Donald Trump has come out swinging in the second US presidential debate, which is just concluding as we go to press, saying that if elected, he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate “Hillary’s situation” with regard to allegations of disappeared emails and confidential documents. Clinton hit back, accusing Trump of being unfit for the office of president over the Access Hollywood tapes released on Friday — hot-mic recordings in which Trump talked about his ability to grope women with impunity because of his fame, using the phrase “we’re great because we are good” as a debate motif.

After a polite opening exchange in which both candidates laid out some general stuff, and a direct question from moderator Anderson Cooper as to whether Trump had condoned “sexual assault”, Trump repeatedly denied it.

Trump hit back with an attack on Clinton’s use of a secret email server, and the alleged hiding of 33,000 emails on a private server. But he nearly came off the rails trying to counter multiple accusations from Clinton. After a testy head-spinning exchange on who Michelle Obama liked the most, Hillary Clinton gave a very specific response to a question on Obamacare, with a series of points about reforming America’s healthcare system, while Trump wandered into generalities and, when questioned by Anderson Cooper on specific points, began to ramble badly.

Thus it was that the debate took a turn different to that which many people had expected — with Clinton attempting to show Trump up as hopelessly scattered and confused.

By the end of the first part of the debate, you would have to say that that plan was working well, with Trump taking another long ramble around the question of Islamophobia “…and everyone knew the bombs were there in that San Bernardino apartment, my God, and we just want Muslims to say something when we see something…”

What happens now? However the debate is judged — and it seems most likely to be scored a draw, or another pro forma win for Hillary — Trump’s core supporters are unfazed by the latest scandal. They think Hillary is a murderer and into lesbian S&M, and that Trump’s sexual threats amount to “locker room talk”. They won’t budge. But he may have lost right-wing Republicans along for the ride, and independents, and this performance won’t get them back.

Aaaaaaaand as we hit the deadline, with a half hour to go, the thing was continuing as it started — with Clinton chipping in an on-point argument about Trump’s possible influence by Russia, and Trump going into a long explanation of his taxes.

Peter Fray

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