In a debate brimming with tension, Hillary Clinton declared Donald Trump’s aggressively vulgar comments about women revealed “exactly who he is” and said he is unsuitable to be the US President. Firing back, Trump accused Clinton of attacking women involved in her husband’s extramarital affairs and declared she would “be in jail” if he were president.
Trump entered Sunday night’s debate desperate to steady his floundering campaign. He unleashed a barrage of attacks and insults, and continually interrupted Clinton. He repeatedly called her a “liar,” labeled her the “devil” and contended she had “tremendous hate in her heart.”
Trump acknowledged for the first time that he had paid no federal income taxes for many years.
The debate was the culmination of a stunning stretch in the race for the White House, which began with the release of a new video in which Trump is heard bragging about how his fame allowed him to “do anything” to women. Many Republicans rushed to revoke their support, with some calling for him to drop out of the race.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump points at Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as he speaks during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis. (AP)
Answering for his words for the first time, Trump denied that he had ever kissed and grabbed women without their consent. He said repeatedly that his words in 2005 were merely “locker room talk” and paled in comparison to what he called Bill Clinton’s abuse of women.
“She should be ashamed of herself,” Trump declared. Ahead of the debate, the businessman met with three women who accused the former president of sexual harassment and even rape, then invited them to sit in the debate hall.
Bill Clinton never faced any criminal charges in relation to the allegations, and a lawsuit over an alleged rape was dismissed. He did settle a lawsuit with one of the women who claimed harassment.
On the debate stage, Clinton did not respond directly to Trump’s accusations about her husband or her own role, but was blistering in her condemnation of his predatory comments about women in the tape released Friday.
“I think it’s clear to anyone who heard him that it represents exactly who he is,” she said, adding that she did not believe Trump had the “fitness to serve” as commander in chief.
The second debate was a town hall format, with several undecided voters sitting on stage with the candidates. The voters, all from the St. Louis area, were selected by Gallup.
The tension between Trump and Clinton was palpable from the start of their 90-minute debate, the second time they have faced off in the presidential campaign. They did not shake hands as they met at center stage.
Trump, who is several inches taller than Clinton, stood close behind her as she answered questions from the voters. At other times, he paced the stage, repeatedly interrupting her and criticizing the moderators.
The businessman opened the debate with a flood of insults aimed at Clinton, accusing her of having “lied about a lot of things” and insinuating she was the “devil.” He struggled to articulate detailed policy proposals, repeatedly dancing around questions about how he would replace President Barack Obama’s health care law, a measure he has vowed to replace.
Republican US presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic US presidential nominee Hillary Clinton enter the town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis. (Reuters)
Trump made clear that he did not agree with running mate Mike Pence on how to deal with war-torn Syria. Last week, Pence said that the U.S. military should be ready to strike Syrian military targets that are under the command of President Bashar Assad. The threat of military action against the Russia-backed Assad government marks a departure from Trump’s preference for a focus on Islamic State targets.
Said Trump: “He and I haven’t spoken and I disagree.”
Trump’s campaign was already struggling before the new video was released, due in part to his uneven performance in the first presidential debate. Many Republicans saw Sunday’s showdown as his last best chance to salvage his campaign.
It was unclear whether Trump’s performance did anything to expand his support beyond his core backers. He did repeatedly cast Clinton as a career politician who had accomplished little during her years in Washington and would be incapable of bringing about change, one of his strongest argument in a campaign that has highlighted American’s deep frustration.
“With her, it’s all talk and no action,” Trump said.
The new revelations about Trump overshadowed potentially damaging revelations about Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street firms. Emails released by Wikileaks last week showed Clinton told a group that it’s acceptable for a president to project differing positions in public and private.