Debates? Can’t wait

Huge numbers of voters are turned off by both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, but they’re not tuning them out.

The NBC News/MSNBC “Commander-in-Chief Forum” Wednesday night with separate appearances by the candidates drew an average of 14.7 million viewers — more than several primary-season debates.

And a CNN/ORC poll finds two-thirds of voters say they are more interested in watching this year’s debates than previous ones; just a quarter say they are less interested. By 53% to 43%, the voters expect Clinton to do better. See Laura Figueroa’s story for Newsday.

The first of three presidential debates will be held at Hofstra University on Sept. 26.

The big loser in Wednesday’s warmup event may have been moderator Matt Lauer, who got roasted by political journalists and TV critics for not fact-checking some Trump assertions. A CNN reporter quoted an NBC executive, speaking anonymously, as calling the production a “disaster.”

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Serious stakes

North Korea said it conducted a "higher level" nuclear explosion test Friday that will allow it to build more sophisticated nuclear weapons. It was the second such explosion in eight months.

Suddenly the day-to-day presidential debate has a security issue to overshadow others.  It is especially unusual that only three months ago, the regime of dictator Kim Jong Un praised Trump for his conciliatory tone -- and demeaned Clinton for supporting sanctions over his aggressive moves.

Kim's regime also hailed a Trump suggestion that the US pull  troops from South Korea until Seoul pays more -- purportedly as the way for the communist north to achieve "Korean unification."

Loose lips

Trump told the forum that he was “shocked” by some of what he had been told recently in a classified intelligence briefing. Clinton rebuked his remarks Thursday as “totally inappropriate and undisciplined” and added: “I would never comment on any aspect of an intelligence briefing I received.”

However, NBC News recalled that as a candidate for president in 2008, Clinton herself alluded to a secret briefing, saying it left her unsatisfied about President George W. Bush’s Iraq withdrawal plans. A Clinton spokesman said it wasn’t the same kind of briefing.

Still not true

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A focus of discontent over Lauer was his failing to challenge Trump’s repeated claim that he always opposed the Iraq War, which Trump repeated at length Thursday. It’s false.

The take-away: Fog of war

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson finally got his turn in the spotlight — only it was as a deer in the headlights. Asked on a morning show Thursday what he would do about Aleppo — the Syrian city suffering the worst horrors of that country’s civil war — Johnson responded, “And what is Aleppo?” (Video here.)

The gaffe, of course, went viral on Twitter. But as Newsday’s Dan Janison points out, answers on Syria and Iraq from Trump and Clinton came up short in clarity and candor.

Powell-to-Clinton email revealed

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When Clinton solicited his advice, former Secretary of State Colin Powell told her via email that he used his own personal computer to communicate with friends and foreign leaders, and sent emails without going through the State Department server. He also disparaged some security concerns as overkill.

Congressional Democrats released the email in an effort get Clinton at least partly off the hook for her use of a private server, which she admits was a mistake. Powell said again he hadn’t sought to influence her decision.

Won’t razz Putin praise

Trump running mate Mike Pence and some Republicans in Congress stood by Trump’s description of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a stronger leader than President Barack Obama.

“It’s inarguable,” said Pence. House Speaker Paul Ryan would not join the chorus, saying Putin is “an aggressor that does not share our interests” and criticizing his regime for its presumed involvement in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems.

What else is happening

  • Quinnipiac swing-state polls find Clinton and Trump tied in Florida, Trump 4 points ahead in Ohio, and Clinton leading by 5 points in Pennsylvania and 4 points in North Carolina. Those results include the Libertarian and Green parties’ candidates.
  • Muslim voters could make a difference in closely fought states such as Florida, and not all oppose Trump, The Washington Post reports.
  • Melania Trump was in the audience at the NBC forum, but otherwise she has all but vanished from her husband’s campaign since the GOP convention and her plagiarism-tainted speech.
  • Former Trump associates say his attention span is chronically short — a worrisome trait for the demands of the presidency, according to Politico.
  • Writing for the blogHumans of New York,” Clinton said she gets why she is seen as “cold” and “unemotional” by some people. With an anecdote on keeping focused on goals, she explained: “I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions.”
  • Intelligence officials are dubious of Trump’s claim that the “body language” he saw in his classified briefing betrayed disdain for Obama, NBC News and The Washington Post report.
  • Clinton’s campaign joined the Lauer pile-on for fundraising. An email with the subject line “Matt Lauer” said “We just can’t sit around and wait for fact checkers in the media to keep Trump honest.”