No hand shaking. No holding back.
The opening moments of the second presidential debate shaped up to be the most vicious, most accusatory, and as intensely personal of the entire campaign year. Any talk of policy was shoved aside by personal attacks.
Moderator Anderson Cooper asked Trump point blank do you realize that you admitted to, and bragged about, committing sexual assault. Trump dismissed his remarks and comportment as “locker room talk,” and that “nobody has more respect for women than me,” while trying to turn the conversation back to our borders and making American safe again.
When Cooper followed-up, Trump wasted no time launching into his attack on Bill Clinton, calling him a rapist, alluding to his impeachment, and making the claim that he had his license to practice law revoked.
Clinton followed up by saying that though Trump will say the tape does not represent who he is – that it represents “exactly who he is. We have seen him insult women. We have seen him rate women on their appearance.” Clinton offered a list of Trump insults, including embarrassing women on TV and twitter, denigrating a former Miss Universe, targeting immigrants, African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, POWs and disabled people.
The debate eventually migrated into policy issues. Though immigration and Isis emerged as topics, Cooper raised the question of Trump’s taxes.
For the first time in the election, Cooper began, taxes became a top issue following The New York Times expose suggesting Trump used a $916 million business loss to avoid paying federal taxes for 18 years.
Cooper directly asked Trump whether he used a tax loophole.
“Of course I did,” Trump admitted. He then went on to say “I understand the tax code better than anyone who has ever run for president…I pay tremendous numbers of taxes. But I used it. And so did Warren Buffet, so did George Soros. I have a write off, I have depreciation. I love depreciation.”
Clinton often challenged the truth of Trump’s assertions and at one point said that he lives in an “alternative reality.”
Trump hounded Clinton on the email scandal, adding that if elected he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate her. “You would be in jail,” he remarked.
Trump asserted that he’s an expert on Isis. He said he knows more about Isis than U.S. generals, and he also threw his running mate Mike Pence under the bus, saying that “he and I haven’t spoken and I disagree. I disagree.”
Trump drove forward his position on mistrust of immigrants, especially from Syria. “I don’t want to have…hundreds of thousands of people coming in from Syria,” he said. “I’m going to force them back into their country.
"Muslims have to report the problems when they see them... If they don't do that, it's a very difficult situation," he said.
In response to an audience question, Clinton denigrated Trump’s qualifications for office.
"I've never questioned a Republican nominee's fitness to serve. Donald Trump is different," she said.
She then coined a line that might carry her position on school bullying past the election threshold. Children now have “a lot of fear,” and that “teachers and parents are calling it ‘the Trump effect.’”
Trump removed hope for a dignified debate with a strange, staged news conference an hour before he headed to the debate stage. The Republican nominee sat at a table flanked by four women supporters, one of whom accused Bill Clinton of rape. Trump was apparently attempting to draw a contrast between the former president’s behavior and Trump’s vulgar remarks on the leaked Access Hollywood video.
On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted a video from right-wing outlet Breitbart News of Bill Clinton accuser Juanita Brodderick, who was among the women he flew in for the the news conference, alleging that the former president had raped her over 30 years ago. The Trump camp hinted that their strategy would be to highlight indiscretions from Bill Clinton’s past, potentially bringing up a rape allegation and making Hillary Clinton answer for her husband’s behavior and her complacency.
Trump might have been better off practicing policy questions, said elections scholar Michael Miller, who teaches political science at Barnard and Columbia University, as town-hall debates are typically more policy-centric.
Trump’s surprise tactic could not succeed in rattling his prepared opponent, nor was it appropriate to the venue of the debate, Miller said.
“I am certain that Clinton has been ready and had prepared several lines of defense on that threat,” he told Metro.
Miller said that the effect of Trump’s actions leading up to and at the debate will have to accomplish one thing if he is to win in the general election: usher women voters into his court, specifically Republican women.
“He needs upwards of 90 percent of Republican women,” Miller said, adding that going in to the debate Trump's support among Republican women hovered in the low 30-percent range.
“The problem is that he has a ceiling," he said. "He’s got about 40 percent of the electorate, but he’s always had trouble building past his initial level of support.”
The political stunt ahead of the debate drew a backlash.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called him a “grotesque clown,” following the brief news conference, and remarked at how disturbing it is that this man can envision himself as President of the United States.
On Saturday and Sunday morning the news media covered a parade of Republican officials withdrawing support from Trump. Some were calling on him to step down as the nominee and either have his running mate Mike Pence top the ticket or choose a new nominee. Even Trump’s closest allies said they couldn’t condone his remarks—though they did champion his apology.
Defenders appearing on TV and social media threw around the excuse that Trump’s talk is locker room de rigueur .
“So the #NeverTrump's really think Trump should step down over some private macho locker room talk 11 years ago? Ridiculous,” tweeted conservative radio show host Bill Mitchell.
Actor Scott Baio, who is a vocal Trump supporter, suggested he be given a pass for his lewd comments because he was a Democrat 11 years ago.
Just a few days ago, the biggest issue on the table and the one sure to be a topic at the town hall debate was Trump’s exposed $900 million business losses and potential tax avoidance. It was broached at the VP debate, but in the warm-ups to Sunday’s big event it was barely mentioned.
Other explosive revelations weren’t confirmed in time to be in the debate talking points but might surface and quake the Trump camp again. TV show insiders say the video of Trump that surfaced last week is only one among many from The Apprentice, and that he said “much worse” things in footage contract-protected and have a “leak fee” of $5 million.
“As a producer on seasons 1 & 2 of #theapprentice I assure you: when it comes to the #trumptapes there are far worse. #justthebegininng,” tweeted Bill Pruitt.
It would make sense that recriminating cuts from The Apprentice would be strictly guarded because the show’s creator Mark Burnett is a Trump supporter and friend—a friend who could be sheltering a big bombshell that would turn attention back to the racist undertones of Trump’s campaign: usage of the “N” word.
“I don't have the tapes. I've signed a Burnett contract & know leak fee is 5 mill. Hearing from producers/crew N word is the "much worse,” tweeted Chris Nee.
"We don't have the legal right to give out the footage from that show," the NBC spokeswoman said confirmed.
One thing Trump won’t be able to use tonight to freshen up his act is a Tic Tac. The mints Trump referenced in the Billy Bush footage recently tweeted: “Tic Tac respects all women. We find the recent statements and behavior completely inappropriate and unacceptable.”