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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Surrogates for Clinton, Trump practice the art of the dodge

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to speak

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally in Akron, Ohio, Aug. 22, 2016. Credit: AP

Surrogates for the major-party presidential candidates should get credit for working awfully hard — perhaps harder than they would in a typical campaign.

Ordinarily, by this stage, a person sent as a representative would stay on message, give scripted responses to easily anticipated questions, and keep blather to a minimum.

But this is no ordinary contest.

The candidates have become so murky and defensive, it’s almost embarrassing to listen to their stand-ins try to explain.

On different TV networks Sunday, you could see both Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and his opposite number for the Democrats, Donna Brazile, search valiantly for daylight under the grilling.

Brazile was asked on ABC’s “This Week” about possible conflicts between Hillary Clinton and the family charity foundation. The acting DNC chair wanted to talk instead about hacked party emails.

“Let’s stick with the Clinton Foundation,” said the host Martha Raddatz.

“Well, I got to stick with what I know. I’m not an official of the State Department.”

Around and around they went.

New emails showed foundation officials sought invitations for major donors to State Department events, Raddatz asked. Did Brazile see a problem?

Her response:

“This notion that, somehow or another, someone who is a supporter, someone who is a donor, somebody who’s an activist, saying I want access, I want to come into a room and I want to meet people, we often criminalize behavior that is normal. . . . I don’t see what the smoke is.”

Brazile was then asked why the Clintons changed the foundation name and took other steps to show distance from official duties in preparation for the White House — but not during her time in the State Department.

Brazile danced around that. She said that the foundation has helped millions of people and it has been shown “over and over again that they’re willing to be transparent and that they have gone beyond the letter of the law, to show that they’re trying to make sure there are bright red, green, purple lines that will separate them from any type of conflict.”

The GOP’s Priebus was no more illuminating on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Host Chuck Todd asked if it wasn’t remarkable that we still don’t know Donald Trump’s specific positions for dealing with most immigrants who are in this country without documents after he made it his signature issue in the primaries.

“You’re going to find out from Donald Trump very shortly,” Priebus said. “I just don’t speak for Donald Trump . . . but wait, here’s what I know. His position is going to be tough, his position is going to be fair, but his position is going to be humane.”

Around they went.

A few questions later, Todd asked if Trump would call for an end to birthright citizenship when he speaks Wednesday — as advocated on his campaign website.

“You’re going to have to ask him,” Priebus said.

Did he think that should be the GOP position?

“No, I believe in the interpretation of the Supreme Court on the issue.”

So he’d advise Trump not to touch it?

“Well, a nominee is not — doesn’t have to adopt every single position and platform position of the Republican Party.”

Does he think, as Trump says, that Clinton is a bigot?

“Look, here’s what I think: These are not my words. I think that you have to look at people’s actions.”

Was it appropriate for Trump to send out a self-promoting tweet based on Dwyane Wade’s cousin being shot and killed?

“Here’s where I think he’s frustrated with is that Democrats, I think, have been taking advantage of this vote.”

Is he happy with the appointment of Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to the campaign?

“Look, you know, I go with the flow based on what the campaign wants to do. I think Kellyanne is doing a phenomenal job. I don’t know Steve Bannon, to tell you the truth, very well.”

A kind of respect is due both party chairs. It cannot be easy to keep talking while under close scrutiny without answering a direct question — and then pretending to have done so.

They didn’t seem to have been given much to work with.


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