Opinion: Trump Steps Over the Line at Second Debate

Heading into the presidential town hall on Sunday, the American people and the world at large did not know what to expect from the two leading candidates. With polls consistently showing that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton possessed a substantial lead, would Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump sincerely apologize for his comments on women? Would Clinton use the Access Hollywood tape to deliver a knockout blow? Or would the debate yield a result that no one expected?

The debate showed fragments of all of these themes, but it appeared as if Clinton had the stronger showing. Opening the debate were two questions concerning the tone and tenor of the debate, which were in direct response to the numerous lewd comments Trump made about women and minorities. Clinton basically punted on the first question, choosing instead to talk about her policy and direction of her campaign. Trump was then asked for his thoughts on the video; he offered an apology that most deemed was neither sufficient nor sincere.

Clinton decided against any prolonged discussion of video, using the now famous line from First Lady Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention, “When they go low, we go high.”

The debate immediately pivoted to Clinton’s email scandal, and it got personal almost instantaneously. Trump repeatedly interrupted Clinton during her answer, with moderator Anderson Cooper needing to nearly yell over Trump to allow Clinton her time to speak. Trump made what many pundits deem a totalitarian comment when he said he would get a special prosecutor to “lock her up.” Never before has a presidential nominee threatened their opponent.

Unfortunately for Trump, this comment will likely overshadow a strong rebuttal on the subject. Once again, Clinton did not have a sufficient response to the questions surrounding the deletion of 33,000 private emails, and Trump exploited it. He pointed out that for all of Clinton’s governmental experience, she apparently did not know that the lowercase “c” on emails denoted classified status. Trump then repeatedly spoke over Clinton on the issue, in a classic example of mansplaining.  

Cooper and fellow moderator Martha Raddatz quickly pivoted to a voter’s question, which was on healthcare. Clinton gave one of her strongest answers of the night where she listed all of the positive benefits Americans have received because of the Affordable Care Act. Trump, using his favorite word to describe the act, “disaster,” repeatedly tore into the law.

The real confrontation between the two candidates would come over taxes. Trump opened the issue by slamming Clinton for being against several tax loopholes for the super rich but for not using her time as a senator to do anything about them. Clinton responded with possibly her best quip of the night by saying, “… presidents have something called veto power” in response to why she had not fixed the tax code. Trump did not like her response to this and retorted by invoking a previous  statement by Senator Bernie Sanders where Sanders deemed Clinton to have poor judgment.

Situated just before and right after the tax question were two opportunities that Trump could have used to broaden his base of support. However, Trump whiffed on both attempts. The first was a question from a Muslim woman who asked Trump about his plans to tackle Islamophobia—he gave an answer that was Islamophobic in nature. On attempt two, a black man asked what the candidates would do to unite the country, and Trump once again stated that America’s inner cities are a “disaster.” These responses, coupled with religious communities recoiling in horror at Trump’s religious entrance tests for immigrants, are turn offs to undecided voters.

The issue questions that followed included the Supreme Court and energy policy, but they were uneventful, as Trump once again gave incoherent answers and Clinton went into policy wonk mode.

The most surprising question of the night by far came directly at the end when a voter asked what the two candidates admire about each other. Clinton stated how capable Trump’s children were, and Trump responded by saying he admired Clinton’s tenacity.

Overall, Trump did very little to stop the internal bleeding that the Access Hollywood tape caused to his campaign. The flood of Republicans abandoning Trump has only increased in the days after the debate, and the internal fighting in the Republican Party has reached unprecedented levels. Trump’s campaign CEO, former Breitbart executive Stephen Bannon, has unbelievably called for the “destruction” of House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Clinton was victorious in this debate, although by a smaller margin than in the first debate, because Trump failed to expand his base of support. While Clinton seemed flat at times during the debate, as long as she can hold onto her current supporters, which she currently is doing, she will be our next president.

Trump’s performance undoubtedly satisfied his alt-right supporters, but he did not provide any reasons why suburban women or independent voters, two groups of support he desperately needs to win, should jump on the Trump bandwagon. If anything, his barely veiled threat to imprison his opponent should he win the election will just make it all that much tougher for Donald Trump to be our next president.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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