By Veronica Mackey
Friday, October 7 may be the day in history that Donald Trump single-handedly split the Republican Party in half. It was on this day that the Trump campaign imploded over a leaked videotape of him making lewd remarks about women. At one point, Trump suggested he could—and probably did—get away with sexual assault.
Newly married to his third wife Melania when the video was made in 2005, Trump bragged to Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood” about how he “moved” on a married woman, and how “when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything … “Grab 'em by the (genitals)."
On Saturday, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and other party leaders disavowed Trump and by Sunday’s debate, the scandal was at a fever pitch. Hollywood could not have scripted the political fallout more dramatically.
Now, with less than 4 weeks until Election Day, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leads by double digits, while Republicans are in a quandary. Do they stand by their nominee and appease two-thirds of the base calling for allegiance? Or should down-ticket candidates distance themselves from Trump and better their chances of winning more female and undecided voters.
Ryan said he could not defend Trump anymore. But although he has distanced himself from Trump, the House Speaker has not unendorsed him. He is walking a fine line, trying to protect members of the Republican Senate and House who are running for re-election. They will be needed in Congress, especially if Clinton wins. Political pundits are referring to reaction within the Republican Party as “Civil War.”
“It’s time for Republicans to hit the panic button because Trump could really drag them into the political abyss,” said David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report.
NBC News reports that polling shows voters now want Democrats to control Congress. It is the widest margin since 2013.
CNNs Anderson Cooper began the debate addressing the elephant in the room:
“You've bragged that you've sexually assaulted women, do you acknowledge that?”
Trump responded that he wasn't talking about things he actually did, it was just "locker room talk."
His apology was viewed as disingenuous by most, especially when he brought up past sexual indiscretions of President Bill Clinton more than 20 years ago. Trump supporter New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said, “He should have been much more direct and much more focused on saying, just saying, “‘I’m sorry’ and only ‘I’m sorry.’”
Trump delivered a surprise blow by inviting 4 women to the debate who said they were sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton and Hillary was his enabler. Yet, this tactic failed to get the reaction for which it was intended,
A CBSN political strategist said Trump missed his opportunity: “Trump brought accusers into the crowd, but this move was not really utilized at all. He had 4 people in that audience that he could have called upon multiple times.”
When asked about the FBI’s findings that her handling of classified email was “extremely careless,” Clinton’s response was a brief apology, with no details. “It was a mistake,” she said. “Obviously, if I had to do it over again, I would have done it differently.” Trump continued to hammer away at Clinton for deleting thousands of emails while under investigation.
“She made a mistake but she never really told us why she did it in the first place,” a CBSN commentator said. “This is why I find her answers to be incomplete. To say I made a mistake was not enough for me. I want to understand why you feel you need to do that even after you were told not to.”
Trump threatened to prosecute Clinton over the deleted emails, saying if he were president, “You’d be in jail,” he said.
Clinton shot back that Trump was trying to divert attention from his campaign, “the way it’s exploding and the way Republicans are leaving you.”
Throughout the debate, the nominees traded zingers and went over their allotted time. Besides sparring over ideology and raising questions about each other’s character, there was a noticeable difference about their demeanor.
Clinton leaned against her stool until it was her turn to speak. Trump paced the floor and was heard breathing heavily. He stood very close behind his opponent. His 6’3” frame hovering over Clinton at 5’4” looked “menacing,” one Facebook user wrote.
The debate did close on a somewhat positive note, with an audience member asked each nominee to name something positive about the other. Clinton expressed admiration for Trump’s children, who are also his top advisors. Trump said Clinton was a fighter who doesn’t quit. The pair shook hands—something they were reluctant to do in the beginning.
The Clinton campaign was very pleased with her performance. They said she was the grownup in the room. They don’t think Trump did anything to expand his base. Of course, Trump also declared victory. One aide said “he had Hillary on the ropes the entire time, especially about the deleted emails.”
CNN said Clinton was the winner, polling at 57%. The third and final debate takes place on October 19.