Clinton/Trump Manhattan Forum Previews Split in Policy and Attitudes

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Clinton/Trump Manhattan Forum Previews Split in Policy and Attitudes

As the first prime time debate between presidential front-runners Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump draws closer, the contrasts in their platforms are becoming clearer. The treatment of the nation’s military veterans, the economic impact of controversial free trade agreements, and executive decision making in the realm of US foreign policy are just a few of the contentious topics that are sure to generate headlines this election season.

In a televised forum broadcast from Manhattan’s Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum NBC host Matt Lauer probed each candidate for insights on how they would steer the nation as the country’s 45th president. Responding to questions concerning the strategic calculus of military intervention and the quality of healthcare veterans receive, Secretary Clinton was unequivocal in her opposition to using ground troops in Iraq or Syria. This stands as a notable departure from her days as a New York Senator where she voted in favor of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a decision which she now candidly regrets as a “mistake.”

Relying heavily on coalition building initiatives to mobilize military forces of regional allies in some of the globe’s most war-ravaged areas, Clinton appears to be taking a more calculated approach to military force than her Republican opponent who, despite his stance against the bombing of Libya, is on record advocating the use of US military power around the world, most notoriously in his campaign pledge to “bomb the hell” out of ISIS. Recent polling by Pew Research highlights popular attitudes that may underlie this difference in approach with 65% of Trump supporters citing terrorism as “a very big problem” for the US while a minority of 36% of Clinton supporters hold the same view.

In the domain of veteran affairs Clinton articulated her agenda to strengthen collaboration between the Department of Defense and the Veteran’s administration to ensure the war wounded could more easily access the information they “desperately needed and deserved.” Further into the forum she warned of Trump’s intention to privatize the VA, an accusation Trump flatly rejects and popular political website PolitiFact rates as “mostly false.”

Not surprisingly, the dividing line between Clinton and Trump only became more pronounced in the second half of the program. Describing President Obama’s foreign policy “the dumbest” in years, Trump strongly criticized what he perceived as an inability of the current President to command respect from government officials in other countries, something he said he would work to reverse by “making America great again.” Confident as these proclamations are, a sizable portion of the American population is not on board. A plurality of 43% of registered voters hold the opinion that Trump would be a “terrible” President. 33%, a considerably smaller plurality, maintain that Clinton would be a “terrible” President.

This shared sense of dread among many voters about the outcome of this election was just one of a number of realities omitted from host Matt Lauer’s, as the New York Times put it, “relatively gentle” line of questioning. Differences in public perception of Trump and Clinton aside, moving forward it will be critical to note how the platforms of each candidate aligns with the prevailing moods of American public opinion as this will prove to be the most decisive factor for everyday Americans come this November. With large majorities ranking terrorism, foreign policy, and healthcare—80%, 75%, 74% respectively—as “top issues” this election season Wednesday’s forum in Manhattan certainly offered a valuable primer on what the electorate should expect.   

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