Trump loses out in vicious debate

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Image by: DOMINICK REUTER / REUTERS
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Threat to jail Hillary Clinton and sex remarks worsen Republican headache

Donald Trump threatened to jail rival Hillary Clinton and accused her husband of a busing women in a vicious presidential debate that appeared unlikely to improve his ratings after a damaging weekend, polls showed yesterday.

Before tens of millions of viewers and alive audience including Bill Clinton andthree women who accuse him of past abuse, the Republican nominee shattered the last vestiges of political decorum and issued incendiary allegations against the former president.

With his campaign in a tailspin, Trump apologised for “locker room talk” in which he bragged about groping women, but stated baldly that “Bill Clinton was abusive to women”.

“If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse,” Trump insisted.

“Mine are words, his wasaction,” he said.

Going a step further, the 70-year-old real estate mogul threatened his 2016 Democratic rival – whom he accused of having hate in her heart – with imprisonment if he wins the presidency.

“If I win, I’m going to instruct the attorney-general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there’s never been so many lies, so much deception,” Trump said.

Hillary Clinton, facing a deeply wounded candidate with one month to go before election day, pushed back by saying Trump’s lewd comments merely showed his true self.

“This is who Donald Trump is, and the question for us, the question our country must answer is that this is not who we are.”

When Clinton said that it was “awfully good” that someone with Trump’s temperament was not leading the nation, he shot back: “Because you’d be in jail.”

Two separate polls showed Clinton had prevailed in the second of three presidential debates.

A CNN/ORC survey of debate watchers put her 57-34 up while a You Gov snap poll put her margin of victory closer at 47-42.

President Barack Obama’s former attorney-general, Eric Holder, led the broad condemnation of Trump’s threat, as critics painted him as a dictator in the making.

“In the USA we do not threaten to jail political opponents,” Holder said.

A number of fellow Republicans also tarred Trump as undemocratic.

“Winning candidates don’t threaten to put opponents in jail,” former George W Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

The debate’s opening minutes were tense, with Trump slinging mud even at the two moderators, whom he accused of bias – it was one against three, he said –between a series of interruptions.

Clinton, 68, largely refused to take the bait, opting to adhere to advice from first lady Michelle Obama: “When they go low, you go high.”

“This is not an ordinary time and this is not an ordinary election,” Clinton said, appealing directly to voters.

But, as in the first debate, she also laid a series of traps for Trump, prodding him toward admitting he had not paid federal income tax in about two decades.

Also, by accusing Russia of trying to tilt the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favour with a series of e-mail hacks, Clinton forced her rival to contradict the intelligenc ecommunity, which has also fingered Moscow.

“She doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking,” he said.

Trump faces a make-or-break moment after his crude boasts, which he made in2005 and which became public in a video on Friday, as streams of Republicans have retracted their support for his campaign.

With a campaign based on earning free television air time and little else, Trump is dependent on the Republican Party machinery to get out the vote.

The party leadership had been deeply angered by Trump’s misogynistic remarks, and his own running mate, Mike Pence, said they were indefensible.

But after the face-off, Pence tweeted congratulations to Trump on his “big debate win” and said he was “proud” to stand with him.

In an extraordinary step aimed at reversing the tide of public opinion, Trump had convened a media event just minutes before the debate that included several women who accuse Bill Clinton of sexual harassment and rape.

They were later invited to attend the debate. Introduced by Trump as “very courageous women”, the speakers included former government employee in Arkansas Paula Jones, who sued Bill Clinton for sexual harassment.

Another was Juanita Broaddrick, also of Arkansas, who claims that Clinton raped her in 1978.But Trump needs a dramatic boost if he is to claw back ground against Clinton, who has surged in the polls since their first debate on September 26.University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala said he doubted Trump could recover.

“I didn’t see enough this evening to turn things around,” Scala said.

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