The post-forum fun house

This article appears in the Election 2016 feature series. View the full series.

Far more fascinating than the Commander-in-Chief forum itself has been the reaction to the forum. The reaction confirms the structure of the race. Hillary Clinton's campaign is so bad, she would be losing, and she would deserve to be losing, if she was running against any human being not named Donald Trump. And, Trump's campaign is a mere extension of his egomania, and Lord knows Trump puts the maniac back into egomania. 

N.B.: I say fascinating, not entertaining. The confusion between politics and entertainment is a large part of what is wrong with politics. The Clintons, too, have contributed to the conflation of the two, and Trump has obliterated any distinction between the two.

Both in their post-event tweets and among their surrogates, Team Hillary spent most of yesterday harping on the fact that Donald Trump really did support the war in Iraq, no matter what he says now. Fully briefed, they parsed the meaning of his words to Howard Stern, "Yeah, I guess so," when asked if he supported the war. Set aside the fact that Trump was a private citizen without access to any of the briefings Clinton had at the time. Why would the Clinton campaign, which needs a strong turnout from the Democratic base, remind the entire country that Hillary voted to authorize the Iraq War too? What does that vote say about the central premise of her campaign, that her experience has given her the judgment to be president?

More importantly, why would the Clinton team want to take the focus off the crazy things he just said and invite the electorate to walk down memory lane to something decidedly ambiguous that he said 13 years ago? Which is more likely to sway an undecided voter? These are the kinds of mistakes that should result in Clinton trailing in 40 states except for the fact that. ...

Donald Trump's campaign started the day with his son, Donald Jr., retweeting an item about Hillary wearing an ear piece during the forum posted at a conspiracy theory website called Infowars, where the item had to compete for attention with items about Hillary suffering from Parkinson's, the claim that the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school was a hoax, and that the Obama administration green-lighted a request from PepsiCo to put the tissue of aborted fetuses into its products. I suppose the rotten apple did not fall far from the rotten tree.

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Later on, the nation found itself discussing intelligence briefings. Call me silly, but at a time when the GOP is trying to make hay with the idea that Hillary's emails risked national security, why do they think we should be talking about what does and does not go on in an intelligence briefing?

The reason we are discussing the briefing is because during the forum, Donald Trump thought it was a good idea to score a point by throwing his briefers under the bus. Or Donald Trump really did think he was picking up "body language" signals from professionals who are trained not to communicate such signals. Either way, we see again what acute narcissism looks like in real time: He is willing to smear professionals the nation relies on, or think he understands their craft better than they do, because he can't help himself and because, frighteningly, Trump does not know what he does not know. There is no scarier characteristic in a person vested with power.

The press corps still tried to create a false symmetry between Trump and Clinton, but the hostile reaction to Matt Lauer's performance forced them to begin the discussion and, hopefully, put the debate moderators on notice: In the effort to create balance, one cannot distort the truth. Wednesday night, even one of Trump's surrogates, former Congressman Mike Rogers, when pressed about Trump's remarks on Putin, looked at Anderson Cooper with a pained expression and said, "Oh, my, look at the time!" They all laughed, but it is not funny. Can you imagine what would have happened if then-candidate Sen. Barack Obama had compared President Bush unfavorably with a foreign adversary?

Fox News, still living off the fumes of Roger Ailes, focused almost all their programming last night on Clinton's email comments. The email controversy raises real but small issues. Trump, on the other hand, is "clueless" to borrow an apt word from Vice President Joe Biden, clueless about everything you would want a president to know, policy, history, key personalities, clueless about it all. (And, doesn't Biden wake up every morning, look in the mirror, and curse for about 10 minutes!)

Yesterday, I said imagining Trump in the Oval Office is like imagining Dame Edna in a swimsuit competition. My housemate one upped me: "Electing Donald Trump," he said yesterday, "would be like selecting a stranger at random to perform your son's bris." I think we should have a competition here at NCR for the best metaphor to describe exactly how crazy it is that we are even discussing the possibility of Trump becoming president. Yes, Team Hillary has to be careful here, careful that they do not set the bar so low, Trump continues to get high marks because he can read off a teleprompter. But the rest of us? We can revel in the insanity all we want, except when, as the polls tighten, we need to consult the help wanted ads in Quebec.

[Michael Sean Winters is NCR Washington columnist and a visiting fellow at Catholic University's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.]


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