Closed US presidential debate: Trump vs Clinton round two

Candidates Hillary Clinton And Donald Trump Hold Second Presidential Debate At Washington University

The second US presidential debate brought the expected volley of accusations and insults but came to an unexpectedly dignified close in final remarks by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The action and reaction is followed here by the FT DC bureau team, led by Barney Jopson, Courtney Weaver while Anna Nicolaou is reading the mood among supporters in the bar at Trump Tower, curated by US online news editor Emiliya Mychasuk.

Barney Jopson previews the action:

Welcome to debate night round two. It’s Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton again and things are expected to be ugly. It’s a cliché to preview “hotly-anticipated” showdowns where “fireworks” are expected, but tonight those bromides would amount to an understatement.

We are gearing up for what could be one of the nastiest debates in a long time, with the build-up dominated by talk of lewd banter and sexual assault. We may well hear about some policy ideas.

There’ll certainly be talk of temperament and experience. But if the past 48 hours are any guide, a dominant theme of tonight’s debate will be the video showing Trump making vulgar comments about groping women and the fallout from it. Trump quickly apologised for the comments made 11 years ago, but he has been on the attack today.

In a possible preview of his approach on stage, he held a surprise event 90 minutes before it started with three women who accuse President Bill Clinton and sexually assaulting them. The Clinton campaign dismissed it as a desperate “stunt” and said Clinton is “prepared to handle whatever Donald Trump throws her way”. That we are talking about this at all is remarkable. Let the the games begin.

Many of Donald Trump’s most ardent fans still have faith

​The view from outside Trump Tower:

Here is the link to Trump’s press conference early evening with three women who have accused Bill Clinton of assault, recorded by Trump on Facebook Live

Our Sam Fleming, who is at Washington University in St Louis reports that the three women have just entered the debate hall – followed by a hush and lots of cameras and flashes going off

Here’s the tweet from earlier today in which Trump showed he was moving on from Friday’s apology for the lewd tapes and going on the attack

Will Trump’s decision to bring the women to the debate cause other Republicans to jump ship? Republican Bill Kristol thinks so:

Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway makes clear Melania is still on the Trump train

No handshake between Trump and Clinton and considerably smaller smiles than debate #1…

Questions are coming from the audience tonight and the first is:

Are you, the candidates, modelling appropriate behaviour for today’s youth?

So far Clinton is talking in generic terms about optimism, overcoming divisiveness, setting big goals. No reference to any of the trashy talk of the last 48 hours.

Interesting with the town hall format: you don’t have the split screen so can’t see Trump’s reaction when Clinton speaks – looks like he is fidgeting on TV a bit but hard to tell.

Trump’s first response to Clinton: “I agree with [what she just said]“.

First answer from Trump very subdued. Lots of figures – and reading off of key issues: Obamacare, Iran deal..

Trying to remind supporters why they were planning to vote for him

It’s hard to believe that this is the Trump we’ve been talking about for the past 48 hours.

Very “low energy” to quote the Republican nominee

Trump’s answer sounds like a condensed version of his stump speech. Ticking off multiple key issues.

He didn’t answer the question about being a model for youth.

First headline of the evening: Trump denies he was bragging about sexual assault; says it was “locker room talk”

Visible sigh from HRC when Trump attempts to pivot from sexual assault comments to Isis

Trump tried to move away from the sleazy tape to Isis. Saying there are more important things going on in the world: “When you have people chopping off heads, drowning people in steel cages.”

Clinton’s first chance to comment on the Trump tape.

She says she’s disagreed with past Republican nominees before. “But I never questioned their fitness to serve. Donald Trump is different.”

The tape she says, countering what Trump just said, “represents exactly who he is”.

Trump is taking the Pence approach this time: shaking his head when Clinton speaks, instead of interrupting with “wrong!” like he did last debate

Overall that was a “more in sorrow than in anger” response from Clinton to the Trump tape.

“It’s just words folks, it’s just words” – Trump says – about the video.

Now pivoting again to criticising Clinton on false promises to a certain number of jobs in New York while senator.

Pivot, pivot, pivot.

Trump now appears to be getting rattled as moderator attempts to switch to next question: saying (sarcastically): that’s fair, that’s fair

It’s been 17 minutes – and Trump is bringing up Bill Clinton

Trump on Bill Clinton:

“If you look at Bill Clinton. Far worse. Mine are words. His were actions … There’s never been anyone in the history of politics in this nation who’s been so abusive to women.”

