Hillary Clinton, the first woman nominee from a major party, and Donald Trump each took to the debate stage again last night to persuade the American public that they should be elected president of the United States.
The debate came on the heels of an explosive videotape from 2005 that surfaced on Friday, in which the recently-married Trump is heard bragging to entertainment reporter Billy Bush about how he likes to kiss women and grab them by the genitals. Surprisingly to some, this tape became the final straw for many in the already-skeptical GOP camp. As a result, scores of Republican governors and senators have publicly pulled their support for Trump.
Anderson Cooper asked Trump about the videotape at the start of the debate and noted that what Trump described enjoying in his comments was a form of sexual assault. Trump insisted that his comments were “just words” and “locker room talk.” He briefly apologized – if you blinked, you missed it — before launching into a rambling speech about Bill Clinton’s infidelities and alleged sexual assaults from the 1990s. He also referenced Secretary Clinton’s treatment of the women who accused herh husband of sexual assault. He then randomly transitioned into talk about ISIS beheading people, almost as if to say his words were not as bad as ISIS.
Clinton pointed out that if the tape were Trump’s only evidence of misogyny towards women, his excuses might work. He has, however, a long history of denigrating women, Muslims, Mexicans, the disabled, prisoners of war, and African Americans.
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When asked about the role the United States should play in humanitarian aid for Syria and confronted with Mike Pence’s position on the issue, Trump said he hadn’t talked to his running mate and he disagreed. This raised eyebrows because Pence, though lukewarm, stood by Trump after the video surfaced.
At times, Trump appeared to lose his cool, interrupting Clinton several times. He also interrupted the moderators and complained that they did not ask Clinton about her infamously controversial emails, despite the fact that Martha Raddatz posed the question early on in the night. He paced back and forth, hovered a bit too close to Clinton as she spoke, and donned bizarre facial expressions on several occassions.
Trump even threatened to throw Clinton in jail if he were elected president – a move that the law actually does not allow. When he described Clinton as having hate in her heart, the Democratic nominee pivoted and tried to change the subject. It was clear that he rattled her a bit. Nonetheless, Trump knows how to feed his base and this rhetoric worked in the end, as it drew the applause he always seems so desperate to receive.
Clinton could have gone for the jugular on a number of Trump’s claims and obvious lack of understanding of how government works but chose to, in the words of Michelle Obama, “go high” when he went low. She did not take the bait and decided the best tactic was to remain neutral and let the fallout from the videotape and fifteen months of Trump’s own words do her bidding.
Overall, the debate underscored a sad point in American politics because it was a missed opportunity to have a robust conversation on the issues.