Sunday night, many predicted and expected a meltdown by Donald Trump. In the wake of the 2005 tape revelation Friday, in which the Republican nominee said he grabbed married women “by the pussy,” Trump’s campaign went into a tailspin over the last two days, and many believed it was all but over. Prominent Republicans withdrew their endorsements. Paul Ryan refused to appear with Trump. There was talk of a nominee coup by the GOP establishment.
Still, that meltdown never happened tonight. Maybe it was because of the extremely low expectations, but Donald Trump looked stronger in the second presidential debate than he did the first debate.
The 2005 tapes were among the first questions raised, and Trump repeated his apology, dismissed his words as “locker room banter” and refused to admit what he describes was sexual assault (despite even his surrogates admitting it was such). Clinton came out with a strong denunciation of the tape wrapped into the larger context of the Republican’s history of misogynistic comments. It was one of Clinton’s strongest statements of the night.
Trump sounded rambling at points, particularly on some of the foreign policy questions. He was characteristically vague and disorganized.
But he stayed on offense most of the debate. Clinton remained on defense for most of it. Trump brought up Clinton’s email scandal early, and the focus immediately went to that controversy — and away from Trump’s controversial comments — where the Republican nominee hammered her hard, even suggesting that as president he would revisit her alleged criminal activity through executive order.
Trump said he’d throw her in jail. “And I’ll tell you what, I didn’t think I’d say this, is going to say it, and I 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,” Trump said. “There has never been anything like it. And we’re going to have a special prosecutor […]”
The audience of undecided voters applauded.
Everything that polling reflects voters don’t like about Clinton — perceptions that she’s phony, corrupt and untrustworthy — Trump reminded the audience of tonight in ways that probably resonated. When Trump hit Bill Clinton hard for his own controversial past and allegations of sexual assault, Mrs. Clinton didn’t really defend her husband, but deflected.
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” Trump said more than once to Clinton Sunday.
2016 has been a race to the bottom, featuring two highly unlikeable candidates with plenty of controversies and scandals between them both. Will America be more ashamed of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8?
Clinton still leads in polling and has been stronger than she was just a few weeks ago. But as for Sunday night?
The Luntz poll is a small sample size, but it’s clear that Donald Trump did not implode tonight, as many expected he would.