On Clinton’s criticism of the tape, he says:

“I think it’s disgraceful and she should be ashamed of herself.”

Clinton seems like she is not going to bring up the allegations Trump has made about Bill and women.

She says it’s “wrong” for Trump to make the comments; repeats the Michelle Obama quote (“when they go low, we go high”) . She has not mentioned Bill’s name so far….

Have to say neither of them look like they’re having much fun tonight

Clinton has jumped from the back-and-forth on sexual assault to slamming Trump for never apologising to anyone who he has offended — not the judge of Mexican extraction who he criticised; not the Muslim parents of the soldier killed in Iraq.

“I was so surprised to see [Bernie Sanders] sign on with the devil” Trump says.

Did he just call Hillary Clinton the devil?

Trump seems to be saying “in my opinion” a lot more tonight than usual

Sounds like Trump is threatening retribution. He says if he wins the White House he will get his attorney general to put a special prosecutor on Clinton’s email scandal.

“There have never been so many lies and deceptions. There has never been anything like that,” Trump said.

Clinton on emails: again apologises for private server; says it was a mistake.

But she asserts that no classified information was compromised or “ended up in the wrong hands”

Zinger alert. Clinton says: “It’s good that somebody with the the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the country.”

Trump responds: “Because you’d be in jail.”

Some people in the audience laugh and cheer (then get admonished by the moderator, because they are meant to stay silent).

Trump is doing what supporters asked for him to do after last debate: hammer Clinton on the missing 33,000 emails; also throwing them a bone with announcement of special prosecutor

Probably Trump’s most repeated line of the night so far to Clinton, on multiple issues:

“You should be ashamed of yourself.”

I take back what I said about Trump taking the Pence approach – and dissenting with a shake of the head.

We are back on to full interruption mode

Things are getting tetchy and ill-tempered, mostly on Trump’s side of the debate.

Hillary goads him by saying she understands he’s upset about the way his campaign is “exploding and the way Republicans are leaving you”, a reference to desertions in the past 48 hours.

Clinton the policy wonk takes the stage with a question on Obamacare.

Talks about the need to get healthcare costs down and help small businesses to provide their employees insurance.

Clinton will be happy if all the questions tonight are this policy-heavy!

Clinton gets question about why Bill Clinton referred to Obamacare as crazy last week; she says he misspoke and has already clarified the remark

As Trump slams Obamacare and vows to repeal the law, it’s the reminder that this is one area where he sounds very much like an establishment Republican.

Though his cry that “it’s a disaster” lacks most – if not all – of the detail you get from someone like Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The official Republican Party Twitter account just tweeted this against Clinton.

They are least still fighting the same battle as Trump

The moderator Anderson Cooper is pressing Trump on exactly how he will introduce the “great” insurance plans he’s promising without costs going through the roof.

Trump says the answer is to break down the current state boundaries around insurance markets to create a single national market with more competition.

That is an idea that conservative think-thank types like, though the insurance companies themselves do not (probably because they don’t fancy a lot more competition).

During a lot of the town hall questions, Trump appears to be looming behind Clinton while she is speaking – not great optics

So is the talk of Trump’s lewd tape and Bill Clinton’s misconduct over for the evening?

We’ve had several minutes of quasi-policy debate now.

Let’s see if either candidate thinks it’s in their interests to bring up the sex talk unprompted.

Not exactly oozing respect, Trump refers to Clinton as “her”.

Trump asked to clarify on Muslim ban.

He does not answer the question, immediately; is asked to clarify by the moderator; attacks the moderator for going harder on him than in Clinton

Clinton is emphasising Russian aggression in Syria; I feel a pivot towards Russia/ Putin coming on

Trump’s shuffling and roaming while Clinton’s talking.

As a TV celebrity, does he know he’s getting in the background of the shot as Clinton talks? Does he want to be there?

Have to say, it’s nice to actually see the moderators moderating this debate

Trump making an appeal to Bernie Sanders crowd:

“When Bernie Sanders say she is bad judgement – she has really bad judgement”

Trump’s apparent obliviousness to fact-checking continues from the first debate.

Despite clear evidence that he supported the invasion of Iraq, he tells the moderator that his claim to have opposed it “has not been debunked”.

