There is a long-running gripe within Democratic circles that the expectations for Donald Trump have been set so exceedingly low that there is virtually nothing he could do to imperil his candidacy.
Nothing about Wednesday night’s Commander-in-Chief forum on veterans’ issues ― the first event featuring both presidential candidates ― alleviated that concern.
Much of the coverage from the evening centered on the way in which it was moderated ― heavy, as it appeared to be, on the grilling of Clinton’s adherence to email protocol and light on the fact-checking of Trump. Overshadowed, to a certain degree, were a series of statements from the Republican nominee that would have surely sparked massive controversy had they been uttered by any other presidential candidate in any other election.
These statements didn’t go entirely unnoticed, as evidenced by a smattering of tweets from bewildered Democrats.
Trump was on stage for 30 minutes and managed at least 8 statements that in another year would be a major scandal.
— Jon Lovett (@jonlovett) September 8, 2016
But the sheer number of them, and the fact that it’s become expected for Trump to say outlandish things, meant they were treated almost casually, like run-of-the-mill utterances as opposed to objective head-scratchers:
1. Threatening To Fire Generals
Trump called for firing most, if not all, of the current military brass, and actively ridiculed their experience and judgement.
“I think under the leadership Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the generals have been reduced to rubble. They have been reduced to a point where it’s embarrassing for our country,” he said, adding that when he’s in office, “they’ll probably be different generals, to be honest with you. I mean, I’m looking at the generals.”
Generals are not political appointees. They have defined terms and typically are not removed simply because an official wants to clean house. But beyond the factual issues with what Trump said, there is the political context. Imagine, for a second, John Kerry making a similar comment during the 2004 presidential campaign and consider the filleting that he would have endured from President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign.
2. Embracing A Foreign Autocrat
Trump raved about Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings, and when pressed about some of the ghoulish and autocratic traits of the Russian presidency, he drew a moral equivalence with Obama (with Putin coming out on top). Two former top strategists to Mitt Romney noted how outrageous and unpatriotic this type of comment would have appeared in 2008 ― had Obama been the one making it.
If in ’08, Senator Barack Obama had praised Putin as a better President than the American, Republicans would have demanded he quit race.
— stuart stevens (@stuartpstevens) September 8, 2016
I have spent 7 years knocking Obama’s foreign policy.
You cannot, CANNOT, compare US president to a thug like Putin. That’s so damn wrong.
— John Noonan (@noonanjo) September 8, 2016
3. Blaming Victims For Military Sexual Assault
Trump stood behind his 2013 assertion that essentially blamed the epidemic of sexual assault in the military on the fact that women are now allowed to serve alongside men.
26,000 unreported sexual assults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 7, 2013
“It is a correct tweet. There are many people that think that’s absolutely correct,” Trump said.
He insisted he doesn’t want to kick women out of the armed forces and there need to be “consequences” when someone “does something so evil.” But Trump’s remarks not only missed the root of the issue, they contributed to the harmful notion that the problem is with the women and the victims for being there in the first place.
4. Lying About Iraq War Support
Trump once more lied about his position on the Iraq War, claiming that he opposed the invasion when he clearly supported it at the time. Obfuscation and dissembling are fairly common for a politician. But outright mistruths like these usually carry a price. This time, however, Trump didn’t face so much as a gentle fact-check or follow-up question from Lauer.
5. Discussing What Happened In Classified Briefings
Trump claimed that his during the intelligence briefings he’s received as president, his briefers made it clear (in their body language) that they were dissatisfied with President Obama’s current counter-terrorism policies.
“I’m pretty good with the body language. I could tell they were not happy,” Trump said. “Our leaders did not follow what they were recommending.”
Putting aside the question of what type of body language one uses to convey such dissatisfaction, the comment will undoubtedly cause a huge headache for the intelligence community, which now must field questions of whether it’s true. Officials are not supposed to reveal what happens in these briefings, however, because they are classified.
6. Boasting About Disrupting An Ally Government
Finally, Trump bragged about getting a Mexican government official to resign after his visit: an odd and counterproductive boast about a close regional ally that Trump himself has recently tried to play nice with.
It is not uncommon, during the course of a campaign, for a candidate to “gaffe” in a manner that trips up his campaign. Obama did this in 2012. So, too, did Romney. But saying, inartfully, that entrepreneurs rely on the government to help build their businesses or that you enjoy the ability to be able to fire people who aren’t adequately performing services is on a wholly different scale that praising an autocratic leader, insulting U.S. generals and defending the notion that women in the armed forces should expect to be subjected to harassment and rape. Those aren’t gaffes.
And to get a sense of how much the Overton Window of political acceptability has moved for Trump, just consider this: Four years ago, Romney’s campaign nearly came apart after he was videotaped saying 47 percent of the country were, effectively, moochers. The Huffington Post resurfaced video of Trump demanding that Romney not apologize for the line and insisting he was right. No one batted an eye.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.