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Second Presidential Debate

A raging, unhinged Donald Trump threatened Hillary Clinton with prison during a presidential debate unlike any other.  But corporate media pundits said he won.

Last updated 2 years ago

Trump’s angry talk goes over well on Fox News, except for the women in its focus group

Donald Trump’s brooding, angry performance — filled with insults and threats to jail his political opponent and mean-spirited asides about the moderators — might not have won him many new fans, but it thrilled those already on his side, including Fox News analysts.

“After the first debate,” the Fox pundit Laura Ingraham said, “we had a lot of Republicans, myself included, who were wishing, ‘Why didn’t you bring up this? or ‘Why didn’t you bring up this?'”

But this time, she said, she and her colleagues watching from the Fox News trailer on the campus of Washington University where the debate was held were electrified by his non-stop attacks on Hillary Clinton, invoking many of the same themes and complaints sounded night after night on the conservative cable network.

A short time later, however, Chris Stirewalt, Fox News’s digital politics editor, suggested that Trump had erred by not “showing a contrite heart” over the tape of him boasting about sexual assault, and that by trying to change the focus to allegations about Bill Clinton, he was unlikely to have won over any new fans. “This was a debate for his base — he turned in a performance that his base would have wanted,” Stirewalt said. “He attacked on the sex stuff, as opposed to showing contrition, he focused on issues that they were into.”

By contrast, he said, college-educated white voters in places like suburban St. Louis, “who have been reticent to support Trump, he didn’t give them anything tonight. He gave his base a nice happy feeling.”

One of those voters might well have been the Fox anchor interviewing Stirewalt, Megyn Kelly, who said that many people found Trump’s comments on the leaked tape “repulsive.”

There was more evidence of this in the Fox News focus group assembled by Republican pollster Frank Luntz. When asked if Trump’s suggestion that his crude boasts were just “locker room talk” was enough to put the issue behind him, three women in the group rejected that idea.

After one man in the group said the remarks should be forgotten, the woman sitting next to him disagreed, saying, “No, I don’t think it should be put behind him. This is an issue of character. I have daughters.” When the man countered, “like he said, it’s locker-room talk,” she replied, “absolutely not, its predatory.”

A second woman then chimed in: “I would like to think that men do not say that in locker rooms, and if they do, maybe we should have a woman running things.”

A third woman added: “We cannot regulate morality, but we need to make sure that the person leading our country is a person that’s going to be respectful.”

Meanwhile, on social networks, several professional athletes listening to the debate suggested that Trump’s account of sexual assault tales as locker-room banter was off.

Donald Trump will have no political legacy except proving the weaknesses of political media

There has been a lot of debate about what Donald Trump’s legacy will be. My colleague Jeremy Scahill writes tonight that Trump “has empowered fascists, racists and bigots” and he “may go away, but the people he has empowered will not.”

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09:  Washington University student Anna Eddelbuettel of Chicago gestures before the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri. This is the second of three presidential debates scheduled prior to the November 8th election.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Student Anna Eddelbuettel gestures before the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

My view is the opposite: I don’t think there will be any political legacy or really any big political lessons from Donald Trump.

He fundamentally isn’t a political creature. He has no real movement, no organized ground troops, and no real strategy. His only legacy will be demonstrating how easy it is to capture the narratives on television without really anything of substance to say.

Throughout his life, Trump has done little more than seek attention and every facet of him seems designed to get it. Over the past year, he has gotten obsessive coverage, largely negative, since he announced his run for president. He thrives on the attention, he doesn’t think about governing or policy, and I’m not even convinced he really wants to win all that badly. He’s just enjoying the ride.

The reason someone like that can get so far is because the one thing he does seem to understand is how to get attention. He constantly says provocative or offensive things, and that’s what the media wants to showcase.

If Paul Ryan walked into Congress and introduced a health care plan that would drive millions of people into a situation where they couldn’t afford care, and thousands more would die prematurely, the news media would yawn. (We know this, because he did just that and he is still considered a legitimate, serious figure). If Ryan walked out onto the street and yelled the N word 50 times at a random stranger, he’d be on the chyrons of every cable news network.

Trump understands that, and he’d rather be the guy who yells the offensive phrase 50 times than the person who makes policy that hurts of millions of people. That gets him the attention. Ryan, and other politicians who behave destructively, also understand that. They want to govern. They want to do terrible things without a lot of attention.

And that may end up being the true legacy of this campaign — the media’s inability to treat people who politely do terrible things the way they treat a carnival barker like Donald Trump.

