The absurdity of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s town hall-style debate Sunday is difficult to do justice.
Coming off the heels of embarrassing leaks for both candidates – Trump boasting of his sexual improprieties and long-awaited transcripts from some of Clinton’s paid speeches to banks – and considering how belligerent the campaign’s tone has already been, it was clear this was not going to be a serious, policy-focused exchange.
This is being set up on CNN as a cross between a funeral, a prosecution, and the final round of the 64,000 dollar question
— Harper’s Magazine (@Harpers) October 10, 2016
The day of the debate Trump held a press conference with Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones, three of the many women who have accused President Clinton of sexual assault, and Kathy Shelton, a woman whose alleged rapist was defended pro-bono by Hillary Clinton. The four of them were also brought to the debate by the Trump campaign. Clearly, this had a triple purpose – to throw his opponent off balance, deflect from Trump’s own history of sexual aggression and make him appear compassionate.
Am told Willey, Broaddrick, Jones and Shelton will be in the debate audience.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) October 10, 2016
There was no ritual handshake at the beginning, which although repeated ad naseum on social media, was another harbinger of the debate’s tone.
NO HANDSHAKE KREMLINOLOGISTS GET TO WORK #PresidentialDebate
— Warren Kinsella (@kinsellawarren) October 10, 2016
I say again: No handshake. In case anyone hasn’t seen that Tweeted eight million times already.
— Michael Den Tandt (@mdentandt) October 10, 2016
The first question, as most viewers probably anticipated, asked how each candidate would serve as a role model for Americans, a clear allusion to the Trump tape. The Republican nominee reiterated his apology immediately before dismissing his recorded remarks as mere “locker room talk” that provides no evidence he engaged in sexual assault. He then added a non-sequiter (there were a lot of those) about the need to keep the nation safe from ISIS.
First time “IsIS” and “lockerroom” talk shared such adjacencies. #debatenight
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) October 10, 2016
Clinton was put on the defensive herself when co-moderator Martha Radatz asked about the recent Wikileak of a paid speech to a bank where she distinguished between her “public and private positions on certain issues,” which the presidential candidate called “principled and strategic.” Clinton said she had just seen Spielberg’s Lincoln and was inspired by his “great display of presidential leadership” in using different arguments in front of different crowds.
— Larry Wilmore (@larrywilmore) October 10, 2016
She then switched gear to blaming Russia for the leak, insisting they’re attempt to embarrass her and make Trump president because he would go easier on them, to which Trump responded, “I know nothing about Russia,” which is eerily similar to what he said last year after receiving former KKK grand wizard David Duke’s endorsement.
On foreign policy, Trump and Clinton alternated as hawks and doves, with Clinton coming off the slightly more hawkish candidate on some issues and Trump on others. Clinton defended the merits of Obama’s Iran nuclear deal she helped negotiate, which Trump called the “dumbest deal perhaps I’ve seen in the history of deal-making.”
On Russia and Syria, the roles were reversed, as Trump disagreed with running mate Mike Pence and Clinton on the need for a more forceful intervention against the Assad regime. “I don’t like Assad at all but Assad is killing ISIS, Russia is killing ISIS and Iran is killing ISIS,” he said shortly after denouncing the Iran deal.
“Russia hasn’t paid any attention to ISIS,” argued Clinton. “They’re interested in keeping Assad in power, so when I was secretary of state advocated, as I do today, a no-fly-zone.” She proceeded to link the Assad regime’s brutality to the “ambitions and aggressiveness of Russia,” who have gone “all-in in Syria.” Yet she said she was willing to co-operate with Russia on issues of common interest, like nuclear disarmament.
Trump reiterated his demand that Clinton refer explicitly to “radical Islamic terror,” as if further alienating and stigmatizing Muslims were a step in the right direction. “Before you solve it, you have to say the name,” said Trump.
Clinton seized the opportunity to present herself as the inclusive candidate, pointing out that there have always been Muslim-Americans, “from the time of George Washington” to Muhammad Ali. These comforting words stand in stark contrast to her record – as senator she voted for the Iraq War and agitated as secretary of state for attacking Libya and Syria.
“The Muslim ban has somehow morphed into extreme vetting,” said Trump in defence of his policy of banning Muslims form the United States, which was deservedly subject to much ridicule on social media.
The Muslim ban “morphed into” extreme vetting. He had nothing to do with it, apparently.
— Andrew Coyne (@acoyne) October 10, 2016
Does “extreme vetting” involve a wakeboard?
— Seth MacFarlane (@SethMacFarlane) October 10, 2016
Much fuss was made by the punditry of Trump’s quip that if he were president, Clinton “would be in jail,” but it wasn’t at all surprising hearing that from the man whose supporters have been chanting “lock her up” for months.
Towards the town hall’s conclusion, Trump called Clinton evil for her remark calling half of his supporters a “basket of deplorables,” for which she had previously apologized.
Trump says Clinton has “tremendous hate in her heart.” This is the most savage presidential debate I can remember.
— Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) October 10, 2016
Shortly afterwards, they finally shook hands.