Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump pulled himself back from the brink and drew the battle lines against Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton in the second presidential debate on Sunday evening. Mr. Trump’s remarks about how he would kiss and grope women without their consent, revealed in the run up to the debate, had pushed his candidacy into the most severe crisis yet. Dozens of Republican leaders, including at least 30 members of the Congress, had disavowed the candidate ahead of the debate. His vice presidential running mate Mike Pence also refused to defend his words. Hours ahead of the debate he held a press conference with three women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault or harassment. There was also a fourth woman, whose rapist was defended by Ms. Clinton in court. Kathy Shelton was only 12 when she was raped. Ms. Clinton was a court-assigned counsel for the accused, and according to her supporters, she was reluctant to take up the case. But those are details, and the records of the case can be troubling for Ms. Clinton’s image as a defender of children’s and women’s rights. Mr. Trump also brought into the debate hall Ms. Shelton and the three women – Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broaddrick. By the end the 90-minute debate, the agenda for the next 30 days to the election day was set. It is more or less certain that the conversations will continue on the lines already set. There will be more attacks and counter-attacks from both sides; there could be more tapes on Mr. Trump’s comments about women; and more from Ms. Clinton’s paid speeches to the Wall Street. But these are the five questions that may define the campaign.
Divisive, unfit and predatory: can Trump be President?
That is Ms. Clinton’s charge sheet against Mr. Trump. His business practices and ethics that include undercutting the interests of American workers and manufacturers for improving his profits are part of this question.
Who will the women vote for?
Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton will fight the most brutal and no-holds-barred battle on this question in the coming days. “… I think it’s clear to anyone who heard it (the Trump tapes on women) that it represents exactly who he is. Because we’ve seen this throughout the campaign. We have seen him insult women. We’ve seen him rate women on their appearance, ranking them from one to ten,” Ms. Clinton said on Sunday. Mr. Trump is not going let that pass easily. “If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse. Mine are words, and his was action. …There’s never been anybody in the history politics in this nation that’s been so abusive to women….Hillary Clinton attacked those same women and attacked them viciously,” Mr. Trump retorted.
Pro-Hillary commentators say women will not punish a wife for husband’s sexual misdemeanors. One commentator even said married women understand why wives
cannot be sympathetic to husband’s lovers.
Hillary, the face of America’s 30-year decline?
All of Mr. Trump’s attack on Ms. Clinton is wrapped in this narrative. While it is easy to dismiss Mr. Trump for his policy formulations, he has the luxury of not being accountable for anything. On Sunday, he even blamed Ms. Clinton for the tax loopholes he benefitted from. “She complains that Donald Trump took advantage of the tax code. Well, why didn’t she change it? Why didn’t you change it when you were a senator? The reason you didn’t is that all your friends take the same advantage that I do… But you wouldn’t change it, because all of these people gave you the money so you can take negative ads on Donald Trump… I’ve heard Hillary complaining about so many different things over the years. “I wish you would have done this.” But she’s been there for 30 years she’s been doing this stuff. She never changed. And she never will change. She never will change.”
According to this argument, if Mr. Trump has duped American workers, consumers or government that is not his fault, but Ms. Clinton’s. She made the policies that allowed him all that. So the question is who will the American voters blame for all this — the likes of Mr. Trump who did such actions, or Ms. Clinton, the likes of whom that allowed it all.
What will the Bernie voters do?
In a crucial but little noticed move, Mr. Trump repeatedly invoked Bernie Sanders’ campaign against Ms. Clinton, in the first debate and the second one on Sunday. “And I will tell you very strongly, when Bernie Sanders said she had bad judgment, she has really bad judgment, because we are letting people into this country who are going to cause problems and crime like you’ve never seen,” he said on Sunday. He invoked Ms. Sanders at least six times in the debate, to question Ms. Clinton’s connections with the Wall Street. She said in one of her paid speeches that politicians should have a private position and public position and Mr. Trump referred to that.
That duplicity of politicians is what enrages the millennial supporters of Mr. Sanders and the Wikileaks transcripts of Ms. Clinton’s speeches confirm their fears about her. Mr. Trump is going to hammer on with this in the next four weeks. He is also trying to create a wedge between Ms. Clinton and the supporters of President Barack Obama, on the question of Obamacare and her own primary campaign against Obama in 2008.
America, a Christian nation?
Conflicting notions about what America is and what it should be is at the heart of the difference between Ms. Clinton and mr. Trump. It could be a cynical election strategy, but both have their respective ideas which became clear on Sunday. Mr. Trump defines America as a Christian nation in decline and at war with Islamic fundamentalism. Whatever question is asked of him, the answer would end with Clinton’s 30 years or Islamist terrorism.
Asked about his comments about women, he replied. “Yes, I’m very embarrassed by it. I hate it. But it’s locker room talk, and it’s one of those things. I will knock the hell out of IS. We’re going to defeat IS.”
On Sunday, he reached out to African Americans, and Hispanics but singled out Muslims. Asked whether he stood by his position on banning Muslims from entering
the US, he said: The Muslim ban is something that in some form has morphed into a extreme vetting from certain areas of the world. Hillary Clinton wants to allow hundreds of thousands…” “Would you please explain whether or not the Muslim ban still stands?” he was asked again. “It’s called extreme vetting,” he replied.
Clinton had a different take: “My vision of America is an America where everyone has a place, if you’re willing to work hard, you do your part, you contribute to the community. That’s what America is. That’s what we want America to be for our children and our grandchildren,” Ms. Clinton said. “We are not at war with Islam. And it is a mistake and it plays into the hands of the terrorists to act as though we are. So I want a country where citizens like you and your family are just as welcome as anyone else,” she said.