WASHINGTON – Embattled Republican nominee Donald Trump had two options entering Sunday night’s town hall forum with Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton: Offer sincere words of contrition for lewd remarks in a damaging video, or fight like a wounded animal and attack the past sex scandals of Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton.
The Manhattan real estate tycoon chose to fight, signaling he has no plans to go quietly.
In their first encounter since Friday’s video release, Trump sought to salvage his battered campaign with a spirited assault on Clinton’s personal and public life, portraying her as a career politician beholden to the same Wall Street elites and Washington insiders who have abandoned him in recent days.
But he could not ignore the shockwaves of a coarse video that has stunned the GOP establishment and reframed the presidential race, leaving some top Republicans questioning whether he should continue his campaign.
“This was locker room talk,” Trump said. “I’m not proud of it. I’ve apologized to my family. I’ve apologized to the American public… Yes I’m embarrassed by it. I hate it. But it’s locker room talk.”
Clinton seized on the video to question Trump’s “fitness” to be president. She described it as another of his frequent insults on women and minorities. “It represents exactly who he is,” she said.
In a debate that will probably change few minds, Trump made good on his threats to bring up his attacks on Clinton’s marital history and the infidelities of her husband, to whom he compared his own behavior in the wake of the video revelations.
“If you look at Bill Clinton – far worse,” said Trump, accusing Clinton of attacking her husband’s accusers. “It’s disgraceful, and she should be ashamed of herself,” he said.
The attack ended weeks of speculation about whether Trump would delve into one of the most painful episodes in the Clinton family’s history.
Hours before the debate, however, Trump appeared with several of the former president’s accusers – including Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey – all of whom allege Bill Clinton sexually assaulted them in past decades. They also took front-row seats in the debate hall.
Bill and daughter Chelsea Clinton also were in the hall.
The gambit – ignoring the advice of political strategists on the left and right -underscored Trump’s determination to turn the tables on the Clintons, even at the risk of turning the race – and his campaign – into the tawdry spectacle of a reality TV show.
Hillary Clinton, quoting first lady Michelle Obama, remarked, “When they go low, you go high.”
Round Two of the presidential debates was unavoidably personal. But it showcased not just the candidates’ sharp differences on domestic and foreign policy, but also the contrast in temperament seen as they roamed a stage at Washington University in St. Louis to interact with a live audience of undecided voters.
In a departure from tradition, Clinton and Trump forsook an opening handshake.
At every turn, after a combative Trump sought to pivot from the sting of the video tumult, he went on the offensive to portray Clinton as an avatar of the political status quo.
“This country cannot afford another four years of Barack Obama, and that’s what you’re getting with her,” he said.
Trump criticized Obamacare, which he would repeal, and panned Clinton’s record on creating jobs in New York as the state’s U.S. senator. But his sharpest barbs were reserved for Clinton’s private email server, vowing to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate her if he’s elected.
When Clinton expressed relief that he’s unlikely to hold the reins of power, Trump interjected, “Because you’d be in jail.”
Clinton stuck to the largely successful formula of their first debate, seeking to defend her own record, raise questions about Trump’s temperament, and goad him into frequent interruptions.
Even without the video, Sunday’s rematch came at a critical moment for Trump, who has stumbled in the polls over the past 10 days since his widely panned performance in the first debate. Trump now trails in the polls in most key battleground states.
For Trump, the debate also served as a final screen test for to see whether he could move past the controversy of his crude remarks about women and assume the aura of a plausible national leader.
Top Republican officials, including Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus – who has strongly condemned Trump’s remarks – made clear they were watching his performance to determine how far the party can continue to support him.
Both Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, pulled out of a GOP rally in Wisconsin over the weekend hosted by House Speaker Paul Ryan, adding to the sense of an intraparty crisis.
Even without the distraction of scandal, Sunday’s debate presented a special challenges for both candidates, requiring them to land blows while at the same time relate to ordinary voters.
Clinton sometimes sought to approach her questioners, face them directly, repeat their names; Trump often paced around the stage, sometimes turning his back and looking away while she spoke.
Half the questions came from an audience of undecided voters selected by the Gallup polling organization. The other half came from moderators Anderson Cooper of CNN and Martha Raddatz of ABC News, who had to referee the candidates most heated exchanges.
As Trump sought to make his vaunted “comeback” from his damaging performance in Round One, he showed a greater message discipline, mostly avoiding rhetorical snares of the sort that had him feuding with a former beauty pageant contestant the week before.
In the run-up to the second debate – even before the video – Trump was urged to follow the lead of Pence, who won praise for his calm-under-fire in the vice-presidential debate with Virginia U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine.
But in light of the widespread perception that he lost the first debate, Trump signaled that this time he may “hit her harder” – specifically on Clinton’s marriage, which he did. Some aides cautioned against the likely negative repercussions, especially among women, where he faces a significant gender gap in both state and national polls.
But facing questions from an audience of issue-centered voters proved to be an awkward environment for settling scores or relitigating points from the past.
The last questioner asked the candidates to say something they admire about their opponent. Clinton praised Trump’s children, saying they reflect well on their father.
Said Trump: “I will say this about Hillary. She doesn’t quit, and she doesn’t give up. I respect that.”
This story was picked from expressnews.com