Micek: Trump seems lost at sea
So who's winning the Commander-in-Chief Election?
In their first proximate — but not joint — appearance of the fall campaign last week, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump each made the case for their foreign policy chops.
Their backdrop: The retired aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Intrepid, in New York City.
One of them — Clinton — was decidedly more effective than the other.
Yes, Clinton spent much of her allotted 30 minutes during a televised "Commander in Chief" forum on MSNBC on Wednesday re-explaining her mystifying and damaging decision to use a private email server while she was Secretary of State ("a mistake," she allowed, even as she defended it).
But Clinton also offered a more sharply defined vision for the wielding of American power than Trump who, pardon the pun, often seemed lost at sea during his allotted screen-time.
"I view force as a last resort, not a first choice," she said under questioning from "Today" show anchor Matt Lauer and an audience of veterans."I will do everything in my power to make sure our men and women in the military are fully prepared. But I will be as careful as I can about making any decision that a president or commander in chief can make about sending our men and women into harm's way."
Trump, who advocated a "peace through strength" policy during a speech at the Union League in Philadelphia earlier in the day, took a Nixonian turn at one point, avoiding Lauer's questions about how he planned to defeat the Islamic State.
Trump has claimed he has a "secret plan" to defeat the terrorist organization. He now says he'll give the nation's generals and military experts 30 days after he takes office to come up with their own recommendations.
If those jibe with his — fine. If not, not. He still didn't say what he was going to do.
"I have a very substantial chance of winning, if I win, I don't want to broadcast to the enemy what my plan is," Trump said, adding that he might incorporate some of the military establishment's own recommendations into his plan.
Trump also flubbed a few basic facts. He proposed a court system for the military to handle sexual assault cases (it already has one) and he turned out to be wrong when he corrected a former service member on the number of monthly suicides by veterans (It's 20, not 22, as Trump mansplained to the female vet).
Dispiritingly, Trump's man-crush on Russian strongman Vladimir Putin still burns brightly.
Putin "has been a leader far more than our president has been leader," even with his controversial annexation of Crimea and his dabbling in the internal affairs of Ukraine, Trump said.
It's key for Trump to prove he has what it takes to be commander-in-chief, perhaps more so than Clinton, who has her State Department experience to fall back on.
The billionaire ducked service in Vietnam multiple times. He's called the military a wreck, insulted a war hero and demeaned a Gold Star family.
And he didn't do much better explaining to Lauer the specific skill-set he brought to the table.
"I built a great company. I've been all over the world," he said, adding later, "The main thing is I have good judgment — I know what's going on. I've called so many of the shots."
Clinton has her own obstacles to overcome — notably trust issues and historically high unpopularity ratings. In an NBC News/Survey Monkey poll released Wednesday, Clinton trailed Trump by 19 points (55-36 percent) among current and retired service people.
Kyle Kopko, a political science professor at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa., said party identification and affiliation is the chief driver for Trump's popularity among current and retired military.
If Clinton had been "a generic Democrat, it might be different," he said. "But she has this uphill battle (among veterans)."
In New York City on Wednesday, Clinton made what she likely hopes will be the one argument for her qualifications that results in her becoming the country's next commander-in-chief:
"Steadiness. An absolute rock steadiness, mixed with the strength to be able to make the hard decisions," she said.
It'll be up to voters, come Nov. 8, to decide who has more of that quality. So far, it's advantage Clinton.
John Micek is the opinion editor and political columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.