Faced with controversy over his comments about women, Trump used the debate to lob personal attacks against the Clintons.

The opening question to the town hall-style second presidential debate saw Trump and Clinton being questioned about the appropriateness of their behaviour during their campaigns.
The opening question to the town hall-style second presidential debate saw Trump and Clinton being questioned about the appropriateness of their behaviour during their campaigns. (TRT World and Agencies)

The second presidential debate came down to two questions, one asked at the start, "Do you feel you are modelling appropriate and positive behaviour for today's youth?" and the other at the conclusion, "Would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?"

Both questions were references to the state of an election season which has seen two of the most disliked candidates in modern US politics facing off against each another.

From the vitriolic campaigns Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton ran on their way to their respective nominations, to both debates – characterised by insults and interruptions – the run-up to the 2016 presidential election has proven to be more divisive and more vicious than any other.

At the conclusion of the first presidential debate last month, Trump closed his comments with a warning to his opponent: "I was going to say something... extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself, 'I can't do it. I just can't do it. It's inappropriate. It's not nice.'"

But from the moment he stepped on stage on Sunday night, it became clear that Trump had done away with these self-proclaimed niceties.

Throughout the 90 minute exchange, Trump paced around the debate hall at Washington University in the Midwestern State of Missouri.

He pointed directly at his opponent, calling her a "disaster" and a failure.

He even accused the moderators – CNN's Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz of ABC News – of bias, saying "it's one-on-three."

All this was clearly meant as a distraction from the biggest PR disaster of Trump's campaign – already riddled with accusations of racism, Islamophobia and sexism – has faced yet.

Earlier this week, a 2005 tape of Trump implying that he forced himself on women surfaced.

Donald Trump repeatedly personally attacked Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump repeatedly personally attacked Hillary Clinton. (TRT World and Agencies)

In it, Trump bragged about hitting on a married woman and his star power allowing him to have his way with women.

"Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything," the former real estate magnate-turned-reality-star, said on his way to meet a soap opera star.

Trump, knowing he would have to address the issue, tried to divert attention to it by pointing to the sexual proclivities and alleged misconduct of Bill Clinton, Hillary's husband and a two-term US president.

Trump even invited four women who had accused the former president of sexual misconduct as his guests to the debate. They were seated in the first rows.

It took less than 20 minutes to address the elephant in the room.

"You bragged that you sexually assaulted women, do you understand that,?" Cooper, one of the moderators, asked pointedly.

As he had done over the previous 48 hours, Trump responded by saying the comments were "locker room talk," a US euphemism meant to describe a form of sexually charged, often misogynistic banter among heterosexual men.

Trump tried to shift focus by bring up the terror group DAESH, saying: "We have a world where you have ISIS chopping off heads."

He then went on to claim that his words were "just words."

That's when he turned his attention to Bill.

"There's never been anybody in the history of politics that's been so abusive to women," Trump said of the 42nd president. In 1998 Bill Clinton was impeached on accusations of lying about an affair with a White House intern.

From there, Trump returned to his attacks against his Democratic opponent and her use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State.

Clinton once again characterised the use of a private email server, housed in her Brooklyn home, as a "mistake" and a "regret."

Throughout the rest of the 90-minute face-off, the two hurled a series of personal insults at one another, while the moderators tried to return the discussion to policy matters.

The low blows quickly grew tiresome for Ben Harvey, a manager at Busboys and Poets, a famous DC eatery that often hosts gatherings for political and social justice groups.

"I wanted it to address more issues specifically. It was [just] a lot of 'blah, blah blah' … I wanted to know what they'd talk about to make American communities better."

In particular, Harvey wanted the candidates to discuss their plans for Medicare, a national social insurance programme that provides health insurance to people over the age of 65.

In between the name-calling and finger-pointing, there was some discussion of policy issues.

Asked about Syria, Trump said the civil war in the nation has come down to a battle against DAESH – the creation of which he blames on Clinton and President Obama.

After stating as a caveat that he dislikes Syrian President Bashar al Assad, Trump said, "Assad is killing ISIS, Russia is killing ISIS."

Clinton said she would: "Support the effort to investigate for crimes, war crimes committed by the Syrians and the Russians."

There were other missteps.

Users online decried the fact that a question about Islamophobic rhetoric and attacks against the nation's 3.3 million Muslims turned into a discussion about terrorism, rather than specific plans on how to reduce xenophobia against Muslims in the nation.

Calling Islamophobia "a shame," Trump said: "We have to be sure that Muslims come in and report when they see something going on. When they see hatred going on, they have to report it."

Clinton too called for Muslim action against suspected "terrorism."

"We need American Muslims to be part of our eyes and ears on our front lines," she said.

In the end, though both candidates named something they admired about the other, "his children," Clinton said of Trump, "she doesn't quit … she's a fighter," Trump said of Clinton.

Lauren Clark, a hairdresser based in Washington, DC said she appreciated Clinton's answer but found Trump's to be suspect.

"What Hillary said came from the heart. What Trump said was dishonest but polite," said Clark.

Clark went on to say that Trump's answer was betrayed by his words and actions throughout the run-up to the election, including during Sunday's debate.

"I don't care what he says, it's disgusting. [He is] so far from being presidential."

Going into Sunday's debate many questioned the town hall style, meant to give undecided voters a chance to pose questions to the candidates. With both candidates running such harsh and at times hostile campaigns, it's hard to imagine that there are many voters who have yet to decide whom they support.

Still, the nastiness will not end. The mud will continue to be slung. The insults will continue to echo.

In the end – in four weeks time – the people of the United States will be left to make sense of the mess their two-party system has become.

On November 8, the nation will be forced to choose between two candidates few seem to like very much and who have done little, if anything, to rehabilitate their respective images.

Author: Ali M Latifi and Rahul Radhakrishnan
Radharkrishnan reported from Washington, DC

Source: TRT World