Donald Trump said he would instruct a special prosecutor to look into Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails if elected president, while Clinton said a recent video where Trump talked about groping women “represents exactly who he is.”
Those accusations occurred face to face in a presidential debate like none in recent history.
The event was billed as a town hall where voters would ask questions, but the debate’s big moments mostly occurred when Democratic presidential candidate Clinton and GOP presidential candidate Trump attacked each other. From the beginning, when they did not shake hands as they walked on the stage, it was obvious this would be personal.
Trump had spent the past couple of days defending himself after a video surfaced of him talking about women in sexually explicit ways in 2005. Asked about that video, Trump said, “This was locker room talk.” Clinton responded by saying that while she had disagreed with previous Republican presidential nominees, “I never questioned their fitness to serve. Donald Trump is different.”
But Trump went on the attack even before the debate began by hosting a press conference with three women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual wrongdoing and another female raped at age 12 whose attacker Hillary Clinton had defended in court. Describing Bill Clinton in the debate, he said, “There’s never been anybody in the history of politics in this nation that’s been so abusive to women. … Hillary Clinton attacked those same women, and attacked them viciously.”
Trump also said he would instruct a special prosecutor – although federal law passed by Congress after Watergate prohibits a President from directly appointing such a prosecutor – to look into Clinton’s deleted emails. To that, Clinton responded, “It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.”
“Because you’d be in jail,” Trump responded.
There were other remarkable moments. In a discussion about Syrian policy where Trump’s answer differed from his running mate Mike Pence’s, Trump said he differed with Pence and the two had not spoken. Trump did not hide from the fact he had taken advantage of tax code provisions to avoid paying taxes and criticized Clinton for not changing the code when she was in power. In fact, numerous times he said she had failed to enact change in her 30 years of public service. Trump later said Clinton “has tremendous hate in her heart.” He said of Sen. Bernie Sanders, “I was so surprised to see him sign on with the devil.”
There were issues discussed, including regarding the Affordable Care Act. Clinton said she would repair Obamacare’s flaws such as rising costs but said it should be fixed, not repealed. She defended the law by saying it had provided coverage to 20 million people and provided benefits to the rest, including the ending of coverage denials and lifetime limits. Trump said, “The whole thing is a fraud, and it doesn’t work.” He said he would allow insurance to be sold across state lines and would provide block grants to states.
Members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation were asked prior to the debate if they would have statements afterwards, and all declined or did not respond. Gov. Asa Hutchinson did tweet, “Thanks to questions from the audience, this debate was more substantive on taxes, energy policy and ISIS. Type of debate America needed.”
The debate ended on a high note when the candidates were asked by an audience member to name one positive thing they respected in the other. Clinton said she respected Trump’s children, which she said says a lot about him. Trump said Clinton is a fighter who doesn’t give up. Perhaps those comments made it easier for the two to shake hands afterwards.
Frank Luntz, a consultant who formerly worked for the Republican Party, said in tweets that his focus group watching the debate gave the nod to Trump. Asked who had the greater positive impact on their choice, 21 said Trump and nine said Clinton. Asked who they were willing to vote for before the debate, eight said Clinton and nine said Trump. Afterwards, four said Clinton and 18 said Trump.
A CNN instant poll following the debate showed that 57% felt Hillary Clinton won the debate to Donald Trump’s 34%.
Dr. Hall Bass, a political scientist and professor emeritus at Ouachita Baptist University, said town hall-format debates tend to be more positive, but this was not.
“I thought Hillary had more focused and substantive answers. I thought Trump … had kind of a kitchen sink approach to his time on stage. He had his talking points, and he was bound and determined to get them presented there. I thought that took some of the focus away, but he certainly got his points in,” he said.
He doesn’t think the debate would change many opinions.
“I think for the most part, people see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear,” he said.
He said what happens on stage is not as important as what happens afterwards.
“I think we need to wait and see a few days what kind of sticks in these debates, and what kind of gets ignored,” he said.
The final debate is Oct. 19.