Clinton’s trustworthiness is now on the agenda with a question spurred by Wikileaks. In one of her private speeches leaked on Friday she said politicians need to have both a private and a public position on issues.

That doesn’t exactly sound honest. But Clinton dismisses the suggestion; says she was referring to a lesson from Abraham Lincoln (and the movie about him).

Trump: “She got caught in a total lie… and she said things – Wikileaks – that just came out.”

“Now she is blaming the lie on the late and great Abraham Lincoln…Honest Abe never lied that’s the difference between Abraham Lincoln and you” he says to Clinton. Earning a laugh from the audience for that one

Did Trump just bring up his tax returns voluntarily?

Onto Russia (and Russian cyberhacking).

Accused of being cosy with Russia, Trump says: “I think it would be great if you got along with Russia because we could fight Isis together.”

But he adds: “I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don’t deal there. I have no businesses there. I don’t have any loans from Russia.”

Pow. Take that private equity gurus. Trump, asked about taxes, says he’ll get rid of the carried interest “loophole” that is dear to PE executives.

Clinton has promised to do the same. Here’s our story about the issue

Clinton says Trump lives in an “alternate reality”; says Trump’s plan will give the wealthiest Americans the biggest tax cuts they’ve ever had:

“Donald always takes care of Donald and people like Donald. And this would be a massive gift”

Another optics observation: Trump is standing the whole time – while Clinton speaks.

Clinton sits down when Trump talks (not saying one looks worse than other; just observing)

Remember when we thought Trump’s tax returns were going to be the big bombshell of the debate?

Now Clinton has brought up the near billion dollar loss that Trump posted in 1995, which could have enabled him to pay no federal tax in future years (though we don’t know exactly what he did).

That was the controversy we were obsessing about (remember?) before that Trump tape emerged.

Trump was just asked if he did indeed use that massive loss to cut his tax bill to zero.

He appears to say yes. Though his answer is, oddly, phrased in the present tense not the past tense: “Of course I do.”

He says, by the way, that Clinton’s donors take advantage of the same provisions of the tax code.

Trump blames the fact he has paid low/ negligible federal income taxes on Clinton who he says could have changed the tax system, health insurance etc Trump says:

“If she had a problem, for 30 years she’s been doing it…With her it’s all talk and no action”

On Trump accusing Clinton of failing to overhaul the tax code when she was a Senator … Well, it’s pretty hard for a single Senator to overhaul the code.

And, as Clinton points out, even if she had had a chance there was a Republican president George W Bush who would have vetoed it.

So does Trump know how the legislative process works, or does he think the point will resonate with voters regardless?

The Trump video from Friday obviously has thrown a spanner into the debate – and what it means for the election.

But is clear that Trump is better prepared – and better coached than last time.

He may have lost the GOP leadership/ a wide swath of the leadership but he is doubling down in the areas where his criticisms on Clinton still hold true for many American voters; the fact that she has been in politics for 30 years – can’t bring about change; her position supporting Obamacare; and her trustworthiness

We’re now past the hour point in the 90 minute debate. It feels like there’s been a lot of overlap between the content of this one and the first one.

Has either candidate revealed anything that we didn’t know already? I don’t think so.

Courtney, I think Trump has definitely been punchier tonight than in the first debate. More aggressive. But without making the mistake Clinton’s VP nominee Tim Kaine made in his debate by being manic about it.

We’re onto Syria and after a long Trump diversion away from the issue at hand – Aleppo – the moderator Martha Raddatz says:

“Mr Trump, let me repeat the question.”

Trump is asked if he agrees on Pence’s, his running mate’s, position on Syria. He says “we haven’t talked”; says he disagrees with Pence

Trump making a favourite point of his from the campaign trail: that it’s “stupid” for the US military to telegraph to Isis and its other enemies what it’s going to do.

“Why can’t they do it quietly, make it a sneak attack?”

“What is your strategy [on Syria]” Martha Raddatz asks Trump.

Trump doesn’t answer question – keeps on speaking

So much Trump pacing tonight.

Trump says Clinton can’t be a good president for all Americans because of Nafta (?)
He also says she’s lied about not supporting TPP

Trump is complaining about unfair treatment by the moderators (not for the first time in this campaign).

Says the moderators aren’t keeping time properly.

