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Trump launches all-out attack on Clinton in effort to salvage campaign

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri on October 9, 2016.

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

In a series of stunning and unprecedented attacks, Donald Trump insinuated he would jail Hillary Clinton if elected president, likened his opponent to the devil, and used the second presidential debate to air decades-old accusations of sexual misconduct by former president Bill Clinton.

Mr. Trump is gambling that an all-out assault on his opponent with little regard for custom or propriety will help salvage his campaign at its most difficult moment. He is facing an extraordinary revolt against his candidacy from within his own party following Friday's release of a 2005 video in which he described women in crudely sexual terms and bragged about kissing and groping them without their consent.

Asked about the video during Sunday's debate, Mr. Trump repeatedly referred to the remarks as "locker room talk." Then he turned the topic into an attack on Ms. Clinton's husband. "Mine are words and his was action," Mr. Trump said. "Bill Clinton was abusive to women."

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In a series of stunning and unprecedented attacks, Donald Trump insinuated he would jail Hillary Clinton if elected president, likened his opponent to the devil, and used the second presidential debate to air decades-old accusations of sexual misconduct by former president Bill Clinton.

Mr. Trump is gambling that an all-out assault on his opponent with little regard for custom or propriety will help salvage his campaign at its most difficult moment. He is facing an extraordinary revolt against his candidacy from within his own party following Friday's release of a 2005 video in which he described women in crudely sexual terms and bragged about kissing and groping them without their consent.

Asked about the video during Sunday's debate, Mr. Trump repeatedly referred to the remarks as "locker room talk." Then he turned the topic into an attack on Ms. Clinton's husband. "Mine are words and his was action," Mr. Trump said. "Bill Clinton was abusive to women."

Ms. Clinton declined to respond directly to Mr. Trump's accusations. "So much of what he's just said is not right, but he gets to run his campaign any way he chooses," she said. "Everyone can draw their own conclusions at this point about whether the man in the video or the man on the stage respects women."

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Mr. Trump often behaved like a candidate with little left to lose. He repeatedly interrupted Ms. Clinton and told her she should be "ashamed" of herself. He paced and scowled as she spoke. He promised to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate her use of a private e-mail server if he is elected president.

In response to that threat, Ms. Clinton remarked, "It's just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country."

"Because you'd be in jail," Mr. Trump retorted, to a smattering of applause.

For Mr. Trump, Sunday's debate was perhaps his last chance to salvage his campaign. Just two weeks ago, there were signs that that the Republican nominee was drawing even with Ms. Clinton, his Democratic rival, in national polls. But after Mr. Trump delivered an erratic performance at the first presidential debate on September 26 and persisted in making reckless remarks in the days that followed, Ms. Clinton re-established her lead.

That was before Friday's political earthquake. The release of the 2005 video threw the Republican Party into turmoil, with at least 20 senior lawmakers rescinding their prior endorsements of Mr. Trump. More than a dozen Republican members of Congress called on Mr. Trump to withdraw from the race. The mass retreat by members of his own party is a signal that many Republicans now view Mr. Trump as unelectable and a drag on their own prospects at the ballot box.

A number of prominent Republican women lawmakers deserted Mr. Trump, including Governor Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, as well as members of the House of Representatives from Utah, Alabama, Missouri and Texas. Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice called for Mr. Trump to step down in a post on Facebook. "Enough!" she wrote. "Donald Trump must not be president."

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Less than two hours before the debate, Mr. Trump engaged in a stunt previously inconceivable in American politics. He held a short, impromptu event with three women who have accused former president Clinton of sexual harassment or assault. During the event, Mr. Trump ignored questions from reporters, who asked about his descriptions of sexually assaulting women in the 2005 video. Later, at the debate, he denied committing such actions.

Sunday's showdown in St. Louis was the second of three presidential debates of this campaign. The third and final confrontation is scheduled for Oct. 19 in Las Vegas. A record 84 million people tuned in to watch the first debate in Hempstead, N.Y.

In St. Louis on Sunday, the debate format consisted of a town-hall setting where an audience of undecided voters asked many of the questions. Such an atmosphere can be tricky for presidential candidates: They answer voters directly and can roam around the stage, which makes their demeanour and body language even more crucial than in a traditional set-up.

Nevertheless, neither Ms. Clinton nor Mr. Trump pulled their punches on Sunday night. As voters posed queries on topics from health care to discrimination against Muslim-Americans, the two candidates seized every opportunity to draw contrasts between their records and temperaments.

Mr. Trump said he was surprised that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Ms. Clinton's primary opponent, had agreed to back her in the general election: "I was so surprised to see him sign on with the devil," Mr. Trump said.

Ms. Clinton, meanwhile, said Mr. Trump was living in an "alternate reality" and declared that he owed President Barack Obama an apology for spreading the "racist lie" that Mr. Obama was not born in the U.S. She said his goal during the debate was "to avoid talking about your campaign and the way it's exploding and how Republicans are leaving you."

A memorable moment occurred toward the end of the debate, when a voter asked both candidates to name something each one admired about the other. Ms. Clinton said she admired Mr. Trump's children, who she described as "incredibly able and devoted." More surprisingly, Mr. Trump said he admired Ms. Clinton's grit. "I will say this about Hillary: She doesn't quit, she doesn't give up. I respect that."

Canada made an unexpected appearance in response to a question about Obamacare. Mr. Trump claimed that Ms. Clinton favoured a single-payer system, like the one in Canada. Canadians, Mr. Trump went on to assert, often come to the U.S. when they need a "big operation." He continued: "Their system is so slow, it's catastrophic in certain ways."

In contrast with the earlier presidential debate and the vice-presidential debate, the two moderators of Sunday's debate – Anderson Cooper of CNN and Martha Raddatz of ABC – did their jobs in muscular fashion. They held both candidates to their time limits as closely as possible, kept cross-talk to a minimum and chastised Mr. Trump for interrupting Ms. Clinton.

Mr. Trump needed a strong showing at the debate – and even that may not be enough to resurrect his campaign. According to the website FiveThirtyEight, which produces an election model based on an aggregate of national and state-level polls, as of Sunday Mr. Trump had a 19 per cent chance of winning, compared to an 81 per cent chance for Ms. Clinton.

One of Mr. Trump's enduring issues has been attracting women voters, especially those with a university education. A Quinnipiac poll conducted in early October found that 53 per cent of women voters supported Ms. Clinton, compared to 33 per cent for Mr. Trump (the remaining 14 per cent favoured third-party candidates or were undecided).

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About the Author
U.S. Correspondent

Joanna Slater is an award-winning foreign correspondent for The Globe based in the United States, where her focus is business and economic news and New York City.Her career includes reporting assignments in the U.S., Europe and Asia. In 2015, she was posted in Berlin, Germany, where she covered Europe’s refugee crisis. More

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