The stalking debate

Trump stalking Hillary on the debate stage
Glowering, sniffling Donald Trump trying to upstage and intimidate Hillary Clinton during the debate

| The second presidential debate was held last night in St Louis. Just when you think this election can't become any more bizarre than it already is, events prove otherwise.

Trump had had a horrible, terrible, no-good week culminating in the release of a 2005 video tape in which he bragged to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush about his marital infidelity and his ability to commit sexual assault with impunity because "when you’re a star, they let you do it," even "grab them by the pussy." A GOP meltdown ensued, and a long list of Republicans repudiated Trump and said they would not vote for him. (What took them so long, one might ask?) Trump was forced, apparently for the first time in his life, to issue an apology. The first attempt was a non-apology ("if anyone was offended"). The second attempt began as a genuine apology, but after he said "I said it, I was wrong and I apologize" he then shifted into an attack on Bill Clinton, claimed it was all "a distraction from the important issues we're facing today" and closed with an ominous "See you at the debate on Sunday."

But there was one more trick up Trump's sleeve. Shortly before the debate was to begin, pool reporters were summoned to a conference room to witness what was billed as "debate prep." When they got there, however, they found Trump sitting at a table flanked by women who had accused Bill Clinton.

Trump flanked by Clinton accusors
(L-R) Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broaddrick, Trump, Kathy Shelton, Paula Jones

Three of the women had made accusations against Bill Clinton, but the grievance of one of them, Kathleen Willey, was that Hillary and been appointed by a court to defend the man she claimed had raped her at age 12. That's really a stretch.

Trump had another trick up his sleeve: the plan was that when the families were introduced, the women would follow the Trump family in and sit in the Trump box, thereby forcing Bill Clinton to greet them (or not), following the custom for introducing the families. The debate organizers got wind of the plan, however, and told the Trump campaign they couldn't do it, and security guards would remove the women if they tried. In the end, Rudy Giuliani was seen leading the women in to take seats in the first row of the balcony.

When hostilities began — and they were hostilities, make no mistake — there was no customary handshake or other pretense of mutual respect. Instead the two candidates neared the center of the stage, stopped and nodded to each other, before turning to face the audience and retreat to their designated stools.

It wasn't long before Trump couldn't be bothered to stand quietly or sit. He roamed the stage like some predatory animal, sniffling, scowling, interrupting, and otherwise calling constant attention to himself. He took to approach Hillary's back while she was talking, looming over her in an attempt to rattle or distract her. It was actually pretty scary to see.

One of the most remarkable exchanges of the night came when Trump threatened Hillary if she lost the election:

Tweet by trump social media director at 2am ET
Dan Scavino is Trump's social media director - obviously the campaign is treating this as more than just a "quip"

"If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation," Republican nominee Donald Trump threatened in the course of the second presidential debate Sunday night.

"It's just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country," Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton responded.

"Because you’d be in jail," Mr. Trump shot back.

Make no mistake: this is the kind of thing tin-horn dictators do to their opponents.

In the aftermath of the debate, House Speaker Paul Ryan held a conference call with House republicans and told them he will no longer defend or campaign for Trump and that, essentially for House Republicans, it was everyone was on their own. This gives them a Hobson's choice: either stick with their party nominee and alienate swing voters and moderate Republicans they need to hold their seats or abandon Trump and face the enmity of Trump's vociferous supporters they need to retain their seats. It's a lose-lose situation for them. Ryan, himself, was no profile in courage: he still did not take back his endorsement of Trump, nor did he say he wouldn't vote for him. (Washington Post, Oct 10, 2016)

Meanwhile, the fallout is just beginning. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken after the release of the Access Hollywood video but before the debate shows Clinton widening her lead:

Four-way matchup
Clinton holds an 11-point lead over Trump in a four-way matchup (including third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein)
Four-way matchup
Clinton holds a 14-point lead over Trump in a head-to-head matchup. More of the voters supporting Johnson and Stein flow to Hillary than to Trump

I rarely, rarely, rarely ever agree with anything George Will says, but there is a paragraph in today's op-ed that I agree with. In it, he dismisses calls for Trump to withdraw from the ticket.

Today, however, Trump should stay atop the ticket, for four reasons. First, he will give the nation the pleasure of seeing him join the one cohort, of the many cohorts he disdains, that he most despises — “losers.” Second, by continuing to campaign in the spirit of St. Louis, he can remind the nation of the useful axiom that there is no such thing as rock bottom. Third, by persevering through Nov. 8 he can simplify the GOP’s quadrennial exercise of writing its post-campaign autopsy, which this year can be published Nov. 9 in one sentence: “Perhaps it is imprudent to nominate a venomous charlatan.” Fourth, Trump is the GOP’s chemotherapy, a nauseating but, if carried through to completion, perhaps a curative experience.

As my statistics professors used to say, "Rare events do happen." 

Last updated on Apr 13, 2018



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