This is what the top of Memeorandum looked like as of 10:15 ET this morning. That’s a lotta pulverizin’.
The core critique is that Lauer let Trump slide on saying he opposed the Iraq war from the start, which isn’t true but which he’s persisted in claiming over the past 15 months despite sporadic pushback from reporters. (He likes to claim that he opposed the Libya intervention from the beginning too. Also untrue.) He’s gotten away with this before, so why the outraged freakout by liberals now? Well, the stakes are higher now that the polls have tightened, and anti-war lefties are sensitive to the fact that Hillary is vulnerable on Iraq because of her vote in support of the invasion. Trump’s Iraq lie was also completely predictable given how many times he’s told it before, yet Lauer was unprepared.
On top of all that, I think the left was frustrated by the sheer volume of dicey statements Trump made, which should have produced an easy win for Hillary but didn’t thanks to her own garbage performance. (Does she know that we have ground troops in Iraq and Syria right now? Didn’t sound like it.) In the span of 25 minutes he slobbered on Putin again, suggested he’d fire America’s top generals, did his stupid shtick about taking Iraq’s oil — somehow without a major ground force — and talked about setting up “a court system within the military” to handle sexual assaults, which, as you may have heard, has existed for a few hundred years. How do you not walk away from that as a Democrat with a decisive victory? Hillary found a way. The whole hour was a clown fart.
More than anything, though, pulverizing Lauer is their way of warning Lester Holt and the other debate moderators that this had better not happen again, or else. They want him all over Trump, starting with fact-checking his position on Iraq when Trump inevitably lies about it a few weeks from now. Hillary will be able to do that herself to some extent since she’ll be at the other podium, but two politicians bickering over what one did or didn’t say 15 years ago won’t get much traction with the audience. It’s standard he-said/she-said, and it’s a hard spot for Hillary since Trump can always answer her with, “Whatever I may have said in interviews at the time, at least I didn’t cast a vote for the war.” If the moderator fact-checks him, though, it’s a different vibe — the newsman is the voice of impartial authority (to some in the audience at least), so if he calls Trump out, Trump’s Iraq claim will come off as more of a brazen lie than an esoteric dispute with the opposing candidate over facts.
The deeper concern among Team Hillary, I think, is their sharpening awareness that Trump is simply going to be held to a different standard in the debates than she is and that standard isn’t very high. All he needs to do is keep his temper and sound vaguely like he knows what he’s talking about and he’ll be deemed presidential enough. That happened already in his presser with Mexico’s president: It was mundane and uneventful, but mundane and uneventful is what wary voters want to see from Trump when he’s in a sensitive diplomatic spot. Not vomiting on Pena Nieto was tantamount to a yuge win. It happened again last night at the forum when Trump, despite rattling off answers that would have destroyed Barack Obama in 2008, stuck to his usual script unchallenged and therefore came away with something like a draw against Clinton. If that’s how the debates shape up, Hillary’s in big trouble — especially since, as Byron York notes, she has actual meaningful policy screw-ups that can be critiqued (starting with Iraq) while Trump, so far, is guilty of nothing more than harmless bluster. Liberals are serving notice to Holt that if he goes as easy on Trump as his network colleague Lauer, NBC’s going to take a beating. Especially since Trump used to work for the network.
Here’s Trump on Putin last night. I recommend Erick Erickson’s gloss on Trump, Clinton, Putin, and Julian Assange.