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The Commander in Chief Forum 'warm-up debate' was underwhelming at best

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Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign rally at Johnson C. Smith University, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016 in Charlotte, N.C. (Davie Hinshaw/Charlotte Observer/TNS)

Last night MSNBC hosted its first ever "Commander in Chief Forum," moderated by the Today Show’s Matt Lauer.

The Forum took place inside the U.S.S. Intrepid in New York Harbor. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton each took a turn answering questions from Lauer and the audience, which consisted only of military veterans and active service members. All questions solely concerned national security and the military.

Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, went first by virtue of a coin toss; and boy did she bomb (pun intended). However, Trump did even worse — as I had expected.

"It was clear from the reaction of the audience afterwards that none of the candidates answered their questions fully or gave them anything new to help them decide who they will vote for," ASU Political Science Professor Dave Wells said.

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In the half hour allocated for Clinton, moderator Matt Lauer drilled her on the use of her personal email server for over a third of her time.

In her usual fashion, Clinton could not clearly explain her handling of classified information on that server. She deflected any question related to her experience regarding classified information.

Clinton argued there were no headers on any of her emails that labeled them as classified, contrary to the findings of FBI Director James Comey’s investigation.

She dismissed several questions regarding health care for veterans and their families, as well as about reforming Veterans Affairs leadership. Instead she attacked Trump’s support of the VA and didn’t propose any new solutions to the problem.

I can commend her arguments about her experience as Secretary of State, specifically dealing with Iran and Libya. She definitely has a more diplomatic mind than the itchy trigger finger of Trump.

The pinnacle of Clinton's message was her adamant proposal to defeat ISIS by not putting boots on the ground, but instead giving operative assistance to Kurdish and Syrian Rebels and U.S. friendly coalitions. She gave the answer many military families wanted to hear and kept their votes on her side of the board.

Clinton concluded with a general statement on why eliminating the online presence of ISIS will stop homegrown terrorist attacks. It was a good note to end on, because it was too broad for anyone to refute.

Overall, I give Clinton a B- performance grade at this forum. This forum was a good warm up for the first real debate on Sept. 26, where I expect she’ll give Trump too much relevant content to handle.

Next up: Donald Trump. Let the chorus sing, "Oh say can you see, the orange yeller on my screen?" Because that’s basically what he was.

Trump tried to compare his business relationships overseas to defending America abroad. He also claims he has seen Russian planes and Iranian ships taunting our troops.

Matt Lauer asked both candidates to keep their attacks to a minimum during their half hour slots, but Trump disregarded this request. He attacked Clinton, he attacked President Obama, he attacked Lauer and he attacked our allies with his idiotic claims of superiority and repetitive sound bites like, "Believe me" and "I'm going to make America great again."

The one comment he surprisingly defended was something that blew even my mind, “I know more about ISIS than the generals, believe me,” Trump said. It's still baffling to me that about 43 percent of the country still supports him.

There were no new policies announced by either candidate but at least Clinton acknowledged some sort of plan to solve problems. Trump on the other hand, just identified problems and claimed that they were caused by Democrats.

The crowning moment for Trump was when he expressed his opposition of the Iraq war by saying, “Take the oil from Iraq! To the victor belong the spoils.” 

While Trump might be living in Jacksonian America, which was run by a Democrat ironically, that shouldn't take away from the point that he supported the war in Iraq in the first place.

He claimed, “I have a plan, we’re gonna make America great again, but I can’t broadcast to our enemy what we are gonna do.” Which is a respectable decision but we need some sort of indication of what’s involved.

Trump made things much more interesting when he answered a Latino service member's question regarding undocumented immigrants planning to enter the military; he said he would let them stay because “it is a very special situation that I could see myself working out with them.”

Honestly, I think Trump wasted his 30 minute slot and gave a C- performance at best. After watching, I am looking forward to the first debate. Trump might be tough to quiet down, but there will be no substance for Clinton to fight, just several attacks and repetitive slogans she needs to deflect.

Both candidates were sub-par, but in their defense, it’s tough for them to get their entire message out within a half hour. Clinton obviously "won" by debate standards, but there was no clear winner for the nation to be able to look up to when tensions are high.


Reach the columnist at abundy@asu.edu or follow @abkbundy on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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