I don’t think there’s ever been a more highly anticipated presidential debate than the one that happened Sunday night in St. Louis. The Trump campaign had been drastically losing altitude since the first debate and the week after when he proved that he was unprepared, unknowledgeable and unfit for the job. Everyone wondered if he could pull out of it. And then Friday happened. That tape showing Trump coarsely bragging that he could kiss women against their will and “grab ’em by the pussy” sent the campaign into a full tailspin.
By Sunday, GOP leaders were defecting en masse, with many demanding Trump withdraw from the race. Nobody knew if he would broach the tape or fulfill his threat to go after the Clinton scandals of the ’90s in the debate, now that these new and disturbing revelations about his own behavior had been seen by millions.
Well, he did. Just before the event he held a “press conference” in what appeared to be an airport hotel conference room with four women who say Hillary Clinton viciously attacked them for accusing her husband of sexual harassment and assault. (I’m not going to litigate those cases here, but suffice to say that they were part of Ken Starr’s through investigation and the details are easily accessible online.) In what looked disturbingly like a North Korean hostage video, the women spoke about their complaints against Clinton while the man who had just been revealed on tape saying that he liked to grab women “by the pussy” sat in the middle.
It was, to say the least, a bizarre tableau that electrified the political world and signaled that Trump planned to take the gloves off in the debate. (Robert Costa of the Washington Post reported late last night that the campaign had planned to put the women in the family box and confront Bill Clinton on national TV until the debate commission pulled the plug.)
Trump was asked about the tape right off the bat and he dismissed it as “locker room talk,” then did an impressively weird pivot to ISIS chopping off heads. It didn’t improve from there. Trump stalked Clinton around the stage, constantly sniffing for emphasis, whining to the moderators and basically reprising his grotesque caricature of a presidential candidate on the national stage one more time. For reasons that remain obscure, many pundits declared that he performed well, suggesting that unless his head had twirled around on his shoulders and he vomited Andersen’s split pea soup all over the stage there was no way he could have failed.
He did come close to an “Exorcist” moment at one point, in claiming that Clinton had stolen the election from Bernie Sanders and saying, “I was surprised to see him sign up with the devil.” He even said she had “tremendous hate in her heart.”
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