Presidential Debate

Trump triumphs and leaves a sputtering Hillary in the rear-view mirror

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton debate the war in Syria, Russia and defeating ISIS


The second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis was do or die for Donald Trump; against all odds he survived to fight another day. Dead on arrival, however, was any pretense of civility between Hillary Clinton and her GOP opponent.

In the wake of the damaging tape which revealed Trump boasting about his sexual assaults on women, a smug Hillary Clinton refused to shake hands with her opponent as they gathered at Washington University.

She called Trump unfit for the presidency and on numerous occasions she accused him of lying. He countered by suggesting that if he were elected, she would go to jail.

Given the preceding two days of all-out assault on Trump, his ability to rally and put Hillary on the defensive allowed him to declare victory and regain some lost ground.

To the delight of his followers, Trump put Hillary on the griddle for much of the evening. He deftly parried questions about his crude misogynist remarks by saying he was embarrassed by them and had apologized. He then quickly pivoted to a sustained attack on Hillary Clinton’s judgment and record.

To the delight of his followers, Trump put Hillary on the griddle for much of the evening. He deftly parried questions about his crude misogynist remarks by saying he was embarrassed by them and had apologized. He then quickly pivoted to a sustained attack on Hillary Clinton’s judgment and record.

During the 90-minute town-hall style gathering moderated by Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz, Trump managed to cite Hillary’s destruction of emails that had been subpoenaed by Congress, her ignoring of the 600 pleas for help from Chris Stevens, our ambassador who was killed at Benghazi, her enthusiasm for admitting Syrian refugees into the country despite security concerns, her wavering support of the TPP, the leaked tapes that reveal her inclination to say one thing in private and another in public, Obamacare’s failings and so forth.

In short, he did what he had failed to do in the first debate: remind Americans of what they do not like about Hillary Clinton. He also, remarkably, moved past the incriminating tape, leaving a sputtering Hillary in the rear view mirror.

Given the near-hysteria with which the media had fastened on the recording of Trump boasting about fondling women against their wishes, and the outrage expressed by many across the political spectrum, Mrs. Clinton might have expected that Trump would be in retreat, and that the hall of spectators would be on her side.

Not so.

The first applause of the evening, which the moderators had warned against, met Trump’s assertion that Hillary Clinton had demeaned and attacked the women who had accused husband Bill of sexual assault or rape. Trump had invited four of those women to participate in a press conference before the debate, signaling that he was ready to give as good as he got. He did just that and at least some in the Washington University hall seemed to approve his calling the Clintons out for hypocrisy.

That wasn’t the only issue on which he attacked Hillary. He brought up the dirty tricks campaign waged against Bernie Sanders by Clinton in cahoots with the Democratic National Committee; Hillary dove for cover behind the narrative that Putin is trying to upset our election to benefit Trump. He discussed her speeches to donors wherein she notes the advantage of having one position in public and another in private; in one of the more peculiar rebuttals of the evening, Clinton (as the Donald described it) blamed Abraham Lincoln.

As opposed to the first debate, Trump seemed sure of his ground – able to discuss law and order, the inner city blight, tax proposals, our low growth rate, the failures of Obamacare, the Iran deal, and the current administration’s hostility to our energy industry – and called her out for her “basket of deplorables” remark. On numerous occasions he said of Clinton: “she’s all talk and no action.”

With 63 percent of the country saying we are on the wrong track, Trump making himself the candidate of change and charging Hillary with being the defender of the Status Quo is powerful; that’s what he needed to do.

As before, Trump’s weakest performance (and Hillary’s strongest) was in dealing with questions about foreign policy. When asked what he would do about the humanitarian disaster in Aleppo, Trump faltered.

He shifted the conversation to Mosul, and reiterated his charge that our military is doing badly in its fight against ISIS, but proffered no serious solutions.

Clinton repeated her insistence on a “no-fly” zone and said she would target ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, suggesting she had used similar tactics in fighting Al-Qaeda and reminding the audience of her experience in that realm.

Hillary touted her background not only in traveling the world and fighting terror but also her lifelong commitment to children and families. This is her best resume item, but Trump undermined her recital by pointing out that she had failed to bring jobs to New York State, a pivotal pledge from her time as senator.

Both candidates were asked what kind of judge they might appoint to the Supreme Court. Hillary channeled Barack Obama, who memorably went looking for “empathy” and apparently found that quality in Sonia Sotomayor. Clinton scored some points by saying she would look for a justice who would support Roe vs. Wade and marriage equality.

She waded into deep water saying she would also appoint someone who would overturn Citizens United, and get dark money out of politics.

That was a mistake. Clinton is the master at sucking up dark money, and has built a war chest several times the size of Trump’s by “doing an end-run around contribution limits,” as the New York Times recently reported.

Trump said he would appoint someone like Scalia, who would defend the Constitution of the United States. He got another jab in by saying his pick for the Court would, unlike Hillary’s likely choice, stand up for the second amendment.

The debate in St. Louis was not a confrontation that made either candidate look noble or appealing. Trump, however, picked himself up off the mat and proved he is still in the race to win.

If this election comes down to voters deciding whom they’d rather have a beer with, the temperance movement may get a second life.   

Liz Peek is a writer who contributes frequently to She is a financial columnist who also writes for The Fiscal Times. For more visit Follow her on Twitter@LizPeek.