If the media narrative suggested that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had equally poor performance at NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum on Wednesday — the phony stance of equivalence at the expense of accuracy — it became crystal clear how firmly, perhaps irretrievably, Trump had cemented his reputation as an ignoramus and lap dog for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Clinton team rushed forth its ad:
Trump attests to Trump’s mindless bluster and creepy affection for a repressive autocrat. Even Republicans took a swing at him. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), still supporting Trump’s candidacy, nevertheless refuted Trump’s main point. “Vladimir Putin is an aggressor that does not share our interests,” Ryan said in a statement. “Vladimir Putin is violating the sovereignty of neighboring countries. It certainly appears that he is conducting state-sponsored cyber-attacks on what appears to be our political system.” And yet we still wonder how Ryan justifies endorsing someone with such dangerous, even delusional, views. (One reason Trump never improves may be that members of his policy shop up and quit when he didn’t pay them. Perhaps like so many whom Trump has stiffed, these individuals might consider suing him.)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sounded weak, almost childlike, when he offered, “My sense is [Trump’s] views will probably change once he understands better who Vladimir Putin truly is — that’s my hope.” That’s the guy you’re supporting for president and the person to whom you would entrust our national security, Senator?! There is no other word for that but “pathetic.”
As usual, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — who long ago figured out that Trump was not endorsable — spoke loud and clear, as the Guardian reported:
“If you’re running for leader of the free world and you’re expressing admiration for Putin, well then you’re losing me,” Lindsey Graham, a senator from South Carolina and former Republican presidential candidate, told reporters.
“I think Vladimir Putin is a thug, a dictator, an autocratic ruler who has his opposition killed in the streets of Russia. He has dismembered his neighbor.”
While Graham said he found Obama to be “weak”, “indecisive” and someone Putin had “walked all over”, the visibly frustrated senator added: “But no, I’m not going to say that Putin’s a better leader than a democratically elected president of the United States even though I have differences with him. . . . This whole idea of admiring Putin is the biggest misunderstanding of a relationship in a person since Munich.”
It was not merely Trump’s awful performance at the forum that many national security and former military professionals found disturbing. In boasting that he could read the “body language” of his intelligence briefers to indicate disapproval of the president, he ignorantly crossed a red line. Politico reported:
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who has over four decades in the intelligence business and led the agency under George W. Bush, adding, “That’s just awful.”
“I mean a candidate used the intelligence professionals who were briefing him in an absolutely nonpolitical setting, he imputed to them views that were politically useful to him in the moment,” he said.
Hayden, who is not endorsing either candidate but has previously warned that Trump could create a “crisis” in the military, said telegraphing such dissatisfaction “just would not have happened.” He added that the briefing would have been conducted by “very senior folks, very sober.”
Former acting CIA Director Michael Morell, a Hillary Clinton supporter, also forcefully hit back at the notion that intelligence officials would have suggested any displeasure with White House decisions on national security matters.
“Intelligence officers provide objective views of what’s going on in a situation and how that situation might change given the policy options on the table,” said Morell, who will attend a bipartisan meeting of former national security officials that Clinton will convene on Friday.
Recommending policies, added Morell, “are not their job, and anyone running for president should know that.”
In short, Trump is a fool and malicious liar who doesn’t care or even understand that he is making a scurrilous accusation about intelligence officials’ professionalism simply to make a far-fetched claim about the president. He combines jaw-dropping ignorance with shocking dishonesty and arrogance — just the qualities you do not want in a commander in chief.
Later in Kansas City, Mo., speaking to a gathering of African American Baptists, Clinton indirectly returned to the subject of Trump’s personal defects:
I’ve sat in the Situation Room with President Obama, weighing conflicting advice and imperfect information, wrestling with the hardest choices a leader can make: whether to send our young men and women into harm’s way, knowing that some of them will never return. There’s nothing more humbling than that. Nothing that should drive you to your knees more than that. That’s why in this time of both peril and promise, we need a President who understands that none of us has all the answers and no one person can fix our problems alone. A President who understands we have to look out for each other and lift each other up, not tear each other down.
For once, she was understating the magnitude of the danger we would face if Trump somehow became president. Thanks to the Commander-in-Chief Forum, that nightmare became even more unlikely this week.