“She went over a minute over, and you don’t stop her. I go one second over .. It’s really very interesting.”

Comes across as rather petty.

Trump has repeatedly panned Clinton tonight for being “all talk” — and failing to achieve anything in 30 years of public service.

Clinton takes that as a cue to talk about her biography, making points from her get-to-know-me convention speech about her work over the years with ethnic minorities, the disabled and victims of discrimination.

Clinton attacks Trump by saying he is lowering the standards we hold for our children:

“Children listen to what is being said”. She says teachers are referring to the “Trump effect” in schools with bullying, etc

Clinton asked why she called half of Trump’s supporters “basket of deplorables”: says it is Trump himself who lowered the standard of the discussion/ country – not his supporters

A telling exchange:

“Believe me she has tremendous hate in her heart,” Trump says (on the “deplorables” comment).

Clinton laughs.

Trump again hitting his core arguments: this one how Clinton will be a continuation of Barack Obama: “You don’t want another four years of Barack Obama” he tells the crowd

Trump now hitting Clinton on Benghazi – another topic supporters said he overlooked in last debate

He could be a Twitter spokesman, Hannah!

On his 3am tweeting, Trump says: “I’m not unproud of it, actually”

An audience member has a question about the Supreme Court (because the next president will get to fill the vacancy currently open on the 9-person bench).

Clinton says: “I would want the Supreme Court to reverse Citizens United [a decision that loosened campaign finance restrictions] and get dark, unaccountable money out of politics”.

Final question is on energy.

Trump says: “Energy is under siege by the Obama administration”.

“The EPA is so restrictive they are putting our energy companies out of business.”

Trump made a curious point about “foreigners” buying US energy assets (including US oil).

Also made his more familiar promise to help get unemployed coal miners back to work.

Clinton, meanwhile, says she can make the US a “clean energy superpower”.

Also touts her plan to revitalise coal country while accepting that the economics of coal are pretty terrible.

Great final question: Can both of you name one thing that you respect in each other. Claps and laughter from the audience.

Clinton says: what she respects about Trump is his children (Editor’s note: good answer.)

“This election has become in part so conflict-oriented, so intense because there is a lot at stake. This is not an ordinary time, this is not an ordinary election.”

Trump says he takes Clinton’s statement about his children to be “a very nice compliment”.

And gives an equally good answer about what he respects about Clinton

“I will say this about Hillary she doesn’t quit, she doesn’t give up. she’s a fighter. I do disagree with her judgment in many cases. but she doesn’t quit up and doesn’t give up.”

That question means we ended on an unexpectedly uplifting note.

Both candidates made civilised comments. Trump even paid Clinton a personal compliment.

And here we were expecting them to be wrestling in the gutter.

Indeed. I thought Trump’s debate got progressively better. Last time, he seemed to run out of things to say towards the end.

This time he didn’t have that problem. Clinton’s debate seemed solid but I was surprised she didn’t choose to engage Trump more.

A lot of times, she simply directed viewers to her website to see the real facts but I think in a lot of cases a real zinger would have been the more effective response.

Yep Courtney. At the start Clinton quoted Michelle Obama saying that when they go low we go high. And Clinton stuck to that.

There’s obviously a lot of material out there that she could have used to attack Trump’s character, but she didn’t seek to take advantage of it.

Trump overall seemed more disciplined than the last debate. He meandered at times. He complained about the moderators. But he spent more making the points he wanted to make. And dinged Hillary without being (too) ugly about it.

So Courtney, how do you think voters will react to the debate?

I think for Trump voters this debate will bring a lot of relief. I think they’ll like the fact that he stuck to some of the core arguments that got him this far in the campaign (Benghazi; Clinton’s emails; Clinton’s trustworthiness).

And he didn’t go off the rails – something that seemed like a possibility with all that’s been brewing in the last 48 hours.

A lot of Trump voters have been sticking by him this weekend. I think his performance will help them make the argument that this tape was a decade old – and that he’s a different man now.

Any last thoughts, Barney, before we sign off?

I think the debate could serve to draw a line under the furore over the lewd Trump tape, which would be important in the battle for undecided voters.

If undecided moderates move on from the tape, then Trump has given them some new reasons to think again about whether Clinton is the right candidate for them.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump gets a bump in the polls after tonight.

The last word, as ever, goes to Edward Luce: