‘A Debate Disaster Waiting to Happen’
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
“A Debate Disaster Waiting to Happen” is the headline the New York Times put over its editorial in respect Donald Trump’s besting of Secretary Clinton in the NBC’s “Commander in Chief Forum.” What it means is that it would be, in the Times’ view, a disaster if Mrs. Clinton were to be trounced again in the presidential debates. To which we would but add that it’s not Matt Lauer’s fault that Mrs. Clinton looked so un-presidential in comparison to the real-estate tycoon turned Republican nominee.
The hope for Mrs. Clinton lies in the fact that one disastrous performance in a presidential debate (or forum, in the case of what happened aboard United States Ship Intrepid) doesn’t necessarily spell defeat at the polls. We learned this during the 2008 debate between Senator Biden and Governor Palin. Everyone expected the suave senator to destroy the inexperienced Alaskan. In the event, she wiped the floor with Mr. Biden in a performance that few who saw it will ever forget.
Mr. Biden had been maneuvered into a point where he started insisting that an Obama-Biden administration would end the war in Iraq. He offered no talk of — seemed to cherish no hope of — victory. “We will end this war,” he kept saying, at one point jabbing the podium for emphasis. Then the camera swung over in respect of the Hockey Mom, who stood there in silence, shaking her head. Then, suddenly, she looked up turned to face the senator who was, at the time, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
“Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq,” she said. It was one of the most devastating ripostes ever offered in a presidential debate. Almost as amazing was the grace and good humor with which Mrs. Palin followed up, reminding Mr. Biden that he’d once said he’d have been honored to run with Senator McCain. She praised Mr. Biden for his son’s service in the National Guard. It was the young Alaskan who had to school the veteran senator on how a commander in chief needs to behave. Mrs. Clinton could learn from her.
Mrs. Palin’s warnings about the prospect of an Obama-Biden retreat from Iraq, let us mark, proved to be prophetic. Today we are at war with the Islamic State that seized the land from which they retreated. The ultimate irony of the forum Mr. Lauer guided is that it reminded Americans that Mrs. Clinton supported the war in Iraq before she betrayed it, while Mr. Trump opposed it at the start but has come to understand the error of retreat. Which in our view is one of the reasons why Mr. Trump won and Mrs. Clinton lost the battle of the Intrepid. And caused the Times to warn of disaster in the coming debates.