I sat in The Collegian office Sunday night with most of the paper already put together and this blank space I had to fill with what happened at the second presidential debate. However, by 9:40 I felt like I had just listened in on a heated argument between my next door neighbors, not a standard town hall debate between respected politicians vying for the highest office in the U.S.
Debate moderators Martha Raddatz of ABC News and Anderson Cooper of CNN urged the audience in the hall at Washington University in St. Louis to remain silent. Their silence lasted a solid five minutes before people continued to cheer and applaud for the insults the candidates traded.
The debate came in the midst of a weekend-long internet blow-up over a leaked video of Trump making lewd comments about women. Shortly before the debate, Trump held a panel with women who had formerly accused President Bill Clinton of sexual assault. Needless to say, tensions were high.
Shockers happened before the debate officially began with a cold handshake shared by the potential first-spouses. Then the two presidential candidates, in a strikingly odd move, didn’t shake hands at all.
Voters in attendance and online asked questions of the candidates that they were particularly concerned about. The first question was about whether the candidates felt they were setting a good example for American youth. During this discussion the video of Trump’s self-proclaimed “locker room banter” was brought into question.
Trump responded by saying, “This was locker room talk. I’m not proud of it. I apologize to my family. To the American people. Certainly I’m not proud of it. But this is locker room talk,” and then transitioning into talk about ISIS in order to “get on to much more important things.”
In the following several minute derail from the original question Clinton said “It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law of our country.”
To which Trump replied, “Because you’d be in jail,” which received a visceral reaction from the audience. Clinton’s email scandal, which she again apologized for, and allegations of Former President Clinton’s sexual harassment and assault also came up.
At this point the debate reached a point of overlapping statements that moderators were forced to interrupt in order to allow another voter to ask the candidates about their health care policies. After the question was asked Cooper said, “That first one goes to Secretary Clinton because you started out the last one to the audience.”
Clinton quickly responded, “He wants to start. He can start. Go ahead, Donald.” To which Trump replied, “No, I’m a gentlemen, go ahead.”
The next question, delivered by a Muslim American woman, was how, with islamophobia on the rise, each candidate will protect Muslim American citizens from being stigmatized for their perceived threat to American safety.
Raddatz followed responses to that question by asking Trump if he still stood by a claim he made earlier in the election cycle that he would have a ban on Muslims entering the US. Trump responded that his intent was “extreme vetting” rather than a total ban and began to transition into an attack on Clinton when Raddatz interrupted asking that he answer the question. His response was a heated, “Why don’t you interrupt her?”
Raddatz announced the next question which came from someone online about whether or not the candidates thought it was acceptable to be “two-faced” or have a “private stance” on an issue. The question was targeted at Clinton, who has said that politicians need both a public and a private persona.
Clinton defended her claim by saying it was in reference to her recent viewing of the Spielberg movie “Lincoln.”
Trump’s response to that defense was “She lied. Now she’s blaming the lie on the late great Abraham Lincoln.”
The next voter asked what provisions the candidates had in place to make sure the wealthiest Americans paid their fair share in taxes.
After Trump laid out his plan for taxing institutions, Clinton responded, “I’m sorry I have to keep saying this, but he lives in an alternative reality. It is sort of amusing to hear somebody who hasn’t paid federal income taxes in maybe 20 years talking about what he’s going to do.”
This led to a rapid exchange between Trump and Cooper in which Cooper repeatedly asked Trump if he had paid taxes since 1995 while Trump called out Clinton’s donors who used tax loopholes that had been in place since she was a Senator. After asking for the fifth time Trump changed the subject to Iraq, and the vacuum, supposedly caused by Clinton, that allowed ISIS to form.
Raddatz then directed attention to another online question about whether or not the US has already waited too long to intervene in Syria. Clinton responded and then the question was directed to Trump who started by saying, “First of all, she was there as the Secretary of State with the so called line in the sand.”
Clinton fired back saying, “No, I wasn’t. I was gone. I hate to interrupt you but at some point, we need to do some fact checking.”
Trump then said, “Excuse me. You were in total contact with the White House. And perhaps, sadly Obama probably still listened to you. I don’t think he would be listening to you very much anymore.” Trump then argued about the situation in Aleppo and how best to handle Mosul, a topic on which Raddatz weighed in.
After Clinton spoke a minute over her allotted time on the subject, and Trump complained about it, another audience member asked how the candidates would be devoted to all of the American people. Trump used the opportunity to point out that Clinton had called many of his supporters “deplorable” and “irredeemable.” Cooper asked Clinton to follow up on Trump’s comment about her words saying, “how can you unite a country if you’ve written off tens of millions of Americans?”
Clinton’s response to that question did not satisfy Trump who later said, “We have a divided nation because people like her — and believe me, she has tremendous hate in her heart. And when she said deplorables, she meant it. And when she said irredeemable — they’re irredeemable, you didn’t mention that. But when she said they’re irredeemable, to me, that might have been even worse.”
The next question asked, targeted at Trump, was about whether tweets at 3 to 5 a.m. showed leadership discipline. This devolved quickly and moderators had to repeatedly attempt to transition the topic to the next question asked, about Supreme Court nominees. Neither candidate offered the name of a person they would nominate for the position, instead opting to describe the qualities they would look for when choosing.
The next question was about energy policy and was met with the simple scripted responses the candidates had prepared. After Clinton’s response to what was supposed to be the final question Raddatz announced that they “sneaked in one question” from an audience member who asked, “Regardless of the current rhetoric would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?”
Clinton complemented Trump on his children, and Trump complemented Clinton on her resilience, ending the rough and heated debate on a falsely amiable note.