Women—if we may be whittled down to a campaign issue like taxes—loomed large ahead of the second presidential debate. The Donald Trump tape (enough said) dominated cable news and Twitter. In a final-hour stunt, Trump staged a pre-debate press conference with women who in the past have accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault or sexual harassment. For better or worse, women, and how Trump and Hillary Clinton view them, were top of mind.
We remained there as the latest episode of Jerry Springer, er, the debate began, and quickly jumped to the Trump tape, with Trump again dismissing it as “locker room talk” and Clinton charging that the audio is proof of Trump’s misogyny and sexism. “Yes, this is who Donald Trump is,” she said. And then, just like that, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, ABC News’s Martha Raddatz, and the undecided voters in the audience at Washington University in St. Louis moved on (to worthy issues like health care and Syria, but moved on just the same).
This big, fat, missed opportunity was the debate’s real woman problem: In more than 90 minutes there were at least two questions about Trump’s vulgar comments about women via a hot Access Hollywood mic, at least one about women’s allegations against Clinton’s husband, but zero about the real, pressing issues women all over the country care deeply about: reproductive rights, equal pay, paid family leave, or affordable child care, to name a few.
Instead of an end point, the Trump tape should have been a jumping-off point. Beyond personal sniping and Alicia Machado, women voters should have seen the clear differences in how a President Trump and a President Clinton would approach these issues. (Actual policy—boring, I know, for ratings, and yet oh so relevant.) The segue couldn’t have been more natural. Had the question been asked, whether from Cooper or Raddatz—“So what do each of you plan to do to make women’s lives better during your presidency?”—millions of viewers would have seen, for example, the contrast between Trump’s flawed paid leave plan (which overlooks paternity leave and shuts out adoptive and same-sex fathers) and Clinton’s 12 weeks’ paid leave plan to care not only for children but ill family members, as well. Or voters could have heard more about why Trump has said he’d nominate Supreme Court justices who may overturn Roe v. Wade (not to mention marriage equality), while Clinton supports abortion rights and Planned Parenthood.
These issues deserve just as much airtime as the most salacious news of the day. There’s one more debate—and one more chance to ask—before Election Day.
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