Hillary Clinton did not have a great night at NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum on Wednesday. Donald Trump had a horrendous one. It was in that sense a microcosm of the race: Only against Trump could Clinton seem far and away the most responsible contender.

Clinton started off playing defense on — what else? — her emails. She was reduced to insisting that none of the emails had a header marked “Classified” and that there is no evidence she was hacked. She needs to develop a brief and definitive statement, off of which she can pivot and get on to friendlier terrain. (I made a mistake. I take full responsibility. I assure you it will not happen again. It is one incident in my long career.) She also insisted that no ground troops would go to Iraq or Syria, making the cardinal error of ruling out options and, worse, ignoring the 5,000 or so troops already there.

None of that — if you can believe it — was anywhere as awful as Trump’s rambling, incoherent and at times jaw-dropping performance. He once again fawned over Vladimir Putin, who has invaded his neighbors and repressed his citizens. Besides, Putin has an 82 percent approval! (That’s like saying Bashar al-Assad is the world’s most popular ruler since he gets 99 percent of the vote.) He declared, “I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Putin. And I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Russia.” He went back to the topic shortly thereafter: “If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.” It’s a telling comment: Trump’s sole concern is himself; the interests of the United States don’t come into consideration.

Trump repeatedly insulted the military. (“I think under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the generals have been reduced to rubble. They have been reduced to a point where it’s embarrassing for our country.”) A moment later he declared, “I have great faith in the military. I have great faith in certain of the commanders, certainly.” Hmm.

He repeated his nonsensical position that we should take Iraq’s oil:

Just we would leave a certain group behind and you would take various sections where they have the oil. They have — people don’t know this about Iraq, but they have among the largest oil reserves in the world, in the entire world.
And we’re the only ones, we go in, we spend $3 trillion, we lose thousands and thousands of lives, and then, Matt, what happens is, we get nothing. You know, it used to be to the victor belong the spoils. Now, there was no victor there, believe me. There was no victor. But I always said: Take the oil.

Who are these people to be left behind? Don’t bother to ask.

Trump nevertheless is going to demand that the generals come up with a plan for beating the Islamic State. Trump told us he has a plan but apparently he does not, or wants to compare notes with the generals. But they’ll be different from the ones reduced to rubble, I guess.

Trump also seemed unaware in discussing sexual assault that there is a military system of justice. (“And the best thing we can do is set up a court system within the military. Right now, the court system practically doesn’t exist.”) He also objects to women serving next to men in the military.

It is obvious that Trump has learned nothing in more than a year of campaigning. Perhaps that is because, as he acknowledged, he is still running his business. (Blind trust? Conflict of interest?) Maybe it is because he is surrounded by sycophants of Putin. Then again, it may be that he is ignorant and cannot process information that might contradict the rubbish occupying his brain.

One would say he was the loser of the night, but he has stiff competition from Matt Lauer, who neglected to press Trump when he claimed yet again that he was against the Iraq War from the start.

The worst of the worst, however, might go to the hapless Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who tweeted that Clinton was “angry and defensive” and didn’t smile. No, really, he wants the lady to smile more. Is there some kind of contest at the RNC to see how big a gender gap a Republican can achieve? Priebus is a constant reminder that the GOP may be, after this election, unsalvageable.