There seems to be some fairly profound disagreement over who “won” last night’s presidential debate in St. Louis. Some say that the victor was Donald Trump, who managed to quickly bat away the icky specter of him bantering with celebrity hanger-on Billy Bush about sexually assaulting women (which he said during the debate that he did not do).
Others say it was Hillary Clinton, who managed to not interrupt Trump at any point in the 90 minutes, even when he threatened to have a special prosecutor investigate her and put her in jail, or tell her that she should be ashamed of herself for various reasons.
Yes, naturally this was the highbrow political exchange that America truly deserved after having carefully vetted its choices and selected the very best representatives of the country’s 324.6 million residents.
Personally, I thought Trump’s ability to survive and even thrive after suffering one of the worst days of his madcap campaign put him ahead. But CNN’s instant poll said it was Clinton.
But we know what you readers are really after are the Six Most Notable Moments of the Second Presidential Debate, and here they are!
1. Trump’s explanation of what he said on the tapes: It’s just one of those things! When CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Trump if he understood that what he was describing in a portion of the audio recording – how being a star lets you start kissing or grabbing a woman by the genitals without consequence – was sexual assault, Trump denied the same.
“No, I didn’t say that at all. I don’t think you understood what was — this was locker room talk,” Trump said. “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.”
But, Cooper pressed later, did you actually do any of the things you bragged to Billy Bush about? Trump replied: “And women have respect for me. And I will tell you: No, I have not.”
Well, that’s a relief.
Meanwhile, Clinton said the remarks showed that Trump was not fit to be president, because Americans don’t endorse that kind of thing. “America already is great, but we are great because we are good,” she said.
Well, sometimes. Usually. Often. Definitely when there are open mics around.
2. Cast her in irons! Rarely in a presidential debate do you see one of the candidates threatening to put another in jail, but that’s precisely what happened Sunday evening. After claiming that Clinton deleted 33,000 emails after she’d received a subpoena from the House of Representatives, Trump said he wasn’t just going to let that go. “And I’ll tell you what. I didn’t think I’d say this, but I’m going to say it, and I hate to say it,” said Trump, who clearly did not hate to say it. “But if I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception. There has never been anything like it, and we’re going to have a special prosecutor.”
Later, when Clinton pointed out that it was “…awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country,” Trump quickly shot back, “Because you’d be in jail.”
Probably not, although it’s worth noting that such an exchange is unprecedented in a presidential debate. It’s also deliciously raw red meat for the “Hillary for Prison” T-shirt wearing base.
3. The biggest lie told during the campaign – and there were some Double Whoppers with cheese – came from Trump. After declaring that the Affordable Care Act was a disaster and that he was going to replace it with an unspecified-but-amazing alternative, Trump said this: “She wants to go to a single-payer plan, which would be a disaster, somewhat similar to Canada.”
No, she does not! In fact, Clinton has consistently and repeatedly said – as late as last night’s debate – that she favors sticking with the present system, in which most people get insurance through their employer, with others buying it on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges. That system has covered about 90 percent of Americans, Clinton said, so why not use it to cover the last 10 percent instead of starting over, either with a single-payer system or with the unspecified-but-amazing Republican alternative?
As ever with Republican fears about the Democratic agenda, if only it were so.
4. Failure to communicate. Occasionally, running mates get out of sync on issues, and one of those issues arose last night. Trump says he’s not a fan of Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, but acknowledges it’s in the country’s strategic interests to have him in place, since he’s at least waging war against the radical terrorist group ISIS.
But Mike Pence has suggested that the United States might have to counter Russian cooperation with the Assad regime by attacking Syrian military targets. This, apparently, was news to Trump. “OK,” Trump said. “He [Pence] and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree. I disagree.”
With his own running mate? Yes, as it turns out. Trump explained that ISIS was the priority target, and we shouldn’t be fighting the terrorist group and the Syrian government at the same time. “I believe we have to get ISIS. We have to worry about ISIS before we can get too much more involved.”
