I have a lot of experience dealing with classified material, starting when I was on the Senate Armed Services Committee going into the four years as secretary of state. Classified material has a header which says ‘top secret,’ ‘secret,’ ‘confidential.’ Nothing — and I will repeat this, and this is verified in the report by the Department of Justice — none of the e-mails sent or received by me had such a header.”
Hillary offered a strange justification for supporting the invasion of Libya. She told Lauer that not to act against Muammar Qaddafi would have allowed “an ongoing civil war in Libya [that] would have been as dangerous and threatening as what we are now seeing in Syria.”
Except that displacing Qaddafi exacerbated unrest in Libya and, one could argue, helped the civil war there get started in a meaningful way.
Clintonista and former vanity candidate Wesley Clark, who played a supporting role in the 1993 Branch Davidian massacre in Waco, Texas, derided Trump on MSNBC afterward as “a guy who thinks he knows everything about everything.” Of course that description is more applicable to Barack Obama than Trump.
The forum came as the latest CNN/ORC poll of likely voters shows Trump edging ahead of Clinton by 45 to 43 percent, followed by Libertarian Gary Johnson at 7 percent and Jill Stein of the Green Party at 2 percent.
The Real Clear Politics moving average of polls shows Clinton’s lead continuing to evaporate. Clinton is now at 41.3 percent, a mere 2.1 percentage points ahead of Trump who has 39.2 percent. Trailing are Johnson at 8.6 percent and Stein at 3.3 percent. On Aug. 29, Clinton was besting Trump by 4.4 points in a four-way race.
NBC will host the first presidential debate Sept. 26. It will be moderated by NBC News anchor Lester Holt.