Expectations for this debate could not have been lower. Donald Trump’s pre-debate press event confirmed his intention to confront Hillary Clinton by throwing charges of serial infidelity, sexual assault, and rape at President Bill Clinton. All four of the women who took part in Trump’s press event were seated in the audience, and by the time the moderators called in the debate the assumption was already that Trump wasn’t there to fight for the presidency — but simply to do as much damage as possible.
And from the no-handshake opening, it was clear that civility was not going to be the first priority of the night. Trump lived down to expectations.
Hillary Clinton answered her first question carefully, keeping pointedly away from the issue that has dominated the last two days. It took Anderson Cooper to force Trump to confront the sexual assault he endorsed in the tape released on Friday. Trump instantly denied what everyone in America heard him say, claiming both that Cooper “didn’t understand” and that “you hear these things, they’re said” as he repeatedly dismissed his statement as “locker room banter.” Rather than answer any specifics, Trump veered into talking about ISIS chopping off heads, in an effort to prove that hey, his little sexual assault was really a minor thing in such a bad world ... so let’s get back to Hillary’s email.
Then on the second attempt to extract an answer from Trump over the issue of his statement, Donald finally released his assault on Bill Clinton. Hillary’s response on this, and on several other attacks that Trump made, was to dismiss his statement. She instead laid out a litany of Trump’s statements. This was the highlight of Clinton’s night, allowing Clinton to flay Trump steadily for most of her two minutes while Trump paced and turned various shades of pumpkin.
For the rest of the night, Clinton’s answers were mostly safe, and she concentrated on being responsive to the audience. But Trump delivered some real shockers, enough that it’s hard to pick out the biggest eye-openers.