Kendall Gilbert examines the shots fired on either side of the second presidential debate
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton squared off on Sunday night in the second presidential debate of the 2016 campaign. Both candidates arrived eager to face off after a week of personal attacks and media revelations. But the focus of the debate would be on Trump’s performance. Could he change the narrative? Or would he meltdown and deliver the final blow to his own campaign?
The Donald did himself no favours in the week leading up to the second presidential debate, starting with inappropriate tweets about former Miss Universe, and Clinton supporter, Alicia Machado. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted: “Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?” Hours later, Buzzfeed uncovered a sex tape that, instead of Machado, featured none other than Donald Trump surrounded by Playboy bunnies pouring champagne on a limousine in Manhattan.
Before voters had much time to digest the news, Trump’s woes worsened when the Washington Post released bombshell footage of Trump boasting about grabbing women by the genitals while on the set of Access Hollywood, forcing him to issue a video apology to voters. By week’s end, Trump had lost the endorsement of prominent Republicans like John McCain, with many more calling on him to withdraw. The barrage of bad press pulled attention from the Clinton campaign, who themselves were dealing with hacked emails released on Wikileaks. Compared to Trump, Clinton’s week was smooth sailing. The pressure was all Donald’s going into the second presidential debate.
Forced to play defence from the opening question, Trump tried desperately to divert attention from his sexual comments while on the debate stage. When asked “do you feel you are modelling appropriate behaviour for today’s youth?” Trump responded with his usual ‘Make America Great Again’ schtick while digging into Clinton for her support of NAFTA and the Iran nuclear deal. After the moderator pressed him to give a direct answer, Trump dismissed his sexual comments as “locker room talk,” and quickly changed the subject, assuring voters he would “knock the hell out of ISIS.”
Trump attempted to deflect the attacks onto Hillary Clinton for Bill Clinton’s record of sexual offences toward women. Prior to the debate, Trump hosted three of Bill Clinton’s ‘accusers,’ women who allege Bill Clinton advanced on each of them in an unwanted sexual way, on Facebook Live. The women sat in the debate hall and were referred to by Trump as he tried to smear Hillary for her husband’s misconduct. Instead of taking the bait, Secretary Clinton remained calm throughout, not exposing herself to the controversy. She could have juxtaposed Trump’s past treatment of women to his current alliance with the Clinton accusers and declared it contrived – risking exposure to counter blows by Trump for Bill’s past. Instead, she resisted and let Trump off. It was a small victory for a man who entered the debate teetering on the edge.
Trump may not have been able to win the debate but he did defend himself well against any further damage. It’s a personal win for a man whose own political party is fast jumping ship. But the relief can only be short lived as Clinton consolidates her lead and time dwindles before Election Day. Trump will need to pull out some surprises, and hope Clinton makes some mistakes if he wants to swing undecided voters. If the past year of campaigning is any benchmark, there will be more leaked sound bites and scandalous revelations before this is said and done. Stay tuned.
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