By S.A. Miller – The Washington Times
- LOUIS | Donald Trump apologized Sunday night for lewd comments about women, saying he embarrassed himself with “locker room talk” and pleaded for the presidential campaign to focus on issues — but Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton insisted that he has disqualified himself from holding the White House.
The second presidential debate turned nasty at the start as Mr. Trump explained himself for a caught-on-tape moment talking about attempting to seduce a married woman and groping or kissing other women without their consent.
Mr. Trump apologized — “I’m very embarrassed by it” — but quickly went on the attack against Mrs. Clinton, vowing as president to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the thousands of emails Mrs. Clinton deleted from her time as secretary of state.
“You’d be in jail,” he said.
The debate, a town hall affair where the two candidates took questions from voters, delved into the civil war in Syria and refugee policy at home, the future of Obamacare, Supreme Court nominations, tax-reform plans and their ability to reach out to all Americans.
“I said starting back in June that he wasn’t fit to be commander in chief, and many Republicans and independents have said the same thing,” she said. “I think it’s clear to anyone who heard it that it represents exactly who he is, because we’ve seen this throughout the campaign.”
Still not making the stage for the debate were Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who both score too low in polling to qualify under the rules set by the commission that organizes the debates.
Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump didn’t shake hands at the beginning of the debate but circled each other in the center of the stage like fighters sizing each other in a ring — the effect of the town-hall-style debate.
When the debate turned to substantive issues, Mrs. Clinton did not back away from her plan to accept as many as 65,000 Syrian refugees a year, saying “we will have vetting that is as tough as it needs to be.” She also said Mr. Trump’s plans last year to temporarily ban Muslim visitors to the U.S. has fed into terrorist propaganda.
Mr. Trump said that earlier ban has “morphed” into his current proposal for “extreme vetting” for those from dangerous areas of the globe.
Mr. Trump also drew distance between himself and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who last week said they would consider strikes against the Assad regime in Syria.
“He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree,” Mr. Trump said.
Mrs. Clinton found herself on the defensive over newly released emails, leaked online indicating that she had one policy stance in public and another in private, shielding her real beliefs from voters.
She accused Russia of being behind the hack that pried the emails loose, and said what she was really doing in that exchange was praising Abraham Lincoln, who held different public and private stances in the run-up to getting the 13th Amendment approved.
“It was principled, and it was strategic,” she said. “President Lincoln was trying to convince some people, he used some arguments, convincing other people, he used other arguments. That was, I thought, a great display of presidential leadership.”
“She lied. Now she is blaming the lie on the late, great Abraham Lincoln. That’s one,” said Mr. Trump. “Honest Abe never told a lie; that’s the big difference between Abraham Lincoln and you.”
Indeed, throughout the debate the two accused each other of lying about their own stances and each other’s positions. Each strayed into the realm of the untrue often enough to keep the fact-checkers busy.
Hours ahead of the debate, Mr. Trump held a brief meeting with some of the women who accused Mr. Clinton of sexual assault or rape. The Republican nominee called the meeting the last part of his “debate prep” and brought in news reporters and cameras to give the women a forum.
“Actions speak louder than words,” said Juanita Broaddrick, who in 1999 publicly said Mr. Clinton raped her two decades earlier in a hotel room in Arkansas. “Mr. Trump may have said some bad words, but Bill Clinton raped me, and Hillary Clinton threatened me. I don’t think there’s any comparison.”
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign called the meeting part of “his destructive race to the bottom.”
Even before the latest caught-on-tape revelations, Republicans had viewed Sunday’s debate as make-or-break for Mr. Trump, who after closing the gap with Mrs. Clinton in early September has been slumping in polls ever since.
His uneven performance in the first presidential debate fed Republican fears that he wasn’t taking the campaign seriously and hadn’t prepared enough for the rigors of a one-on-one showdown with Mrs. Clinton.
Since the debate, Mr. Trump has been doing damage control, including trying to explain calling former Miss Universe Alicia Machado “Miss Piggy” when she gained too much weight after winning the 1996 pageant, which was owned by Mr. Trump.
The Republican nominee went on the attack, calling her a bad winner who threatened his pageant’s brand. He also raised reports of run-ins with the law in her native Venezuela, and said Mrs. Clinton needed to be careful in using her as a surrogate.
Even as Mr. Trump was dealing with the fallout from the debate, The New York Times reported on several pages that it obtained from Mr. Trump’s 1995 state tax returns, showing he claimed massive net operating losses that could have shielded him from having any income tax liability for years.
Mr. Trump has refused to release his tax returns, breaking with tradition, though there is no legal requirement to release them.
In the wake of the revelations, he insisted he had followed all tax laws, and said he wanted to put his financial wizardry to work for all Americans.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton was hit Friday with leaked email detailing some of her remarks in paid speeches to Wall Street bank executives. The excerpts included comments about her disassociation with average Americans and the need to have two positions on trade, one for the public and one in private.
She also voiced support for “open borders” and “open markets,” which runs contrary to her stated positions on immigration and trade, including contradicting her newfound opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
“My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders,” Mrs. Clinton told Brazilian bank Banco Itau in May 2013, according to the excerpts.
Mrs. Clinton was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the speeches after she stepped down as secretary of state. She has been pressed to release the transcripts throughout the primary and general election races but she refused.
The Clinton campaign did not vouch for the authenticity of the transcripts, which were published by WikiLeaks and purportedly came from email belonging to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Mr. Podesta and other campaign officials blamed the hack on Russia, saying agents in Moscow want to swing the November election to Mr. Trump.
The controversy over the newly released excerpts, however, was drowned out by the furor over Mr. Trump’s vulgar language about women.
The crude remarks were widely condemned, including by Mr. Trump’s running mate, Mr. Pence.
“I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them,” Mr. Pence said in a statement. “We pray for his family and look forward to the opportunity he has to show what is in his heart when he goes before the nation tomorrow night.”
More than 40 Republican leaders either came out against Mr. Trump or withdrew their endorsements. Several top Republicans called for him to quit the race and let Mr. Pence assume the top of the ticket.
Mr. Trump said he would never withdraw from the race because he never withdraws from anything.
A snap poll taken after the latest comments were reported showed only small slippage in Mr. Trump’s numbers. The Politico/Morning Consult survey gave Mrs. Clinton a 4-percentage-point advantage, up from a 2-point lead in the days before the leaked video.
Melania Trump on Saturday said her husband used “unacceptable and offensive” language in a newly unearthed recording.
“The words my husband used are unacceptable and offensive to me,” she said in the statement. “This does not represent the man that I know. He has the heart and mind of a leader. I hope people will accept his apology, as I have, and focus on the important issues facing our nation and the world.”