Down the hill at Melrose and Gower, at Paramount Pictures, they make slasher movies now and then – another Star Trek movie isn’t going to keep that studio afloat. Quick cash is necessary, and those slasher movies practically write themselves, and they don’t require elaborate sets and all the CGI stuff. They’re quite simple. There’s always a stalker, a silent evil stalker – in a quite ordinary setting – a suburban neighborhood or the local high school. He lurks in the background. He looms menacingly in the shadows. The sweet young thing – there’s always a sweet young thing – tries to pretend he’s not there. But he is. And then bad things happen.
And then there was the second presidential debate. There was this large heavy-set old man in a very black suit, a bit too large for him, wearing a bright blood-red tie, obviously very angry, scowling bitterly, heavily pacing back and forth, silently, looming behind the smiling chipper woman trying to make some point to the audience. He would, now and them, stop right behind her and stare at her as she spoke, possibly thinking murderous thoughts. She ignored him. In the slasher movies she would soon die a horrible death. But this was just a political debate. No one is going to die.
L. V. Anderson puts that this way:
Donald Trump’s major task for the second presidential debate – likely an insurmountable one – was to reassure women that he’s not a sexual predator. When asked a question early on about the instantly infamous tape from 2005 in which he bragged about groping women, Trump replied, “This was locker-room talk. I am not proud of it. I apologized to my family and the American people. I am not proud of it.” When moderator Anderson Cooper pushed him – “For the record, are you saying that what you said on the bus 11 years ago, that you did not kiss women without consent or grope women, you said you never did that?” – Trump insisted, “Nobody has more respect for women than I do.”
That respect doesn’t extend to Hillary Clinton, whom Trump repeatedly photobombed during the debate. During Clinton’s time, Trump wandered around the stage like a bored child at a wedding. He paced back and forth like a patriarch impatiently allowing a woman to speak but thinking better of it. He hovered a few feet behind her like a psycho killer about to burst through a glass window in a horror movie.
The visuals were bad. Those of us who live here in Hollywood knew that immediately. Everyone knew that, and Anderson notes the tweets from various women:
Hilary’s composure an ability to speak coherently with a psychopath lurking behind her is demonstration of her ability to lead.
Scary Halloween costume idea: Dress up like Trump, go to a party, and stand 3-5 feet behind successful women.
I’m a Muslim, and I would like to report a crazy man threatening a woman on a stage in Missouri.
Trump is literally just lurking behind a small woman counting the seconds while she speaks to then complain about how long she is speaking.
This is the face of a sexist getting his ass kicked in a debate by a woman.
And Anderson also notes this:
Eternally cheerful Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway appeared on MSNBC after Sunday night’s presidential debate to spin the whole circus as a win for her boss and to remind viewers that the real enemy of women is Hillary Clinton. So far, so normal. But then Chris Matthews asked Conway if she had any plans to leave Trump’s campaign, and her answer was … not normal. “You’re with the campaign till the bitter end?” said Matthews.
“I’m with the campaign till the bitter end. Unless … ” There was a dramatic pause, as though Conway were contemplating where her life might be right now if she hadn’t decided to lead the campaign of a notorious misogynist. Then she whispered something that sounded a lot like, “Who knows?” and reminded herself where she was. “I’m sitting here as his campaign manager. I’m sitting here with you in the debate hall where he just performed beautifully.”
“So you’re worried about more shoes dropping?” Matthews asked.
“No, I didn’t say that,” she replied, flustered. “No, no, no. No. No. I’ve made a commitment. And I believe that he will be a much better president.” Conway stumbled through a confusing sentence about how everyone knows Trump won the debate but that everyone is talking about it how he stood menacingly behind Clinton, and then she found her way again. “The woman you saw out there tonight I think is unfit to be president,” she concluded with most of her usual swagger.
Everyone is allowed to have second thoughts, even if it’s best to keep them private. But this debate in Saint Louis was a strange debate:
The presidential campaign took a dark turn here Sunday night as Donald Trump leveled a stream of harsh charges at Hillary Clinton during their second debate, claiming she attacked women who accused her husband of sexual abuse and promising to send the former secretary of state to jail if he is president.
Yeah, he said that twice. If he becomes president, she goes to jail. Presidents can do that, you know – jail their opponents and throw away the key. They can’t. Perhaps he has some other country in mind. He does think Putin is an admirable strong leader. Such things happen there, but this Washington Post account has far more:
Reeling from the release of a 2005 video showing him crudely bragging about using his fame to force himself on women, Trump sought to salvage his candidacy by going on the offensive against Clinton.
