Clinton/Trump debates will underwhelm

Published 12:18 pm Monday, September 12, 2016

by Peter Funt

What we learned from the “Commander-in-Chief” exercise the other night is: (a) neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump is fastidious about facts, (b) Matt Lauer is a nice guy but not up to presidential politics, and (c) voters expecting better in the “real” debate Sept. 26 should not hold their breaths.

Trump told us his plan for defeating ISIS is to get new generals to run the military and give them 30 days to come up with a plan for defeating ISIS. Clearly Trump doesn’t understand how the military operates. What he does know is that he can say just about anything in a public forum or debate and get away with it.

Clinton told us she will never put American boots on the ground in Iraq or other Mideast hotspots. Apparently she has overlooked the fact that we currently have some 5,000 troops in Iraq and thousands more in the region.

Lauer told us that “Lester Hope” (sic) will moderate the first actual debate and “For Matt Lauer (sic), I’m Matt Lauer.”

All sides tore into Lauer, whose performance probably wasn’t as bad as Twitter suggested. The biggest beef was that he didn’t challenge Trump for claiming — as he always does — that he was totally opposed to the war in Iraq.

Clinton supporters felt that Lauer dwelled too long on the email scandal, and denied Clinton proper time to expand on world and military affairs.

It’s an almost impossible task. As Chris Wallace, who will moderate the final debate on Fox, correctly said: “I do not believe it is my job to be a truth squad.”

Yes, outright misstatements should be challenged — and Lauer did some of that — but the format doesn’t allow for a secondary debate about shades of truth. Moreover, Trump and Clinton have both proved that they are prepared to stand firmly behind their own versions of the facts, the truth be damned.

Diehard supporters of both candidates, apparently, couldn’t care less.

So the table is set for the Sept. 26 debate, likely to be one of the most heavily watched shows in television history. Alas, the meal will be all sizzle and little steak.

Lester Holt is similar to Lauer in style and demeanor. He’s no pit bull, which is precisely why both political parties were able to accept him as a moderator.

Among the many difficulties are that the core issues — say, the economy, terrorism and perhaps either healthcare or climate change — are not the hot topics for either candidate.

Viewers expect Trump to be asked about immigration, his failed businesses and his total lack of experience. They expect Clinton to answer questions about emails, her health and the Clinton Foundation.

Moreover, both Trump and Clinton have chewed their oratory pablum so fully that nothing fazes them. Trump will remain surprisingly cool, as he was with Lauer; Clinton will be distinctly un-shrill and overly wordy, as we observed the other night.

Holt will be diplomatic, which is to say he should make it a point not to read Twitter for 48 hours following the debate.

What we have are candidates who will say anything, voters who don’t seem to care, and moderators who would find it easier to herd cats.

PETER FUNT can be reached at He is a writer and speaker. His book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at and