Friday, August 19, 2016

Tough-crowd time: Clinton and Trump
prepare to meet the military

NOW IT GETS interesting. We’ve gone through the whole presidential campaign witnessing a lot of cheap shots and sniping about which candidate has “presidential qualities,” about who’s ready for the proverbial 3 a.m. wakeup call — about which one passes the Commander in Chief test.

Until now, that’s been a hypothetical exercise, guesswork based on what they’ve said extemporaneously and how they’ve conducted themselves during the entirety of the campaign. That all starts to change on Wednesday, Sept. 7.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow announced last night that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have both agreed to participate in a “Commander in Chief forum,” a live question-and-answer event to be simulcast in primetime on MSNBC and NBC stations.

The event, which will focus on national security and issues related to veterans and active-duty military, will be hosted by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), a non-partisan, non-profit organization that has connected more than 1.2 million veterans with resources and assistance.

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"IAVA is proud to lead this historic event for our veterans community and all Americans," said Paul Rieckhoff, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of IAVA, in a press release accompanying Maddow’s on-air announcement.

"On the cusp of the 15th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, New York is a fitting stage to give voice to American veterans and service members that are all too often shut out of our political debate. IAVA members world-wide, 93% of whom say they'll be voting in November, and many deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan right now, are ready to hear from the candidates and hold them accountable.

“IAVA is honored to join with NBC on this significant event that will ensure that America's next Commander-in-Chief, at least for one night, addresses our nation's moral obligation to support and empower its 22 million veterans, our servicemembers and our military families."

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THIS EVENT (broadcast time TBA) is guaranteed to be lively and unscripted; if it goes as promoted, military of all walks and stations will weigh in with off-the-cuff questions presumably from everyone from E-1s to officers (as well as questions from NBC’s interlocutors).

There’s no word yet on whether questions will be taken from military in the field at various global outposts (via satellite hookup). But the Q&A format should be an instructive preview of the candidates before the debates begin Sept. 26 at Hofstra University.

As a bloc, American military people tend to be more conservative than the general public. A recent survey in the Military Times, seeking military’s preference for Clinton or Trump, indicated a preference for Trump, but for reasons that in some ways aren’t much more substantial than the belief that a female commander in chief wouldn’t be as tough on our enemies or as supportive of our forces as a male would be.

“To be sure, the military in general tends to bend conservative,” said a commentary in The Marine Corps Times. “This is a community in which no service chief has been a woman; one that has been slow to open opportunities to women.”

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Built-in gender-based biases like that could make it hard for Clinton to take that hill. But Trump has his challenges too. At the IAVA forum we should, for example, probably expect some questions for the Republican nominee as to why a billionaire with a cozy relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin should be trusted with the lives and welfare of America’s armed forces.

Or why a man who impugns the patriotism of a Gold Star family would be considered a reliable steward of the U.S. military, and an empathic touchstone for those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice.

The two candidates will speak again on military matters at the American Legion convention in Cincinnati. Clinton will address the organization on Aug. 31, Trump makes his case on Sept. 1, Military Times reported on Thursday.

Expect a tough crowd, and rhetorical fireworks, at both events.

Image credits: American Legionnaires: Charles Dharapak/Associated Press via Military Times. IAVA logo: © 2016 IAVA. MSNBC logo: © 2016 MSNBC. Clinton: Reuters/Scott Morgan. Trump: Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters.

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