Media pundits are pretending Donald Trump is still competitive to keep up their ratings

By every objective measure, Hillary Clinton is decisively winning the presidential race. She has a strong lead in polling averages and her Republican opponent Donald Trump is failing to meet even the performance of 2012’s GOP loser, Mitt Romney.

But the corporate news media, which has obsessively covered Trump over the past year, has a profit incentive to make the race seem closer than it is — to get people to watch endless horserace coverage through November 9.

That is what explains the otherwise unexplainable reaction from pundits to Sunday night’s debate who tried to put a positive spin on a meandering and incoherent Trump performance. Ordinary viewers almost certainly didn’t agree. Judging by the results of CNN’s insta-poll, they thought Clinton won by a 57 to 34 margin.

“The first 20 minutes half an hour I thought Donald Trump was erratic and going off the rails and then I thought he turned it around to a degree,” CNN’s Jake Tapper said. “I think he prosecuted a case against Hillary Clinton that was effective, he stayed with a theme about that she’s been in Washington for a long time, it’s all words no action, and so I thought this was a much better debate performance than his first debate performance.”

“I think it’s his night, not a knockout, but his night on points,” CNN’s Michael Smerconish said.

“If his goal, his priority was to stop the bleeding on the right, then it may have succeeded in that….If Donald Trump needed to shore up his conservative base, his team is very happy,” John King said, while also noting that it would take more than that to win the election.

“But at least he stopped the bleeding among his own base,” Wolf Blitzer responded.

“When you consider the sheer media hell that Donald Trump has been through in the last 48 hours, that has to be considered at least a moral victory,” Fox’s Howard Kurtz said about Trump’s performance. “Many top Republicans have been bailing on this guy, he needed to convey a sense that he’s stabilizing his campaign. He might have done that.”

Piers Morgan tweeted his conclusion:

If the media simply admitted that the race is fundamentally over for Donald Trump, it would be admitting their goose has stopped laying golden eggs.

Debate moderators appear to have violated online question rules

Before tonight’s debate, ABC and CNN agreed with the Open Debate Coalition, an organization made up of Democrats and Republicans of widely different views, that they would consider asking Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump some of the 30 highest-voted questions on the Open Debate website.

Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz appear to have broken that agreement in a fairly spectacular way.

There seemed to be only one question that the moderators claimed came from Open Debate, which was asked by Raddatz:

This next question comes from the public through the bipartisan Open Debate Coalition’s online form where Americans submitted questions that generated millions of votes. This question involves WikiLeaks’ release of reported excerpts of Secretary Clinton’s paid speeches, which she has refused to release, and one line in particular in which you, Secretary Clinton, reportedly say you need both a public and private position on certain issues. So Tiu from Virginia asks, is it OK for politicians to be two-faced? Is it acceptable for a politician to have a private stance on issues?

However, this was not one of the 30 most popular questions — most of which involved large public policy questions, such as gun control, Social Security, and global warming.

Moreover, it does not appear to have been asked at all by anyone on the Open Debate website. It’s impossible to be sure, since over 15,000 questions were submitted. But Google searches of the website for “WikiLeaks” and “two-faced” and “private stance” return no relevant results. [See update, below.]

Finally, such a question would have violated the Open Debate rules, which state that “Questions must not name or allude to a candidates and must be able to be posed to either candidate. (This is to curtail gotcha questions, avoid statements that are directed at candidates instead of posing questions, and to keep the focus on issues of long-term import to voters.)”

Update: The question asked by Raddatz was in fact submitted to the Open Debate website and appears here.

Only 13 people voted for the question to be asked at the debate. By comparison, over 75,000 voted for the most popular question, about background checks for gun sales. Over 20,000 voted for the 30th most popular question.

Key Open Debate members Lilia Tamm Dixon, Grover Norquist, and Adam Green issued a post-debate statement that Raddatz’s actions were “an unfortunate example of cherrypicking by moderators to give their own questions the veneer of representing the public. Popular questions on issues such as guns, Social Security, government reform, student debt, and immigration went unasked.”

Norquist, president of the conservative organization Americans for Tax Reform, also said this on Twitter:

At St. Louis debate, where’s St. Louis?

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks as US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton listens during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 9, 2016. / AFP / POOL / JIM BOURG        (Photo credit should read JIM BOURG/AFP/Getty Images)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, on Oct. 9, 2016.

Photo: Jim Bourg/AFP/Getty Images

A striking absence at tonight’s debate, held only a few miles away from Ferguson, Missouri, was the question of black lives that Ferguson protesters put on the national map after the police killing of Michael Brown in August 2014. There was no discussion of policing, racial bias, and racism in law enforcement.

