The second presidential debate started out civil.
Then it got nuclear.
The Republican presidential nominee threatened to prosecute the Democratic candidate if he becomes president, and accused the debate moderators of teaming up with Hillary Clinton to orchestrate a “one-on-three” contest.
Before reiterating his apology for his 2005 comments in which he bragged about sexually assaulting women, and doubling down on likening the lewd rhetoric to “locker room banter,” Donald Trump said Clinton should be in jail for her email setup.
It was clear that he wanted to move past the controversy, as he pivoted immediately to his promise to “knock the hell out of ISIS” and his description of the current state of affairs as “like medieval times.”
Trump previewed his debate strategy earlier Sunday when he conducted a media availability on Facebook Live alongside four women who have accused former President Bill Clinton of rape and Hillary Clinton of protecting a sex offender—Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, Paula Jones, and Kathleen Shelton. All four women were inside the debate hall on Sunday night.
Co-moderator Anderson Cooper asked Trump if he essentially “bragged that you have sexually assaulted women,” an assertion Trump rejected. He also told Cooper that he had never actually acted based on the remarks, in which he said “you can do anything” to women if you are a celebrity, including grabbing their private parts and kissing them.
Trump went on to mention the women by name, and brushed off his 2005 comments as “just words, folks,” accusing the Clintons of treating women disgracefully.
“There’s never been anybody in the history of politics in this nation that’s been more abusive to women,” Trump said of Bill Clinton, who was inside the debate hall and shook hands with Trump’s wife Melania and his children beforehand. “Hillary Clinton attacked those same women—attacked them viciously—four of them here tonight… I think it’s disgraceful and I think she should be ashamed of herself.”
In response, Clinton disputed the veracity of Trump’s claims and hit right back at him for refusing to apologize “for anything to anyone” throughout the campaign, including his attacks on a Gold Star family, a judge presiding over his Trump University fraud case, and the “racist lie” that President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.
Clinton said she has disagreed with prior Republican presidential nominees on policy issues, but never questioned their ability to serve as president.
“Donald Trump is different,” she continued. “Many Republicans and independents have said the same thing… This is what Donald thinks about women and what he does to women.
“Yes, this is who Donald Trump is,” Clinton added. “This is not who we are as a country.”
Trump again retorted, “it’s just words, folks,” and pivoted to the usual talking points he often uses on the campaign trail. He described the “disastrous” conditions in America’s inner cities, and pledged to help African-Americans and Hispanics in particular.
He concluded the exchange by pledging to do something that would be unprecedented in modern politics: “If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your [email] situation.”
Trump was universally condemned for the 2005 remarks which were caught on a hot mic during a taping of NBC’s Access Hollywood and published on Friday. He lost endorsements from key Republicans in the immediate aftermath, and pledged to wage war against the “hypocrites” who abandoned him.