Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump says Democrat rival Hillary Clinton’s performance at a forum on U.S. security proves she is unfit to be president.
DONALD Trump’s supporters have leapt on a new conspiracy theory, which claims Hillary Clinton “cheated” in a televised showdown between the candidates yesterday.
Trump and Clinton both appeared at the “Commander-in-Chief Forum” on NBC, fielding questions about national security, the military and the war against Islamic State. It attracted a fairly impressive TV audience of 15 million people.
Trump’s performance provoked the usual firestorm of hyperbolic analysis. Politicus USA, for instance, called it “nothing less than the worst performance of a nominee in modern political history”. Other reactions criticised Trump’s continued praise for Russia’s strongman president, Vladimir Putin. But Trump could point to several online polls in the aftermath of the event showing he beat Clinton.
Thank you America – great #CommanderInChiefForum polls! pic.twitter.com/Rcu6KaRGCB
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 8, 2016
Meanwhile, his fans were more interested in pointing at Clinton’s left ear. Picking up on Twitter chatter, led by actor James Woods of all people, the site InfoWars published a story implying she was fed answers through an earpiece during the forum.
Trump’s own son, Donald Jr, quickly shared the piece, and other supporters of the Republican nominee accused Clinton of “cheating”.
Was Hillary Wearing an Earpiece During Last Night’s Presidential Forum? https://t.co/wAvCFY5ANP via @realalexjones
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) September 8, 2016
InfoWars has a rather … colourful history. Its boss, Alex Jones, is a well-known conspiracy theorist (and occasional Trump adviser, apparently) who has repeatedly accused the American government of staging national tragedies. He’s been called “one of the very first founding fathers of the 9/11 truther movement” and “the most paranoid man in America”, among many other things.
If you have a spare five minutes and a high tolerance level for kookiness, there’s a pretty comprehensive list of Jones’ theories in this Rolling Stone profile. Go ahead and read it. You’ll have a good time.
Before long, several other sites had joined InfoWars in its mission to fan the flames of speculation. True Pundit claimed to have confirmed that Clinton was wearing a flesh-coloured “inductive earpiece”, quoting unnamed “NYPD sources involved with the NBC forum’s security detail”. It said the earpiece used “the same technology employed by almost all lead Broadway actors to receive forgotten lines and stealth offstage cues”.
A spokesman for Hillary Clinton said the alleged earpiece was actually a reflection of the TV lights or a flash. The campaign also highlighted a bunch of photos from the forum where Clinton’s left ear was clearly visible — and pieceless.
Nothing to see ear, folks.
Let’s get back to the substance of the forum, because that was pretty interesting as well. Trump was asked about America’s relationship with Russia, and he stood by his previous assertions that he could get along well with Vladimir Putin.
“I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Putin. And I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Russia,” Trump said.
“Take a look at what happened with their fighter jets circling one of our aircraft in a very dangerous manner. Somebody said less than 10 feet away. This is hostility.
“And I saw, just two or three days ago, they looked like they were not exactly getting along, but I looked at President Obama and Putin staring at each other. These were not two people that were getting along.
“And you know, the beautiful part of getting along … Russia wants to defeat ISIS as badly as we do. If we had a relationship with Russia, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could work on it together and knock the hell out of ISIS? Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?”
That attitude is strikingly different from the Republican Party’s stance at the last election. Back then, President Obama mocked Mitt Romney for being too suspicious of Russia, which he had labelled America’s “number one geopolitical foe”.
In this year’s campaign, figures on both sides of politics have accused Trump of not-so-secretly harbouring admiration for authoritarian leaders such as Putin. NBC’s moderator, Matt Lauer, tried to get to the heart of the matter, leading to a gobsmacking exchange. Only the full transcript can do it justice:
Lauer: “Let me ask you about some of the things you’ve said about Vladimir Putin. You said ‘I will tell you, in terms of leadership, he’s getting an A, our president is not doing so well.’ And when referring to a comment that Putin made about you, I think he called you a brilliant leader, you said it’s always a great honour to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his country and beyond.”
Trump: “Well, he does have an 82 per cent approval rating, according to the different pollsters, who, by the way, some of them are based right here. Look, look …”
Lauer: “He’s also a guy who annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine, supports Assad in Syria, supports Iran, is trying to undermine our influence in key regions of the world, and according to our intelligence community, probably is the main suspect for the hacking of the DNC computers …”
Trump: “Well, nobody knows that for a fact. But do you want me to start naming some of the things that President Obama does at the same time?”
Lauer: “But do you want to be complimented by that former KGB officer?”
Trump: “Well, I think when he calls me brilliant, I’ll take the compliment, OK? The fact is, look, it’s not going to get him anywhere. I’m a negotiator. We’re going to take back our country. You look at what’s happening to our country, you look at the depleted military. You look at the fact that we’ve lost our jobs. We’re losing our jobs like we’re a bunch of babies. We’re going to take back our country, Matt. The fact that he calls me brilliant or whatever he calls me is going to have zero impact.”
Lauer: “But the fact that you say you can get along with him, do you think the day …”
Trump: “I think I’d be able to get along with him.”
Lauer: “Do you think the day that you become president of the United States, he’s going to change his mind on some of these key issues?”
Trump: “Possibly. It’s possible. I don’t know, Matt. It’s possible. And it’s not going to have any impact. If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him. I’ve already said, he is really very much of a leader. I mean, you can say, oh, isn’t that a terrible thing — the man has very strong control over a country. Now, it’s a very different system, and I don’t happen to like the system. But certainly, in that system, he’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader. We have a divided country.”
Those answers were incredibly illuminating. Trump has nothing but nice things to say about Russia’s authoritarian president, who he clearly feels is a better leader than Barack Obama. He’s never stated that more clearly than he did during yesterday’s forum.
Whether you agree with Trump or not, that’s far more important than whatever is hiding in Hillary Clinton’s ears.