Where black people — not lives — were discussed, it was in vague and condescending terms, as when Trump said he wants to help “the” African-Americans, or when he answered a black man’s question about whether he would be “everyone’s president” by immediately talking about “the inner city” (because apparently Trump thinks that’s where all African-Americans live — and that it’s hell). It got even worse when Trump asked, referring to “the” African-Americans in the inner city presumably, “What do they have to lose?” 

St. Louis and Missouri have been at the forefront of the country’s soul searching on racial justice issues. While Clinton only briefly referred to voting rights tonight, she didn’t mention that Missouri is currently fighting against one of the most insidious attacks against voting rights in the country — mostly the voting rights of black and poor citizens.

From Ferguson to the Mizzou protests, Missourans have done much to advance the conversation about racial justice in America. The fact that tonight, in St. Louis, that was barely acknowledged was a missed opportunity and a sign that presidential politics is way behind the movement on the streets.

People are mad about the debate’s unasked questions

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09:  An audience member asks a question during the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri. This is the second of three presidential debates scheduled prior to the November 8th election.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

An audience member asks a question during the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016, in St Louis, Missouri.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

This debate was formatted to try to include questions from voters, but viewers on Twitter are upset about important issues that were passed by. A roundup:

Immigration

Black Lives Matter

Climate change

Native Americans and the Dakota Access Pipeline

Palestine

Whistleblowers

Native Americans, LGBTQ, BLM, the environment

“Anything real”

Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence have completely different positions on Syria

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09:  Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listens during the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri. This is the second of three presidential debates scheduled prior to the November 8th election.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listens during the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016, in St Louis, Missouri.

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Last week GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence declared his support for “immediately” establishing a safe zone in Syria for civilians fleeing violence.

At tonight’s GOP debate, Donald Trump declared his opposition to such a move, saying that the focus should be on ISIS, not Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad. When asked about the discrepancy by moderator Martha Raddatz, Trump simply replied, “He and I haven’t spoken and I disagree.”

Perhaps Pence heard the exchange. From Steve Clemons:

 

Martha Raddatz should moderate every debate

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09:  CNN moderator Anderson Cooper (R) and ABC moderator Martha Raddatz (L) appear on stage during the second presidential debate with democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at Washington University on October 9, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri. This is the second of three presidential debates scheduled prior to the November 8th election.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

At center, ABC moderator Martha Raddatz appears on stage during the second presidential debate at Washington University on Oct. 9, 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Unlike  absentee moderator Lester Holt at the first presidential debate, Martha Raddatz of ABC News is providing a strong, commanding performance tonight, refusing (at least some of the time) to let candidates run away with questions and equivocate.

Raddatz has homed in on Donald Trump’s tendency to speak in the blurriest of generalities, answering specific policy questions with long, vague, semi-coherent rants. This came to a head during a portion of the evening about a specific diplomatic and military policy in Syria, wherein Raddatz answered Trump’s answer by simply (and powerfully) repeating the ignored question (“What is your strategy?”) and drilling him on strategy details (“What do you think will happen if Aleppo falls?”). The line of questioning prompted Trump to admit that he hasn’t even spoken with his running mate, Mike Pence, on Syria. Raddatz’s strength has provided some of the only — if only for a sliver of a moment — insight of the evening.

Clinton wants no ground troops in Syria, but her plan would require them

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09:  Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responds to a question during the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri. This is the second of three presidential debates scheduled prior to the November 8th election.  (Photo by Rick Wilking-Pool/Getty Images)

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton responds to a question during the town hall debate at Washington University on Oct. 9, 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Photo: Rick Wilking/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton claimed she is staunchly opposed to sending American ground troops to Syria, calling it a “very serious mistake.” But her plan for civilian “safe zones” would require tens of thousands of American ground troops.

Military experts agree the U.S. could not defend safe zones from the air. Secretary of State John Kerry told a Senate panel in February that the Pentagon estimated it would require between 15,000 and 30,000 American troops — nearly doubling the number of “boots on the ground” in the Middle East.

Clinton has never addressed the contradiction between her renunciation of ground troops in Syria and her call for safe zones.

“Russia is new in terms of nuclear,” Trump says, in bizarre error

Many debate viewers were baffled by Donald Trump’s bizarre claim that the United States had fallen behind Russia in nuclear weapons strength even though, he said, “Russia is new in terms of nuclear.”

