Tonight’s presidential debate revealed, among other things, that Donald Trump wants to put Hillary Clinton in jail, that he may have not paid taxes for several years, and that his lewd conversation caught on tape was simply “locker-room talk,” and that he hasn’t talked to his running mate in a while.
It also saw Trump say again that he would appoint Supreme Court justices in the mold of the late, far-right Antonin Scalia, while Clinton reiterated that she would appoint those who support marriage equality and abortion rights.
The debate often became bitter, but Clinton maintained her calm while Trump paced along the stage and sniffled frequently, even when he brought up sexual assault accusations against her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
The town hall–style debate at Washington University in St. Louis was certainly informed by the tape that surfaced Friday of Trump boasting that he could get away with grabbing women by the genitals because he was famous. “You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women,” asked Anderson Cooper, who moderated the debate along with Martha Raddatz and was by the way the first out gay man to moderate a presidential debate. “Do you understand that?”
“No, I didn't say that at all,” Trump responded. “I don't think you understood what was — this was locker-room talk. I'm not proud of it. I apologize to my family. I apologize to the American people. Certainly I'm not proud of it. But this is locker-room talk.” He then changed the subject to the terrorist group ISIS before claiming, “Nobody has more respect for women than I do.”
Clinton, for her part, said Trump’s remarks are further evidence that he is not fit to be president. “What we all saw and heard on Friday was Donald talking about women, what he thinks about women, what he does to women,” she said. “And he has said that the video doesn't represent who he is. But I think it's clear to anyone who heard it that it represents exactly who he is.” She then referred to Trump’s many other misogynistic comments.
Trump then brought up the allegations against Bill Clinton, along with Hillary Clinton’s defense, when she was a lawyer, of a child rapist. “If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse,” Trump said. “Mine are words, and his was action. His was what he's done to women. There's never been anybody in the history of politics in this nation that's been so abusive to women.”
The rapist’s victim accompanied Trump to the debate, along with three of Bill Clinton’s accusers. It should be noted that the former president was never prosecuted for sexual assault; he did settle a lawsuit with Paula Jones, who accused him of sexual harassment. And as for Hillary Clinton’s client, she has said it was her duty to make her best effort to defend him.
The Democratic nominee responded that much of what Trump said was not correct, and she intended to do “what my friend Michelle Obama advised us all. When they go low, you go high.” She also brought up Trump’s many insults leveled at not just women but immigrants, Muslims, and numerous other groups of people. Trump later said his call to bar Muslims from entering the U.S. has “morphed into extreme vetting.”
Trump went on to say that he would appoint a special prosecutor to deal with Clinton’s handling of emails when she was secretary of State, although FBI director James Comey has said no reasonable prosecutor would bring criminal charges against Clinton. She said, “It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country,” to which Trump replied, “Because you'd be in jail.”
He further contended she didn’t win the nomination over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders “fair and square,” and was surprised that Sanders is supporting her. “I was so surprised to see him sign on with the devil,” Trump said.
Another key moment of the debate came when Cooper asked if Trump had used a $916 million business loss in 1995 to avoid paying taxes in subsequent years — which would be legal but would certainly not sit well with many Americans. “Of course I do. Of course I do,” Trump replied, but he wouldn’t say how many years he had done so, and he contended that most of Clinton’s wealthy donors do the same. He also said that if Clinton had been “effective” when she was a U.S. senator, she would have been able to close the tax loopholes she opposes. Clinton noted she was senator while a Republican was president, and that presidents have veto power.
Later, during a discussion of how to end the civil war in Syria and defeat ISIS, Raddatz said to Trump, “I want to remind you what your running mate said. He said provocations by Russian need to be met with American strength and that if Russia continues to be involved with airstrikes along with the Syrian government forces of [President Bashar] Assad, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets, of the Assad regime.” Trump replied, “He and I haven’t spoken and I disagree.” He then said defeating ISIS should be the priority.
In another of the moments when the debate focused on policy, Trump railed against the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, which he wants to repeal and replace, but his only suggestion for an alternative was to let insurance companies compete across state lines. Clinton said Obamacare has benefited many people, not only the 20 million who previously did not have health insurance, but those who were already insured and now cannot be denied coverage for a preexisting condition or have a lifetime cap on what the insurer will pay for their care. Repealing the law would result in the loss of all those gains, she said.
And when asked what they would consider in making Supreme Court appointments, Clinton said she would prefer judges who would overturn Citizens United (which listed some restrictions on campaign spending) and would protect voting rights, and who would uphold marriage equality and abortion rights. Trump said he would seek justices in the tradition of Scalia, who was extremely anti-LGBT — like many of the judicial picks Trump has announced.
At the end of the debate, a member of the audience asked each candidate to name something they admired about the other. Clinton said of Trump, “I respect his children. His children are incredibly able and devoted, and I think that says a lot about Donald.” Trump said of her, “I will say this about Hillary. She doesn't quit. She doesn't give up. I respect that.”
This was the second meeting between the two candidates. Their third and last debate will come October 19 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.