Trump’s ‘locker-room banter’ and threat to jail Clinton: how the second presidential debate got dirty
Welcome to the South China Morning Post’s coverage of the second US presidential debate between Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The encounter drew unprecedented interest, with Trump on the ropes courtesy of a video recording his crude boasts about groping women. Was the GOP nominee able to recover from his campaign’s seemingly disastrous position? Did Clinton deliver a knockout blow - or find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?
Read on for our coverage of the interactive town-hall style showdown at Washington University in St Louis. It’s a potentially treacherous format, that promises pitfalls for the unwary.
10.37am: It’s all over folks, with the handshake that was absent at the opening of the debate. Did Trump manage to stem the damage that his campaign has suffered lately? Join the discussion on Twitter, via @SCMP_News.
10.34am: Last question from the audience. “Would either of you name one positive thing you respect about one another?” The questioner gets the biggest laugh of the night! Clinton: “I respect his children...and that says a lot about Donald.” Trump: “I consider her statement about my children a very nice compliment...I’ll say this about Hillary, she doesn’t quit. She doesn’t give up.” It comes across as a genuine and (gasp) gracious moment to close the debate.
10.30am: Second mention of China by Trump as he says mainland steel dumping is “killing” US workers. Clinton says she “won’t be taken advantage of by China, on steel or anything else”.
10.27am: Asked about the vacancy on the Supreme Court, Trump says he wants a judge who respects the second amendment to the US constitution, on the right to bear arms. He also adds a non sequitur brag that he has put US$100 million of his own money into his campaign. Clinton: “I respect the second amendment...but I believe we should have comprehensive background checks.”
10.24am: The moderators seem to be cutting Clinton more slack when it comes to talking over the time limit. Might be worth checking with a stopwatch, to see if she’s getting favoured. Trump has raised this complaint several times already.
10.20am: Cooper raises Trump’s previous depiction of discipline as the most important thing for a leader. Was it disciplined for Trump to launch a series of tweets at 3am about a beauty queen who accused him of belittling her? Trump says Twitter’s just a modern means of communication, as he boasts of his 25 million followers.
10.14am: Can the candidates be president for all Americans? Trump: “She calls my people deplorable...I’d be a president for the African-Americans, the inner cities.” Clinton cites “the Trump effect”, for a supposed uptick in bullying. Trump says Clinton “has tremendous hate in her heart”.
10.02am: Topic returns to Syria and the atrocious conditions in Aleppo. What to do? Clinton says she advocates a no-fly zone, and getting tough on Russia. Trump blames Clinton and says she was secretary of state when it went bad in Syria; Clinton corrects him. Trump: “Obama still probably listens to you...I agree she wasn’t there but possibly she was consulted.” He offers praise for the targeting of ISIS by Syria, Russia and Iran. Trump attacks US military planners for announcing attacks on Mosul. “Why would you do that? I can’t think of any possible reason.” Says Raddatz: “Maybe they wanted to warn the civilians?”
Clinton says she would not use US ground troops in Syria, other than special forces and trainers. She says that pre-announcing attacks is designed to encourage Sunni fighters in the region. Says she would consider arming the Kurds.
9.58am: Cooper raises the New York Times ’ story about Trump’s taxes, and his declaration of a US$900 million+ loss to serve as a future deduction. Trump says he “absolutely” used this, but declines to say for how many years he has avoided paying federal income taxes as a result. Somehow he veers back to Islamic State as his defence of his tax practices tails off.
9.55am: First mention of China by Trump as he says a growth rate of 7 per cent in the mainland would be considered a “disaster” as he unfavourably compares this to low growth rates in the US. Does this count as praise for China from Trump? Clinton, back on taxes, says she’d raise rates on the top earners, and says “people like Donald” pay zero.
9.53am: Audience member asks what the candidates would do to ensure the rich pay their fair share of taxes. Trump says he’d get rid of carrying tax provisions, adding that Clinton had the chance as a senator to change the tax code. Did he say he’d cut taxes “bigly” for the middle class? Big league?