He repeatedly interrupted the Democratic nominee. He lashed out at her with a multitude of falsehoods over her foreign and domestic policies as well as her judgment and character. He called her “a liar” and “the Devil.” And as Clinton answered voters’ questions in the town-hall-style debate, Trump lurked just an arm’s length behind her with a grimace on his face.
Lurking? The devil? This was one of those slasher movies, but this was the sweet (sort of) young thing who fought back:
Clinton, while mostly restrained, showed flashes of ire at her aggressor. “Okay, Donald, I know you’re into big diversion tonight,” she said. “Anything to avoid talking about your campaign and the way it is exploding and the way Republicans are leaving you.”
With the Republican Party in an unprecedented crisis and dozens of GOP officials calling on Trump to step aside since the video’s release on Friday, Trump’s isolation was laid bare on the stage here when he curtly broke with his vice-presidential running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, on a central foreign policy issue.
While Pence has described Russia in hawkish terms as a menace in the Middle East, Trump said he disagreed and that they had not discussed Russia’s role in the Syrian civil war.
He proved her right. Those Republicans abandoning him are cowards and fools. So is his running mate. He doesn’t talk to him. He doesn’t listen to him, and this sums up the dynamic:
Trump was energetic but at times confusing, stitching together scattered talking points and often evading the questions, presenting a stark contrast to Clinton’s steady if also sometimes halting and lawyerly presentation.
But it went bad from the beginning:
The evening’s caustic tone was set when Trump and Clinton refused to shake hands when they met at center stage. Trump was asked at the start of the debate whether he understood that he was effectively describing sexual assault in the newly released video. His voice flat, Trump framed the matter as a distraction from the problems facing the world.
“I’m very embarrassed by it,” Trump said. “I hate it. But it’s locker-room talk. It’s one of those things. I will knock the hell out of ISIS.”
Clinton responded: “What we all saw and heard on Friday was Donald talking about women, what he thinks about women, what he does to women. And he has said that the video doesn’t represent who he is, but I think it’s clear to anyone who heard it that it represents exactly who he is.”
Trump dismissed Clinton’s comments and unfurled a searing attack on former president Bill Clinton, who watched stern-faced from the audience.
“If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse,” Trump said. “Mine were words and his was action. What he did to women, there’s never been anybody in the history of politics in this nation who’s been so abusive to women… Hillary Clinton attacked those same women and attacked them viciously.”
Noting that some of Clinton’s accusers were seated in the audience as his guests, Trump continued: “What President Clinton did, he was impeached. He lost his license to practice law. He had to pay an $850,000 fine to one of the women, Paula Jones, who’s also here tonight. And I will tell you that when Hillary brings up a point like that, she talks about words that I said 11 years ago, I think it’s disgraceful.”
Clinton refused to litigate the women’s allegations raised by Trump, which the Clintons have long denied. “When I hear something like that I am reminded of what my friend Michelle Obama advised us all: ‘When they go low, you go high,'” Clinton said, referring to the first lady.
Still, Trump’s point was clear. Let’s not talk about me. Let’s talk about your husband, and Clinton had an answer to that:
Clinton pivoted to a critique of Trump’s fitness for office.
“It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country,” she said.
“Because you’d be in jail,” Trump interjected, referring to his earlier vow to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton’s private emails and handling of classified information.
That was his answer to everything. Lady, you’re going to jail. But context is everything:
Trump spent the weekend mostly hunkered down at Trump Tower in New York, stewing over mass defections from fellow Republicans and taking counsel from a shrinking circle of loyalists. His candidacy has plunged the GOP into civil war and elected officials fearing he could cost them their majorities in both chambers of Congress.
Trump’s candidacy was in a precarious state even before Friday’s release of the video showing his predatory remarks. After stumbling through the first debate and behaving erratically in the aftermath, Trump fell behind Clinton in most national and battleground state polls.
Trump was combative throughout the debate, accusing the moderators of bias and saying he felt like the debate was “one on three.” At one point, as the moderators tried to move the conversation along, Trump snapped and said, “Why don’t you interrupt her?”
He was angry and whining about how unfair it all was, again, and she didn’t let up:
Clinton also used Trump’s affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to cast the Republican nominee almost as a pawn for an adversarial foreign power. Clinton said Russia was “working so hard” to influence the U.S. election.
“Maybe because he has praised Putin,” she said, demanding that Trump release his tax returns that would show whether he has any conflicts of interest with Russia or other foreign entities.
“So ridiculous,” Trump said. “I don’t know Putin. I know nothing about Russia.”