Russia, then the dominant republic in the Soviet Union, detonated its first nuclear weapon in 1949.

Hillary Clinton should release the full transcripts of her speeches, to clear everything up

Over the weekend, Hillary Clinton’s campaign responded to the disclosure of excerpts of her paid speech transcripts  by vaguely suggesting that the emails could have been doctored or manipulated in some way.

But responding to a question tonight about one of the remarks she was said to have made, Clinton effectively confirmed its authenticity. Martha Raddatz asked Clinton about one of the quotes released by Wikileaks on Friday, that Clinton told a housing trade group that she maintains a “public and private position on certain issues.”

First, Clinton asserted that she was simply discussing Abraham Lincoln, and how the Steven Spielberg movie about Lincoln showed how the tactic of deceiving the public about a policy position is sometimes “strategic.” She continued: “I was making the point that it is hard sometimes to get the Congress to do what you want to do and you have to keep working at it,” Clinton said.

If she wants to clear that up, there’s an easy way to do it: release the full transcripts of the paid speeches.

Moments later, she pivoted and attacked the source of the emails, suggesting that the emails were from the Russian government and that “we don’t even know it’s accurate information.”

Well, which is it? Why defend transcript remarks if they’re fake? One incredibly simple way to clear the air about this: release the full transcripts of the paid speeches.

Trump may go away, but the people he has empowered will not

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09:  Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump responds to a question during the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri. This is the second of three presidential debates scheduled prior to the November 8th election.  (Photo by Rick Wilking-Pool/Getty Images)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the town hall debate at Washington University on Oct. 9, 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Photo: Rick Wilking/Getty Images

These presidential debates — certainly this one — serve as the most stark commentary on how bankrupt the U.S. electoral system is.

This is the choice the system produces for “viable” candidates.

The cartoonish villainy of Donald Trump is a major factor in distracting attention from the hawkish, neoliberal policies of Hillary Clinton. Hillary’s best selling point for a lot of people — Democrats and, increasingly, Republicans — is: I’m not batshit crazy like Trump. There is rarely a focus on Clinton’s embrace of regime change, her role in creating the conditions, as secretary of state, for the horror show currently unfolding in Yemen, or her paramilitarization of the State Department. Clinton has never been asked about her role in the secret drone “kill chain” the Obama administration has now codified as a parallel justice system, where there are no trials, indictments, or convictions, but a whole lot of death sentences. Just as Clinton avoided real questions about Libya thanks to the clownfuck Republicans’ carnival over Benghazi, she emerges as the only choice for many sane people. That she is buddy-buddy with Wall Street, speaks one way to them and another way in public, becomes a footnote. She is the empire candidate and that is why the John Negropontes and Max Boots and George H.W. Bushes of the world have embraced her.

Here is the thing, though: Both Clinton’s and Trump’s candidacies have fucked us — albeit in different ways. Hillary represents more of the same bipartisan warmongering. And, under Obama, that has been met with a lot of silence and complicity from liberals. Depressing.

Whether Trump wins, loses, or loses big, he has empowered fascists, racists, and bigots. He did not create them, but he has legitimized them by becoming the nominee and openly expressing their heinous, hateful beliefs. This, to me, is one of the most frightening developments on a domestic level in the U.S. this election cycle. Trump may go away, but the people he has empowered will not.

Donald Trump attacks Obamacare as akin to Canadian single payer, a system he praised

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09:  Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump responds to a question during the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri. This is the second of three presidential debates scheduled prior to the November 8th election.  (Photo by Rick Wilking-Pool/Getty Images)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the town hall debate at Washington University on Oct. 9, 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Photo: Rick Wilking/Getty Images

Donald Trump railed against the Affordable Care Act tonight, claiming the health care reform law will lead to a single-payer plan — just the kind of plan he praised as recently as last year.

In response to a question tonight about health care, Trump claimed that President Barack Obama’s health law under Hillary Clinton would transform into a single-payer program, which, Trump said, “would be a disaster, somewhat similar to Canada.”

But in the first GOP debate, Trump took the exact opposite position. “As far as single-payer, it works in Canada,” Trump said last year, in response to a question from moderator Bret Baier.

Trump, refusing to sit, looms over Clinton as she speaks

Donald Trump’s decision to stand throughout the debate, pacing and looming over Hillary Clinton as she speaks, has unnerved many viewers.

Muslims have helped foil two out of every five al Qaeda plots between 9/11 and 2013

Donald Trump insisted that Muslims have to report terrorism to the police, with the implication that they are not already doing so and are rather shielding terror suspects.

