This was one of the most memorable debates in history. It was perhaps the debate that American politics has been cultivating for a quarter of a century, marking as it did the nadir of the bitter partisanship and personal rancor that has steadily grown like weeds over the edifice of American government.
It featured two of the most disliked candidates in modern history taking lumps out of each other – with accusations of sexual assault and defending rape and repeated allegations of deceit and mendacity.
Clinton not only politely declined to shake Trump’s hand upon taking the stage, she looked at it like she wanted us all to think very hard about what he may or may not have grabbed with that hand back in 2005.
Question and Answer round went somewhat like this :
Question 1) Do you think you — and your campaign — have been a role model for children?
Clinton: I think it’s important to make clear to our children that our country is great because we’re good.
Trump: Well, I actually agree with that. I agree with everything she said.
Question 2) Trump was asked- You bragged that you sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?
Trump: This is locker room talk. I’m not proud of it, I apologize to my family, I apologize to the American people. I have great respect for women — no one has more respect for women than I do.
The GOP candidate replied before pivoting into a lengthy diatribe about ISIS — who are “really bad” — and his intent to defeat the terrorist group. (Pro tip: When you’ve gotta compare yourself to ISIS to make yourself look good, you probably … shouldn’t.)
Clinton: I never questioned their fitness to serve, Donald Trump is different.
Trump: If I win, I am going to instruct a special prosecutor to look into your situation,” he said, referring to Clinton’s email scandal.
Clinton: I know you’re into big diversion tonight — anything to avoid talking about your campaign and how it’s exploding and how Republicans are leaving you.
Clinton mostly refused to take the bait, despite many, many attempts by her opponent to get under her skin. However, at one point — smiling but also visibly annoyed — she shot back.
Question 3) Topic: Obama Care. There was more friction at the start of the question as Cooper tried to give the first response to Clinton (who was talked over by Trump for much of her prior answer); she declined, and then Trump stepped in: “You can go first — I’m a gentleman.”
Clinton admitted at the start that not everything about the Affordable Care Act is working; among other things, premiums have gotten out of control. However, she doesn’t want to completely repeal the plan; Trump does. His message: “Repeal and replace.”
If you ignore his repeated mid-sentence sidebars to call Obama Care “a fraud,” this is, in fact, the most substantive answer Trump has given so far tonight. His argument is that encouraging competition among insurance companies, including opening up the system across state lines, will bring prices down and quality up.
Question 4) How will you fight Islamophobia?
Trump: RADICAL ISLAMIC TERROR. As in, he wants our leaders to say these words — and intends to say them as president. What does this have to do with combating bigotry toward peaceful, non-terrorist American Muslims? It’s not entirely clear, but his answer briefly bumped up against the idea that cooperation from the Muslim community (in the form of reporting their radicalized members) is our first step toward getting along.
Clinton: We’ve had Muslims in America since George Washington,” she said. “My vision of America is one where everyone has a place, if you’re willing to work hard, do your part and contribute to the community.” She also described it as “very shortsighted and even dangerous” to say the kinds of things Trump has about Muslims, when we need them on our side to combat terrorism at home.
“I intend to defeat ISIS, to do so in a coalition with majority Muslim nations,” she said, going on to make the point that comments like Trump’s alienate our potential allies. “We are not at war with Islam, and it is a mistake — and it plays into the hands of the terrorists — to act as though we are.”
Question 5) What would our candidates do to make sure that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share of taxes?
Trump: One thing I’d do is get rid of carried interest. (which was the first and only specific plan he outlined before pivoting into attack mode. His complaint, roughly, was that Clinton is at fault for not changing the tax code while she was a senator, which he accused her of doing so that she can now use the money she made to run negative campaign ads against him.)
Clinton: Well, everything you’ve just heard from Donald is not true. I’m sorry I have to keep saying it. She also took this opportunity to remind the audience, and the nation, that Trump may well not have paid a penny in federal income tax for 20 years — along with underscoring who loses out (soldiers, children, the elderly) as a result.
Trump: I understand the tax code better than anyone who’s ever run for president.