That’s probably true. He shouldn’t have said that, or this:
Trump seemed to concede that he had avoided paying any federal income taxes for some recent years by taking advantage of tax loopholes and the massive $916 million loss he reported in 1995.
As at the first debate two weeks ago, much of Sunday night’s event centered on Trump’s temperament. Cooper asked Trump about his penchant for sharing his unfiltered thoughts to millions of followers on Twitter, asking whether his tweets were reflective of a stable person.
Trump, who falsely denied pointing his Twitter followers to an alleged “sex tape” of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, called his tweeting a “modern form of communication” and “very effective.”
“I’m not unproud of it,” he said.
He stands alone there, and everyone in the party had told him not to do this:
In a stunt one hour before the event, Trump invited a small group of reporters to observe what was billed as his final debate preparations. When they arrived in Trump’s sixth-floor conference room at the Four Seasons Hotel in St. Louis, they found the candidate in a highly unusual scene – glowering as he sat alongside four women who claimed they had been mistreated by the Clintons.
The quartet included Paula Jones, who accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment in the early 1990s, and Juanita Broaddrick, who accused him of raping her in 1978.
“Mr. Trump may have said some bad words,” Broaddrick told reporters. “But Bill Clinton raped me and Hillary Clinton threatened me. I don’t think there’s any comparison.”
The Clintons have denied the accusations, although Bill Clinton did pay Jones a settlement without admitting or denying her accusation.
Watching as the news conference unfolded was one of the men who orchestrated it, Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s campaign chief executive and the political provocateur who has long targeted the Clintons as well as the Republican establishment through his conservative website, Breitbart.
So this debate, and the rest of the campaign, is going to be about Bill Clinton. Republicans know how that turned out in the nineties. Trump doesn’t, or he doesn’t care. He’s angry. And he likes lurking in the shadows, an evil menace.
Josh Marshall suggests this:
I think this was the debate the Breitbart crew – Bannon, Bossie and the rest – wanted from Trump. He hit Bill’s history; he was aggressive and slashing; he repeatedly called Hillary a liar; he managed to list off virtually the entire library of Clinton ‘scandals’, attack lines. It was all there. If you’re part of the Breitbart world, the Breitbart brain trust, this is the debate you wanted. These were the attacks you wanted to see someone stand on that stage and level against Hillary Clinton. It was a decent shot at the primal scream they’ve hungered for.
But that may have not done much good:
One notable thing is that there was that moment we’ve all been waiting for when Trump finally unloaded the whole oppo file on Bill. Again, that’s part of the Breitbart/base GOP fantasy scenario. Indeed, in a very real sense this has been a dream moment for many on the American right for 25 years. And yet, my sense is that it basically fell flat and barely affected the rest of the debate – like a stone falling into a pond never to be heard from again. He trotted out what all of us have been hearing from Trump and Trump surrogates for months. Indeed, it was what we’ve been hearing anti-Clinton critiques hitting for two decades. Did it matter? I don’t think so. Saying on a stage and in front of Hillary didn’t make it any newer or more consequential. It just fell flat and I don’t think anyone cared.
No one cared in the late nineties when Clinton was impeached. Clinton’s favorable numbers soared. The Democrats actually gained seats in the midterms that year. Newt Gingrich lost his job. Why would it be any different now? But there’s more:
For those of us who’ve watched a number of these presidential townhall debates what’s striking is how different this one was from every previous one. The citizen audience members were barely part of it. I could recall the debate and basically forget they were even there. Townhall debates usually focus tightly on audience questions, with those questions, often focused on real world concerns more than campaign narratives, driving the debate forward. This was totally different. It was largely a contentious and bristling brawl in which the moderators maintained tight control over time but basically let the candidates have a knife fight.
The part of the debate that sort of eludes me is the effect of Trump’s manner. Trump did considerably better than he did in the first debate. But throughout he was blustering, visibly angry, frequently whining to and about the moderators. He was bellicose, harsh and taunting.
The whole debate, rancid and intense, felt like an ordeal to live through just watching it on television.
And there was that other thing:
I don’t think we can discuss this debate as citizens, or take stock of it as a country, without noting that this is certainly the first time one candidate has openly threatened to jail the other candidate. Trump said openly that he would instruct the Justice Department to open a new investigation of Clinton and that he’d make sure it ended with her imprisonment. That’s something we expect in a kleptocracy and thin democracies where electoral defeat can mean exile, imprisonment or death.