9.48am: Raddatz raises Clinton’s opinion that sometimes politicians need to have a public and private stance on various issues. Is that acceptable? Clinton says she was channelling Abraham Lincoln, then goes on the attack against both Wikileaks and apparent Russian efforts to support Trump’s campaign. Trump: “Honest Abe never lied...unlike you.” Then he adds: “I know nothing about Russia....well, I know about Russia.”
9.42am: Raddatz asks if Trump’s proposed “Muslim ban” still stands? Trump: “It’s extreme vetting...we know nothing about their love for our country”. Clinton invokes the recent photo of a young Syrian boy sitting dazed in an ambulance as she says people must not be subjected to “religious tests” when arriving in America. “What Donald Trump says about Muslims is used to recruit fighters [as Islamic terrorists].” Trump says of illegal aliens entering the US “they are murderers and very bad people”.
9.39am: Asked by a Muslim woman how the candidates will protect her from Islamophobia, Trump instead goes on the attack, saying the problem of “radical Islamic terrorism” needs to be acknowledged. Probably not what she wanted to hear. Clinton: “We are not at war with Islam. It is a mistake and it plays into the hands of the terrorists to act as if we are.”
9.34am: Trump, talking about his plan to repeal Obamacare, squeezes in a description of Canada’s healthcare system as a “disaster”.
9.29am: Trump scorches Raddatz and Cooper for supposed bias against him. “Nice. Nice. One on three.”
9.26am: Raddatz asks Clinton about her deleted email scandal. Clinton apologises but says there is no evidence that confidential information ended up in the wrong hands. Trump talking over her: “You should be put in jail.” Clinton: “I know you’re into big diversion tonight”, as she says his campaign is “exploding”.
9.23am: Trump says that as president he will appoint a special prosecutor to look into Hillary Clinton’s behaviour. Clinton, smirking like the cat who got the cream, virtually laughs him off. Clinton: “It’s awfully good...that [Trump] isn’t in charge of the laws” in the US. Trump: “Because you’d be in jail.” Some whoops from Trump supporters.
9.18am: Trump now connects Hillary Clinton to her defence of the rapist of a 12-year-old girl. He gets a smattering of applause. This is some amazing stuff. Clinton: “When they go low, you go high”. Bigger applause. “Everyone can draw their conclusions [on Trump] at this stage...he never apologises to anyone.”
9.16am: Getting crazy now. Trump already in panic mode, offering sarcastic attack on the moderators for cutting him off. “Oh, that’s fair, that’s fair”. “Bill Clinton was abusive to women. Hillary Clinton attacked those women...viciously”.
9.10am: First audience question concerns the in-the-gutter nature of the campaign...are the candidates modelling appropriate behaviour for US kids? Clinton offers boilerplate about US people coming together, healing, and promising to work for all Americans. Trump, sounding uncharacteristically subdued, says he agrees with “everything she said”. No comment on the lewd video. Cooper calls him out for “bragging you have sexually assaulted women”. Trump says he’s “not proud of it” but characterises it as nothing but “locker-room banter”. Somehow, he segues into a riff about “knocking the hell out of Islamic State”. Cooper hangs on: “have you ever done those things” described in the video? “No I have not,” says Trump, floundering.
Clinton goes for the throat: “It’s clear to everyone that [the video] shows exactly who he is,” as she paints Trump as a bully and abuser. “This is not who we are,” she says. “America is already great, but we are great because we are good.”
Trump: “It’s just words folks.”
9.05am: We’re under way, with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton having entered the arena in St Louis. No handshake! The moderators are Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper. We’re already off to an eye-popping start: in the front row of the audience are three women who accuse Bill Clinton of rape and other sexual misconduct. They’ve presumably been invited by the Trump camp in a bid to rattle Hillary Clinton.