Musings on the Second Presidential Debate

On Sunday night, nearly 70 million people across the nation tuned into the second presidential debates for the 2016 election. The ratings dropped by around 20 million views from the last debate. Despite this, the debate did not disappoint, boasting over 90 minutes of both candidates stretching the limits of a family-friendly program.

Between many dodged questions, carefully worded responses, many heated ad hominem arguments, and the waning patience of moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz, viewers were able to gather some insight to the nature of the candidates in both their policy and their general character.

This debate, held at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., was a town-hall style meeting, where the topics came directly from the public, some of which were able to sit on the stage and ask their question directly to the candidates. This dynamic pushed the candidates to connect directly with their potential constituents and answer the questions the public has, rather than the ones that are generated by political analysts.

These questions from the voters covered a wide range of topics, including healthcare, Syrian refugees and xenophobia, taxes, the conditions of Aleppo, energy policy and Supreme Court justices. However, much of the debate focused on both candidates’ personal scandals, including Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” tapes that were released last week, Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, Trump not releasing his tax information, Clinton calling Trump supporters “deplorable,” and whether either candidate had any respect for one another.

One of the few policies touched on in the debate was healthcare, particularly President Barack Obama’s healthcare law and what both candidates would do to change it. Clinton offered her opinion on the matter by recognizing the issues with “Obamacare” and stressing the importance of fixing the issues without doing away with the positive aspects of the bill. Trump presented his stance, stating that he would like to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a much more beneficial and affordable system, without specifying the details.
Following this, Clinton was targeted, once again, for her husband’s opinion on the issue, despite just expressing her own stance, while Trump was hounded on how he would convince insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions if it is no longer mandatory for everyone to have life insurance.

Relations with the Middle East is an extremely prevalent issue in this debate, with questions about Syrian refugees, interfering in the war in Syria and the treatment of Muslim-Americans. Trump reconfirmed his stance on the Muslim community by attacking his running mate, Mike Pence, who said earlier in the week that the Trump campaign no longer believes a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Trump insisted on a mandatory “religion test” for anyone entering the country who may be a Muslim, and dodged the issue of helping the situation in Aleppo almost entirely.

Clinton took the stance that the nation needs to make a great effort to ensure that Muslim-Americans feel included, tougher vetting on Syrian refugees and allowing more refugees into the country. She also emphasized on making the United States a stronger ally than enemy to neighboring countries in the Middle East.

Probably the most discussed issues of the night dealt with the many scandals that both candidates have been facing. Trump was immediately questioned the audio tapes released last week, where a 2005 Donald Trump said that his fame justified him sexually assaulting women. Trump refused to acknowledge the implied sexual assault threat in his word, repeating the “locker room talk” explanation. When Clinton pressed him on the issue, he turned to attacking her husband’s sexual affairs.

Trump would also not allow this debate to slip by without calling Clinton out on her email scandal, threatening to jail her if he was to be elected. Answering a follow-up question on this, Clinton carefully tread around her answers, dismissing Trump’s claims and addressing that she realizes she made mistakes and now understands the importance of being more careful with classified information.

Trump was also targeted for not releasing his tax information again, to which he tried to turn the issue on Clinton not doing enough work as her time as a senator to prevent people like him from manipulating the system the way he did. He also stated his loose claim once again that he cannot release his tax information until he is done being audited, a fact that the IRS has denied.

The debate turned on Clinton again for calling Trump supporters “deplorable.” She apologized for those statements again and turned the conversation to Trump leading a campaign that thrives on hate and that holds rallies where people are violent and abusive. The moderators also questioned both candidates on whether Trump had the discipline to be president.
The highlight of the night was when Ken Bone, already an internet sensation, asked the final question, urging both of the candidates to say something nice about the other.
Clinton responded by complimenting Trump on his children rather than him directly. Trump responded by saying that Clinton was a fighter and admiring that she fights.

This debate definitely further established the candidates’ stances and solidified their personal brandings. Its impact might be reflected in the polls in the coming week and set the grounds for the last debate.