Mr. Pence, call your office. And while you’re doing that, we should take note of Trump’s utter pragmatism when it comes to strongmen dictators. People such as Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Assad and others are often brutal, autocratic leaders for whom murder, torture, secret police forces and other dictatorial tools are everyday means of staying in power. They fight terrorist groups not because they are radical fundamentalist religious fanatics seeking to enslave people, but because they threaten the dictator’s control of his own country. It’s hard to pick winners in that scenario, but Trump’s remarks at least force us to confront those realities.
5.I can feel your hatred. Like Emperor Palpatine, Trump is apparently skilled in the ways of The Force. Or at least he thinks so. After Clinton was confronted by moderators about how she could say she wants to be president for everybody when she’d dismissed half of Trump’s supporters as an irredeemable basket of deplorables, Trump went in for the kill.
“We have a divided nation, because people like her – and believe me, she has tremendous hate in her heart,” Trump said. “And when she said deplorables, she meant it. And when she said irredeemable, they irredeemable … when she said they’re irredeemable, to me, that might have been even worse.”
Clinton acknowledged her earlier statement, but also said she’d apologized within hours for saying what she said. Her argument is with Trump, not his supporters, she said. But is it really? It’s not Trump who made himself the GOP nominee, it’s the Republican base. It’s not only Trump who has said sexist, nativist, and misogynist things; it’s some in the Republican base. And when people use racial slurs or threaten or actually perpetuate violence on others, they are deplorable, if not irredeemable. And all decent people have an argument with such wickedness.
But as to whether someone has hate in their heart, or is irredeemable or not, well, why don’t we leave that to actual Jedi or Sith practitioners, OK?
6. Pragmatism versus principle. When talking about the Supreme Court, a very interesting dichotomy emerged. Clinton – a lawyer herself – said she wanted justices who apparently would be aware of the real-world implications of their rulings, and judge the law accordingly. Or as she put it:
“I want to appoint Supreme Court justices who understand the way the world really works, who have real-life experience, who have not just been in a big law firm and maybe clerked for a judge and then gotten on the bench, but, you know, maybe they tried some more cases, they actually understand what people are up against.
“Because I think the current court has gone in the wrong direction. And so I would want to see the Supreme Court reverse Citizens United and get dark, unaccountable money out of our politics. Donald doesn’t agree with that.
“I would like the Supreme Court to understand that voting rights are still a big problem in many parts of our country, that we don’t always do everything we can to make it possible for people of color and older people and young people to be able to exercise their franchise. I want a Supreme Court that will stick with Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose, and I want a Supreme Court that will stick with marriage equality.”
“I want a Supreme Court that doesn’t always side with corporate interests. I want a Supreme Court that understands because you’re wealthy and you can give more money to something doesn’t mean you have any more rights or should have any more rights than anybody else.
“So I have very clear views about what I want to see to kind of change the balance on the Supreme Court.”
For Trump, the answer was almost the mirror opposite.
“I am looking to appoint judges very much in the mold of [the late] Justice [Antonin] Scalia. I’m looking for judges — and I’ve actually picked 20 of them so that people would see, highly respected, highly thought of, and actually very beautifully reviewed by just about everybody.
“But people that will respect the Constitution of the United States. And I think that this is so important. Also, the Second Amendment, which is totally under siege by people like Hillary Clinton. They’ll respect the Second Amendment and what it stands for, what it represents. So important to me.”
It’s interesting that Scalia was very nearly the opposite of the kind of judge that Clinton described in her remarks, a man who strove to understand the original meaning of the Constitution in his rulings, oftentimes without regard for the practical, real-world consequences of those rulings. For him, the kind of judge that Clinton described would be anathema. Although he did not articulate that, Trump’s preferences represent a far more stoic approach to the American judiciary. The contrast between the two candidates on this issue alone will allow many voters to make their choice.
And now, on to the final debate, right here in Las Vegas on Oct. 19! See you there.