At the very start of the NBC forum on national security affairs, Matt Lauer asked Hillary Clinton what were the qualities she thinks are most important in a commander in chief. She cited steadiness, willingness to listen to others and to evaluate what they say, temperament and judgment as key.
Then, she proceeded to flunk her own test.
Judgment? After subjecting the country and her own political career to a scandal of her own making by using a separate, private server?
Judgment? By endorsing the war in Iraq at every turn?
Steadiness? When each new day brings a new fanciful explanation of why she had the server?
Instead, it was Donald Trump who passed the test with flying colors.
After all, this forum — on foreign affairs and national security — was in Clinton's ballpark. It was a home game for the former secretary of state and a road game for Trump. But it was Trump who appeared more at ease with the subject matter, scoring his points effectively but without bombast, buffoonery or sarcasm.
For her party, Clinton came across like a jukebox. When a topic came up, she would press A-5 or B-17 and the appropriate script would come to mind. There was no warmth or even interrelationship with Lauer.
Clinton has set a low bar for Trump. She has called him dangerous, demagogic, sexist, extremist, wacky, loony and worse. All Trump has to do when he walks out on stage is to defy those stereotypes and he comes out ahead.
There are three precedents for presidential campaigns that were built around scaring people: Lyndon Johnson's warnings about Barry Goldwater and the bomb, Richard Nixon's attack on George McGovern's extreme defense cuts, and Jimmy Carter's characterization of Ronald Reagan as a shoot-from-the-hip cowboy.
Neither Barry Goldwater nor George McGovern had televised debates in which to defend themselves and debunk their opponents scare tactics. But Ronald Reagan did, and, after America met him, it was hard to find the danger that Jimmy Carter spoke of so often.
Once we get past the name-calling, Clinton has nothing left to throw at Trump. She squandered her convention by not setting up issue contrasts with Donald Trump, so confident was she that the name-calling will stick.
Hillary Clinton is like someone trying to run up a down escalator. Each step — taken at great effort (and much coughing) — is countered by the inevitable, irreversible downward movement of the machine, powered in this case by her own blunders rather than by electricity.