But from 9/11 to 2013, almost two out of every five al Qaeda plots were disrupted thanks to tips from the Muslim American community.

Trump threatens to jail his political opponent

Donald Trump promised, when elected president, to establish a “special prosecutor” to investigate Hillary Clinton, because “there has never been so many lies, so much deception.”

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09:  Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump looks at Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri. This is the second of three presidential debates scheduled prior to the November 8th election.  (Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump looks at Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the town hall debate at Washington University on Oct. 9, 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty Images

Clinton responded that it is “awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.”

Trump then explicitly threatened to jail her if he wins.

“Because you’d be in jail,” he said.

The FBI investigated Clinton’s private email server and did not recommend bringing any criminal charges.

Trump’s threat to jail the leader of a would-be opposition party is disturbingly reminiscent of a collapsing, unstable democracy, where an executive can direct the criminal justice system to jail whom he sees fit.

Prediction: Democrats won’t tie the GOP brand to Trump, tonight or ever

Now that Donald Trump has demonstrated himself to be one of the most repellent figures in U.S. political history, Republicans are terrified that Democrats will successfully wield him against them like a cudgel for the foreseeable future.

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09:  Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responds to a question during the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri. This is the second of three presidential debates scheduled prior to the November 8th election.  (Photo by Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images)

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton responds to a question during the town hall debate at Washington University on Oct. 9, 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Photo: Jim Bourg/Getty Images

As GOP consultant Rick Wilson puts it: “For years now, Democrats will be able to roll out TV ads and say, ‘When John Smith says today he’s for a brighter future, remember who he stood by: Donald Trump. He stood by Donald Trump’s misogyny, racism, sexism, and stupidity.’”

Based on history, however, Republicans have nothing to worry about.

George W. Bush left office seen as one of the most unpopular and incompetent presidents of all time. Yet top Democrats have made no effort to use him to tarnish the Republican brand. Instead, they spend much of their time hugging him.

It’s a mystery why Democrats take this approach. Do they simply agree with much of Republican policy? Are they psychologically incapable of playing politics for keeps? Certainly it’s the case that both Clintons and Barack Obama seem to have a deep emotional need to have Republicans like them.

Whatever the answer, it’s likely that — assuming Hillary Clinton is elected next month — the Democrats will simply never mention Trump again, and let all the Republicans who made him possible off the hook.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Clintons make up with Trump in time to attend his fourth wedding.

Less than a second after apologizing, Donald Trump defends sex assault comments

Donald Trump addressed his newly released comments, in which he bragged on Access Hollywood that he uses his celebrity power to sexually assault women with impunity. Trump apologized briefly for the remarks, but within less then a second, defended them again.

“I apologize for those words,” Trump said. Then immediately added: “But it is things that people say.”

Hillary Clinton says Donald Trump is the only Republican nominee ever to be unfit

Hillary Clinton continued to separate the Republican Party from Donald Trump tonight. “You know with prior Republican nominees for president I disagreed with their politics, policies, and principles but I never questioned their fitness to serve,” she said. “Donald Trump is different. I said starting back in June that he was not fit to be president and commander-in-chief. And many Republicans and independents have said the same thing.”

As a reminder, former Republican presidents lied America into a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, armed hit squads that murdered nuns, and spied on their political opponents.

Here is a list of Donald Trump’s accusers

Donald Trump is calling attention to the women who have accused Bill Clinton of rape and sexual assault. Here are some of the accusations that women have made against Trump.

  • A federal lawsuit alleges that Trump raped a 13-year-old in 1994. The plaintiff claims Trump and pedophile Jeffrey Epstein repeatedly raped her.
  • Ex-wife Ivana Trump accused Trump of rape, but she retracted the claims after their divorce. “You cannot rape your spouse,” Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen said, falsely — he later apologized.
  • Temple Taggart, a former Miss Utah, said: “He kissed me directly on the lips. I thought, ‘Oh my God, gross.’
  • Jill Harth claims Trump sexually harassed her in the early 1990s.  “He was trying to kiss me. I was freaking out,” she said.
  • CNN reported that a woman said Trump sexually harassed her in 2010 at Trump Tower.
  • Bridget Sullivan, former Miss New Hampshire, said Trump stared at contestants naked during the 2000 Miss USA pageant. Trump also told Howard Stern he did that.

In June, civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom told me: “I think anybody would consider it important if someone had been accused — in his case three times — of rape or attempted rape, and all of them in the context of court proceedings.”

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