Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton spent much of the summer portraying each other as the worst possible thing that could happen to America. On Wednesday night, they got the chance to make their case during their first joint event: the Commander-in-Chief Forum.
Though the candidates weren't onstage at the same time — Clinton appeared first — many people expected the forum to be something of a sparring match between the candidates, and a preview for this fall's debates. But at the outset of the event, co-hosted by NBC and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, moderator Matt Lauer asked both candidates to "not use this as an opportunity" to attack the other. Forced to talk about themselves instead of their opponent, the candidates stuck mostly to the talking points they've been repeating for months.
When pressed about using an unsecured private email server while serving as Secretary of State, Clinton again said it was a "mistake," adding that none of the emails had a header marked classified.
"I have a lot of experience dealing with classified material, starting when I was on the Senate Armed Services Committee going into the four years as Secretary of State," Clinton said, adding that classified material was always marked as such. "Nothing — and I will repeat this, and this is verified in the report by the Department of Justice — none of the e-mails sent or received by me had such a header."
An FBI investigation found that some email chains contained a "C" for confidential. But according to FBI documents released last week, Clinton told the FBI "she did not know what the '(C)' meant at the beginning of the paragraphs and speculated it was referencing paragraphs marked in alphabetical order."
Asked for more details on his plans to reform the Veterans Administration and defeat the Islamic State, Trump continued citing his "judgment" and good poll numbers.
"I love that question," Trump said to a veteran who requested specifics on how the candidate would turn his words into actions. "I've been very close to the vets. You see the relationship I have with the vets just by looking at the polls. In fact, today a poll came out. And my relationship has been very good."
When Trump was asked to talk about the experience he had to be commander-in-chief, he responded, "I built a great company, I've been all over the world." He then criticized US generals, saying they "have not been successful" and were "reduced to rubble" under President Barack Obama and Clinton's leadership.
The forum took place in the middle of a week where Clinton and Trump have attacked each other over their respective defense policy proposals, and decried each other as temperamentally unfit to be commander-in-chief.
On Tuesday, Trump unveiled a list of 88 military officials who have endorsed him. Not to be outdone, Clinton announced her own list of endorsements from 95 retired generals and admirals the next day.
During a defense policy speech delivered earlier on Wednesday, Trump called his opponent "trigger-happy and very unstable."
"Sometimes it seemed like there wasn't a country in the Middle East that Hillary Clinton didn't want to invade, intervene in, or topple," the Republican nominee said. He added that Clinton was "also reckless, so reckless, in fact, that she put her emails on an illegal server that our enemies could easily hack and probably have."
Clinton shot back with a campaign ad, released minutes before the forum began, which painted Trump as a threat to world security.
"A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons," Clinton's ad declared.