The second presidential debate of 2016, a town hall-style session at Washington University in St. Louis, got a premature launch on Friday, October 7, with the full audacity of hype. Hillary Clinton’s village of helpers had dug up an eleven-year-old audio tape on which Donald Trump explains where you can grab women if you are a star. Those crude remarks disqualified Trump from being president, according to Hillary Clinton, but the Democratic candidate also got an audacious Friday surprise.
Her speeches to Wall Street high rollers, which she had refused to make public, were now available for scrutiny through Wikileaks. In these speeches she explains she is far removed from a middle-class lifestyle, that politicians need a public and private position on issues, and, as she said on May 16, 2013, “My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders.”
The speeches provided plenty to ponder but the Trump tape get top billing. That continued on Sunday afternoon, with pundits predicting that, as Karl Rove put it, sex and video would prevail over money and paper. Others were certain the Republican would go nuclear, and that his campaign would head south from there. It didn’t quite work out that way.
The debaters did not shake hands at the outset and the first question, from an audience member, was whether the candidates were “both modeling appropriate behavior for today’s youth.” Hillary said we are “great because we are good” and wanted to “heal the country and bring it together.” Trump agreed with her and, speaking softly, referenced a “strong border and respect for law enforcement.” Moderator Anderson Cooper, a CNN anchor, then brought up the audio tape in a rather aggressive manner.
Trump did appear chastened but passed it off as locker room talk, of which he was not proud. He said it was a minor issue compared to the “carnage” going on all over the world. For Hillary Clinton, the video “represents exactly who he is,” someone who insults and embarrasses women and has “targeted” immigrants. “This is not who we are,” the Democrat said, at her normal volume.
As predicted, Trump brought up Bill Clinton, who was “abusive to women,” charging that “Hillary Clinton attacked them viciously” and “she should be ashamed of herself.” That drew applause, despite the moderators’ appeal for audience silence at the outset.
Hillary fired back that Donald Trump “never apologizes for anything” and brought up Khizr Kahn, judge Gonzalo Curiel, and “the racist lie” that president Obama “was not born in the United States.” Trump calmly replied that Hillary’s friend Sidney Blumenthal had started all that. Then Trump went on the attack charging that Hillary Clinton owed an apology for 33,000 emails she deleted, after they had been subpoenaed by Congress. As president, Trump said, he would appoint a “special prosecutor to look into your situation.”
“Everything he said was false,” said a clearly rattled Clinton. Moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News asked the Democrat if she had been extremely careless, as FBI director James Comey testified. Clinton said it was a “mistake” to use a personal email account, but said there was no evidence that anyone hacked the server and no evidence that classified material ended up in the wrong hands.
Trump responded that the former Secretary of State did not know what the letter “C” meant and was lying again. “You should be ashamed,” Trump said, and twice brought up the prospect of Hillary Clinton “in jail,” again drawing audience applause. Perhaps emboldened, Trump asked Anderson Cooper why he didn’t bring up the emails. Cooper moved on to a question about health care costs.
“I’m going to fix the Affordable Care Act,” Hillary Clinton said, touting Obamacare at length, despite a reference to recent comments by Bill Clinton that the ACA was “the craziest thing in the world.” Trump told the audience “Obamacare is a disaster” that he would repeal and replace. To get costs down he would bring in competition and “block grants into the states.”
Then came a question about Muslims and “Islamaphobia.” Trump raised the issue of “radical Islamic terrorism,” a term he said Hillary Clinton and the president would not use. He recalled the attacks of San Bernardino, Orlando, and the World Trade Center.
Hillary said Muslims had been in America “since George Washington” and charged that it was “dangerous to engage in demagogic rhetoric.” She said she intended to “defeat ISIS” and used the phrase “violent jihadist terrorists,” but “we are not at war with Islam.”
The question then emerged about risk from refugees. Hillary Clinton claimed “I will not let anyone in who is a risk” and Trump made a case for “extreme vetting” for people “from certain parts of the world,” who could be a “Trojan horse.”
Trump referred to “many criminal illegals,” now pouring across the border, but missed an opportunity by failing to reference Hillary’s “dream” of open borders from the speeches revealed last Friday. When those came up, the issue was Hillary’s comment about the need for a private and public position on issues.
This, she said, was “something I said about Abraham Lincoln” while making a point that it is “hard to get congress what you want to do.” After that line, the whopper of the evening, Clinton attacked the Kremlin for hacking to influence the election. The nation had never been in a position, she said, where a “foreign power,” tries to influence an election, with no reference to Henry Wallace in 1948, the “progressive” candidate backed by the Communist Party and Soviet Union.
“She lied,” Trump said, “blaming the lie on the late great Abraham Lincoln.” As for the Russians, “I don’t know Putin,” Trump said.
The candidates traded blows on taxes, with Trump conceding, with no trace of embarrassment, that he did claim losses and use the code to his advantage. And so did, he said, Hillary Clinton’s donors such as Warren Buffet and George Soros.
On Syria, Hillary Clinton wanted a “no fly zone, safe zones” and “leverage with Russia,” claiming “I have stood up to Russia.” She would not use American ground forces in Syria but would “consider arming the Kurds.”
Martha Raddatz brought up Hillary’s “deplorables” comment. She was “sorry about the way I talked about that” but Donald Trump, she said, made “brutal comments about all kinds of Americans.” She called it “the Trump effect” and claimed that “bullying is up.”
Hillary Clinton said she would select a Supreme Court justice “who understands the way the world works” with “real life experience.” She wanted the court to “reverse Citizens United” but said not a word about the Constitution.
Donald Trump, not a lawyer, would be “looking to appoint judges in the mold of justice Scalia, people that will respect the Constitution of the United States” and “respect the Second Amendment.”
On the energy question, Trump talked up clean coal and natural gas and said he would “bring the energy companies back” and create great wealth. Hillary Clinton attempted to walk back her comment that she would put coal miners and companies out of business. “I don’t want to walk away from them,” she told the audience.
A man named Carl Becker asked the candidates if they could name “one positive thing that you respect in one another?”
“I respect his children,” the Democrat said. “As a mother and grandmother.”
“She doesn’t quit,” Trump responded. “She’s a fighter. She doesn’t give up” and that was “a good trait.” After the debate closed, Trump and Clinton shook hands.
Nobody asked the candidates about their physical condition but Hillary Clinton often sat down, while Trump remained on his feet the entire 90-minute session. That might have answered questions about the state of his campaign. The candidates will debate again in Las Vegas on October 18. On November 8, the voters will decide.