Pair's bumbling punching holes in careful facade

By Alexandra Petri

Usually it is fine not to have any idea what you are talking about. But for a presidential candidate it can be a little awkward. Photo / AP
Usually it is fine not to have any idea what you are talking about. But for a presidential candidate it can be a little awkward. Photo / AP

Usually it is fine not to have any idea what you are talking about. But for a presidential candidate it can be a little awkward.

Asked by Bob Woodward what made Abraham Lincoln succeed, Donald Trump offered the following response:

"Well," Trump said, "I think Lincoln succeeded for numerous reasons. He was a man who was of great intelligence, which most presidents would be. But ... he was also a man that did something that was a very vital thing to do at that time. Ten years before or 20 years before, what he was doing would never have even been thought possible. So he did something that was a very important thing to do, and especially at that time."

And then he started to ramble about Richard Nixon.

As Katherine Miller asked on Twitter, "Does Donald Trump know what Lincoln did as president?"

Most of us go through life pretending to know many things about which, in fact, we have no idea. Usually this is fine. This is the foundation on which all conversation is built. If you admit the contrary, everything would screech to a halt.

There are many conversational gambits for not appearing ignorant of the thing that everyone else in the room appears to know about. One is that you wait for someone else to say something, and then you say, "I agree, but I think we need to go much further." Another is you say one thing, and then you pretend it was a joke when everyone stares at you in horror, and then you say the opposite. One tactic is to pretend you did not hear the question. Or you can divert the conversation from the thing you were just asked to something that you do know about, as Trump has the whole campaign.

But if someone asks you point-blank, "What is my fiance's name?" you can't say, "Look, fundamentally, it all comes down to breaking up the banks."

When we do it, it's fine. But when a candidate does it?

Now Trump and Bernie Sanders, the two most consistent and exciting candidates, are being hoist by their own transcripts. Sanders kept trying to insist that the answer to every foreign policy question was a vote he had made in 2002. It works without a follow-up. But with follow-up, it can be a killer. (Daily News: "Where would a President Sanders imprison, interrogate? What would you do?" Sanders: "Actually I haven't thought about it a whole lot.")

The great sustaining myth of Trump was that behind the scenes there was a guy who knew what he was doing and, up until this past week, Trump had managed to coast by on charisma for the 30 seconds of answer required.

When he has to answer a question for more than 30 seconds, you have a man who is clearly not answering the question and is fumbling around for an answer until he finds an applause-worthy talking point.

Read any transcript and it is just The Donald helplessly repeating the same simple third-grade-level phrases over and over again.

- Washington Post - Bloomberg

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