Question 6) What are we doing about Aleppo? What should be done?
Clinton: What is at stake here is the ambitions and aggressiveness of Russia. They’ve also decided who they want to see become president of the United States too, and it’s not me.I would go to the negotiating table with more leverage than we have now.
Trump: Everything she’s done in foreign policy has been a mistake — it’s been a disaster. The rest of the GOP candidate’s answer was familiar — namely, that he feels we’re giving away too much information by announcing military strategy, rather than bombing places like Mosul in secret.
Clinton: I would not use American ground forces in Syria,” she said. “I don’t think American troops should be holding territory as an occupying force.
Question 7) How will these candidates meet our energy needs?
Trump: Hillary Clinton wants to put all the miners out of business.
However, he did have some meatier specifics: Namely, Trump intends to pay off every deficit in the U.S. with energy — whereas he believes the current climate is putting our best energy industries out of business.
Clinton’s reply mirrored Trump in that it also focused natural gas, and the importance of being energy-independent (i.e., not dependent on Middle Eastern oil to keep our country running). Her plan: to channel resources into clean, renewable energy while revitalizing our current industries, i.e. coal. As always, she urged people to go to her website to check out her plan
Question 8) Name one positive thing you respect in one another.
Clinton: His children are incredibly able and devoted, and I think that says a lot about Donald.
Trump said he respected his opponent’s refusal to quit: “A very good trait.”
The two somehow managed to end with a kind word (just one really) for each other and the handshake that they had denied each other at the start.
But this was raw and angry politics as blood sport and served perhaps only to underscore even more how unappetizing political debate has become.
The body language battle:
Donald Trump appears not to have thought out how to behave when he is not responding to a question – and the result is bizarre.
While Mr Trump speaks, Hillary Clinton sits perched on her seat – calm, poised and steady. She looks to be listening intently, taking notes every now and then, occasionally smiling wryly and shaking her head.
But while Mrs Clinton speaks, Mr Trump paces the floor. He lurks behind her – something that social media users have noted is borderline creepy.
He stands behind his chair, and then moves again – circling like a shark. Perhaps it’s a tactic that works in the boardroom.
Maybe he thinks it makes him look strong and self-possessed. But on television, with Mrs Clinton so diminutive in stature compared to him, it looks vaguely menacing and unpleasant.
Ruth Sherlock looks at Mrs Clinton’s body language:
Some might have thought that having a woman who accused your husband of rape sitting in the audience might put a debater off their game.
But not Mrs Clinton. She is too trained a political operator for that. In fact, tonight, she looks much more together, relaxed, and dare I say it, genuine than usual.
She is aware that some cameras remain trained on her as Mr Trump speaks. Her expressions are intentionally amusing. Sometimes she looks quizzical, sometimes a little superior and at other times amused.
Her entire performance is carefully thought out. When answering her first question, she positioned herself so that her rival would be visible in the cameras behind her, slumped and sitting down.
Neither candidate made a move to shake the hand of the other when they arrived on stage. Hillary Clinton seemed to take the lead on that, turning to face the audience quickly.
The Clinton campaign reportedly had a discussion what to do about the handshake. Clearly they decided that she should demonstrate her anger at Mr Trump’s behavior from the very beginning.
What does this fiery crash of a debate mean for the final month of the campaign? Trump is in deep trouble. His polling was already falling before the Friday release of the 11-year-old lewd video, and since then, dozens of leading Republicans have withdrawn their endorsements and called on him to leave the race. During the debate on Sunday, he was erratic, failed to land many blows, and humiliated his running mate on the Syria question. As for Clinton, her performance may not go down in the history books as one of the most sparkling debates, but it didn’t need to. She managed to remain above the fray, seeming calm, presidential, and poised as her rival roamed the stage and interrupted. Trump’s pugilistic performance may serve as a rallying point for his key supporters, but the Republican’s task right now is to staunch the bleeding and start winning over new voters, since he doesn’t currently have enough to win. There’s practically no prospect he made progress on that goal Sunday night.