In what was dubbed by numerous commentators as a nearly unbearable spectacle to witness—with Politico describing it as the "ugliest debate ever" and Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi declaring that "having a railroad spike driven through my foot would be more enjoyable than watching this"—Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump debated in a town hall-style event Sunday night.
The debate culminated a weekend of ongoing controversy and chaos after revelations on Friday that Trump—who has previously been accused of sexual harassment and assault—was caught on tape bragging to a TV host about his freedom to kiss and grope women without their consent.
Signaling the potential tone of the evening, about an hour and a half before the second debate began, Trump held "a short—and highly unusual—news conference with four women, all of whom said they had been mistreated by...Clinton or her husband, former president Bill Clinton," as the Washington Post reported.
In perhaps the most acrimonious and eye-popping exchange between the two candidates, Trump announced that if elected he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton for misdeeds and later echoed a popular chant of his supporters—who frequently tell "Lock her up" during his campaign rallies—by saying she'd "be in jail" when he is president.
Trump: "If I win I am going to instruct my attorney general... to get a special prosecutor..." to investigate Clinton. Unprecedented.
— John Nichols (@NicholsUprising) October 10, 2016
One American presidential nominee just told the world he'd jail the other. Every moment a new first for the modern era.
— David Folkenflik (@davidfolkenflik) October 10, 2016
Threatening to imprison your opponents is the hallmark of someone who is an actual fucking dictator.
— Paul Musgrave (@profmusgrave) October 10, 2016
This isn’t a joke. It’s scary. It is really concerning.
— Max Fisher (@Max_Fisher) October 10, 2016
Watch the complete town hall event below:
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump could field questions about guns, social security, climate change, and getting big money out of politics when they face off for the second time during a town hall debate on Sunday night.
But the matter of Trump's misogynistic attitude toward women, exemplified in a leaked recording that has caused a growing list of Republicans to (many said belatedly) withdraw their support for the GOP nominee over the last 48 hours, will be front-and-center.
News outlets reported Sunday that debate moderators Anderson Cooper of CNN and Martha Raddatz of ABC "have adjusted their plan for the debate in light of the Trump tape," as CNN Money put it, and both candidates will be asked to address the tape's troubling contents.
According to a coin toss, Clinton will speak first. CBS News notes that "Clinton's campaign had determined Saturday that she would wait until the debate to make her first comments on the subject."
Sunday's town hall format will feature the moderators asking questions (some of them crowd-sourced) for the first half, and audience members—described as "uncommitted voters"—asking questions during the second half. CNN Money reports: "The participants submitted their questions to the moderators on Sunday morning, which means they have had time to include questions about the Trump tape; the ensuing crisis within the Republican party; and Trump's response, which included invoking Bill Clinton's past infidelity."
Indeed, Trump's so-called "apology," issued early Saturday morning after the tape leaked Friday afternoon, doubled-down on his previous threats to raise the Clintons' personal life as part of his campaign against the the former secretary of state.
"I've said some foolish things but there's a big difference between the words and actions of other people," Trump said in what Politico described as a "poorly-lit, robotically-recited and defiantly half-assed videotaped apology."
Then, Trump continued: "Bill Clinton has actually abused women and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed, and intimidated his victims. We will discuss this more in the coming days. See you at the debate on Sunday."
It's also likely that Trump will bring up revelations contained in the latest WikiLeaks dump, which contained excerpts from Clinton's paid speeches to big banks in which she comes off as cozy with Wall Street.
And while the weekend's firestorm makes it unlikely that the second debate will feature any more substance than the first, the focus on Trump's treatment of women could up the chances that moderators ask about abortion rights, as several reproductive rights groups urged (pdf) in a letter this week.
"Abortion is not a 'niche' issue," read the letter to Cooper and Raddatz, signed by groups including NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and the National Organization for Women.
"Asking about abortion means asking about whether a candidate thinks women should be given every opportunity to make decisions that are best for their health," they wrote. "It means going beyond simple 'pro-choice' and 'pro-life' labels and asking the candidates about how to protect access to basic reproductive healthcare. It means asking about whether a candidate thinks a woman deserves full access to the American values of freedom, equality, and opportunity."
The debate, taking place at Washington University in St. Louis, begins at 9pm Eastern and will run 90 minutes. Watch a live-stream here.
However, a Politico/Morning Consult survey, conducted immediately after the crude audio was released Friday, showed just 12 percent of rank-and-file Republicans agreeing with the GOP establishment that Trump should drop out of the presidential race. "Nearly three-quarters of Republican voters, 74 percent, surveyed on Saturday said party officials should continue to support Trump," Politico reported.