Such a ferocious claim, one that puts our whole constitutional order on its head, is not something that can be easily undone. That’s the ranting threat of a would-be strongman and dictator. The threat itself is like a bell that can’t be un-rung. Through the course of what was often an ugly debate, I was thinking a lot of the destructiveness of this entire campaign, virtually all of which stems from Trump’s transgressive, norm-demolishing behavior. It’s a topic the country is going to need to wrestle with. None of this is going to disappear after November 8th. These are slashing wounds to the country’s political fabric that will at best leave tremendous scar tissue we’ll still see for decades.
And then there’s Trump himself:
So did that caustic manner matter? It’s a little hard for me to figure that out simply because we know Trump is like this. It’s hard to see how anyone is going to be surprised. By any pre-2016 standard we know, the entirety of angry, blustering manner would be fatal for a presidential candidate. But we’ve been living with this guy for a year and a half. We all have a little bit of the trauma of living in the home of an abuser now. We’re accustomed to it. To a degree it starts to feel normal. My best guess is that through all the muck of this debate it will matter simply because it confirms what people already know.
The big issue for Trump, as we’ve discussed endlessly, is that most people think he’s not fit, temperamentally and emotionally, to be president. I suspect anyone who has questions on that front will find their skepticism about him confirmed.
There were also numerous times when Trump simply lied. I suspect that those lies, outside the kinetic intensity of this debate, will come back to bite him over the next week – just as they did in the first debate and similarly from the veep debate. Other points weren’t ‘lies’ per se but he doubled and tripled down on his taped comments just being locker room banter. All of this will haunt him over the next several days.
That means that Trump didn’t win:
To the extent that one can evaluate these things in win or lose terms, on points, I’d say it was maybe a draw. But the only real measure is what it means for the outcome of the race. By that measure, a draw is a Clinton win. Because Clinton is significantly ahead of Trump with 30 days to go and his party is in the midst of abandoning him. I suspect Trump probably at least partly arrested or at least slowed the run of denunciations within his own party. But Trump needs to shake up the race in a big way or he’s on the way to losing. He clearly did not do that. That’s the only measure that matters. By that measure, it was Clinton’s night.
Kevin Drum confirms that:
According to CNN, debate watchers thought Hillary Clinton won the debate, 57-34 percent. CNN’s focus group was something like 20-1 in favor of Clinton.
But! Trump did better than expected. He didn’t spontaneously combust on stage, so I suppose that’s a fair comment.
Elsewhere on CNN, the big topic is Trump’s declaration to Hillary Clinton that if he wins he’ll appoint a special prosecutor to “look into your situation.” Aside from the odious Scottie Nell Hughes, this was pretty unanimously panned as un-American and unprecedented. It’s banana republic stuff, not mature democracy stuff. Even Wolf Blitzer felt obliged to denounce it.
Trump has said this before, so it’s not actually news. But saying it on national TV in front of 80 million people? That’s different.
Drum also saw this:
Trump didn’t crash and burn like he did in the first debate, so I suppose that has to be counted as a victory of sorts. But on substance he almost literally said nothing. Every question was used as an opportunity to attack Hillary Clinton in one way or another. She’s a liar; she loves rich people; her husband is a sexual predator; she has “tremendous hate in her heart”; she wants to put coal miners out of business; she ought to be in jail; Michelle Obama hates her; and on and on. I think it’s safe to say that no one in presidential debate history has come anywhere close to being as derogatory as Trump was this evening…
I guess it was something of a Hail Mary. No ordinary debate performance was likely to help Trump at this point, so why not shoot the moon? But it didn’t work. He spit out an endless stream of lies, in the hopes that the audience would just be confused.
It seems they weren’t:
On policy, Clinton was her usual composed self and Trump was his usual hot mess. The Muslim ban “somehow” morphed into extreme vetting. He’ll replace Obamacare with something or other, and it will be fantastic. Saying “radical Islamic terrorism” over and over is the key to fighting ISIS. If he wins, he’s going to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton (!). On Syria, I literally couldn’t understand what he was trying to say.
Overall, this was not quite the shellacking that Trump took in the first debate, but it wasn’t a good look. Unfortunately, we’ll never really know how it affected him. There will be polls next week, but they’ll be responding to both the debate and Trump’s “grab ’em by the pussy” remarks. So there’s no telling what’s causing what.
That said, this was clearly another win for Clinton. She was calm and composed, and got in plenty of shots at Trump. Trump, by contrast, very definitely didn’t look like a guy you want in charge of the nuclear codes.
Is this over now? Can it be? We don’t need another slasher movie with a dark mysterious stalker, even if Trump’s chain saw is only metaphoric in this case – just words. But this is two down, one to go. There will be a third debate. Why?