WASHINGTON – Next Monday’s initial presidential debate will mark some firsts. It will be the first such encounter between two New Yorkers. It will, of course, be the first involving a woman. It will be the first ever between candidates who are both wildly less than popular. And finally, the careers of both contenders have been notoriously undermined by their own preoccupations, or, may we say, obsessions.
With Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, it is her preoccupation with – depending on who you talk to – privacy or secrecy.
Republican Donald J. Trump’s hang-up seems to be that he needs to be seen as always perfect, despite his playing large and crudely on a very public stage, a little bit like Captain Queeg of the film “The Caine Mutiny.” Never able to bring himself to apologize.
Demons raging in both candidates will plague them through the Nov. 8 Election Day, and beyond. As in Trump’s “birther” fetish – his questioning whether President Obama was born in the United States. On Friday morning, Trump’s campaign – but not Trump himself – issued a statement saying Trump now believed Obama was born here. (Trump himself later made a brief statement to this effect.)
Trump could have acknowledged this years ago, but wouldn’t. His stiff neck has revived the truth that this election is as much about race, and whiteness, as anything else.
In a similar way, Trump could have folded up his pretend Trump “University” after he was first challenged about it by the New York State Education Department 12 years ago, and settled with students who felt defrauded.
Now Trump’s insistence that the “university” was legitimate and not a scam has surfaced in a new and ugly way. State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has opened an investigation into the legitimacy of Trump’s charitable foundation. Schneiderman has endorsed Clinton.
In Florida, the probe touches on an illegal gift the foundation made to the campaign of Attorney General Pam Bondi about the time she was considering whether to join other attorneys general in a suit against Trump University and the foundation. Bondi didn’t.
The two situations, the birther issue and the Trump foundation questions, could easily have been taken off the table years ago.
Clinton’s email challenges took an unwelcome pivot last week, with the publication of hacked emails sent by former Secretary of State Colin Powell. In them, Republican Powell called Trump a “national disgrace” and a “pariah.”
However, the emails also discredited Clinton claims that her controversial private email server installed at her home was done in line with Powell’s suggestion.
Powell said he warned her staff not to “scapegoat” him. “I told her staff three times not to try that gambit,” Powell confided to a friend. “I had to throw a mini tantrum at a Hampton’s party to get their attention. She keeps tripping into these ‘character’ minefields.”
According to Intercept.com, Powell tried to get Clinton to stop scapegoating him by meeting with her attorney and confidante, Cheryl Mills, apparently unsuccessfully.
“HRC [Clinton’s initials] could have killed this thing two years ago by merely telling everyone honestly what she had done and not tie me to it,” Powell wrote.
He called her “a person with a long track record, unbridled ambition, greedy, not transformational,” and also criticized the former president’s private conduct.
DCLeaks.com, an anonymously managed service that has been linked to the Russian government, leaked Powell’s private emails.
It will be the job of NBC’s Lester Holt to moderate and survive this debate at Hofstra University on Long Island. Some voters having to choose between the two have no easier chore.