John Locher/AP Photo
Both candidates circled back repeatedly to their talking points, and it’s now a month until the election—late enough that repeating talking points is no longer reportage.

Mud Wrestling By Trump & Clinton in Second Presidential Debate

Steve Russell

All commentators agree on one fact in this generally fact-free election cycle: Donald J. Trump has controlled the terms of the debates from the day he announced his run for president. One outrageous proposition after another from him sucked all the oxygen out of any attempt to raise realistic policy in the Republican primary.

Those who thought Trump would have trouble setting the agenda when the Democrats nominated a notorious policy nerd have so far nothing to show for their speculation. Trump has been and remains the only issue in this election, and any policy even mentioned gets mentioned in relation to Trump.

Even valid attacks on Clinton have been Trumped, buried in a blizzard of untruths. Everybody suspected Clinton would not release transcripts of her high-dollar Wall Street speeches because she was letting those who paid her to pipe call the tune. But Trump is more interested in claiming she would “repeal the Second Amendment,” which is both untrue and not within the powers of a POTUS, even if it were true.

Clinton compromised with Bernie Sanders on his “free college for all” proposal by adding a means test. It’s a provocative idea to address the real problem of runaway higher education costs, but the debate it should have provoked has been impossible with Trump casting doubt on whether the U.S. will defend NATO allies after they stepped up to defend us in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.

Clinton won the first debate. The second one last night was a town hall format, which was supposed to mean that the audience got to set the agenda. Still, going into the second debate, Trump once more sucked up all the political oxygen and made himself the issue.

After blaming his loss of the first debate on a bad microphone (and darkly suggesting sabotage), this debate featured a microphone that worked too well for his taste back in 2005. Trump was miked-up for a cameo appearance on a soap opera when he created his very own soap opera with comments lewd enough to make a teenager blush and leave grown people scratching their heads.

Republican pols, particularly those running for re-election, have been rats leaving a sinking ship since that tape was released, but what little polling has come in since then suggests that Trump’s base is loyal and will blame the rats rather than the guy who blew holes in the hull below the water line.

The growing GOP chorus for The Donald to hand over the nomination to Mike Pence seems unrealistic. Absentee ballots for GIs overseas are in the mail and some states have begun early voting.

A new Wikileaks data dump reported an alleged transcript of a Clinton speech behind closed doors that does not match her public positions on banking regulation and trade agreements. That would be big trouble if Trump were not, again, the center of attention.

Within two hours of the debate, there was another remarkable development. The Trump campaign invited the pool reporters to “observe a debate prep session.” It was already known that Trump had been coerced into prepping for the second debate in a more conventional manner. Or that had been leaked.

The press pool was ushered into a conference room where Trump, looking angry, was seated at the sort of desk you use for a group press conference. Trump was in the middle. Seated around him were Paula Jones, Kathleen Shelton, Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey. All but Shelton have accused Hillary’s husband, Bill Clinton, of sexual misconduct.

The talking heads speculated this telegraphed that Trump would “go nuclear” on Hillary Clinton’s reactions to those claims back when they were first aired, decades ago. All of these claims have been aired out many times before, but many voters were not born at the time.

The first time around, Hillary did not defend Bill but rather defended her marriage. Voters declined to hold that against her. Ironically, the TV stations were already running tape of Trump calling Paula Jones “a loser” and opining that she lied about Bill Clinton.

Kathleen Shelton is the one person with a story not related to Bill Clinton. She was raped at 12 years old and Hillary Clinton was court appointed to represent the rapist.

Shelton to this day does not understand that a lawyer is ethically required to provide a vigorous defense without regard to the lawyer’s personal opinion. She is upset about a pleading Clinton signed to get a court-ordered mental evaluation and about Clinton’s success in a motion to suppress forensic evidence.

Clinton’s famous “laughter” about the case was her memory that her client passed a polygraph in spite of her opinion he was guilty, destroying any faith she might otherwise have had in polygraphs.

Shelton’s complaints have not been raised as political issues because, presumably, Clinton’s other opponents were not willing to attack the Sixth Amendment and the rules of legal ethics that flow from it.

Trump’s interference in the Central Park Five case, where he still demands the death penalty despite DNA exonerations, displays his opinion of the legal process. As a lawyer who has been tasked by courts to represent guilty people, I will be the first to admit that putting the Sixth Amendment on trial threatens me personally.


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