In what was essentially a pre-presidential debate on Wednesday night, Democrat and Republican nominees Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump faced back-to-back questions on issues of national security and defence from an audience of ex-serviceman and woman, and as well as active recruits within the military.
This event proved to be the first grilling in what will be the first of many through this year election season involving the two candidates for the Oval Office.
Debate chairman and NBC journalist Matt Lauer kick-started the event asking Clinton, “What’s the most important characteristic of a president?”
“Steadiness”, Clinton responded, “an absolute rock steadiness”, going on to cite her foreign policy experience during her tenure as Secretary of State under the Obama administration. The former senator made note to her presence in the situation room during Osama Bin Laden’s capture and killing, believing it to be a moral high point early on in her new role.
An audience member then asked a question that made reference to a constant blemish in her record; the private e-mail server scandal. The former Navy veteran asked how he expects people with classified information to trust her as president, leading to Mrs Clinton defending herself against the allegations.
“I communicated about classified material on a wholly separate system” Clinton said with vigour; “I did exactly what I should have done and I take it very seriously.”
One of the penultimate topics for the former Senator and Secretary of State was on the emotive issue of ISIS, with an audience member asking whether she would commit ground troops into Syria and other trouble spots in the Middle East, leading to an authoritative answer against any proposition of troop commitments.
“We’re going to defeat ISIS without committing American ground troops” she stated, trying to distance herself away from her vote to send forces into Iraq in 2002.
Next was on the stage was Republican nominee Donald Trump, notable for his often brash and controversial views on issues of defence. Chairman Matt Lauer had started by asking Trump whether he knew “more about ISIS than the generals”, leading the business mogul to present an indirect answer, citing how “the generals have been reduced to rubble” under the Obama administration. Furthermore, Trump claimed that ISIS would not have come into existence if “we would’ve taken the oil”, denoting an almost an ambition not much different to 19th century colonialism.
A poignant moment came for Trump when asked whether he was qualified to be president, given his lack of political experience. He cited his “great judgement” and other personal qualities that distance himself from career politicians. “I’ve built a great company, I’ve been all over the world, I’ve dealt with many countries,” Trump said, bringing attention to his negotiating skills.
The discussion closed on how the Republican nominee would tackle sexual assaults in the military, which has become an increasingly troubling development within the ranks. He admitted that this was a “massive problem” and the “numbers are staggering”, yet Lauer made reference to a tweet Trump had wrote in 2013 as a rebuttal:
“Twenty-six thousand unreported sexual assaults in the military — only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?”
The chairman had suggested that Trump wanted to remove women from the military altogether, leading to the nominee to respond; “No, not take them out, but something has to be happened.”, adding a touch of vagueness to a number of his answers.
Wednesday night’s debate signified the first test of many to come for the two candidates, yet the Commander-in-Chief forum was the preliminary precursor to the upcoming head-to-head debates, including the 26th September clash at Hofstra University in New York. With Clinton’s foreign policy experience, and Trump’s ‘tough talk’ on diplomatic affairs, each candidate tried to draw from their strengths during the event as the race to the White House gathers momentum.
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