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Second US presidential debate under the shadow of sex-rant tape

us presidential election Updated: Oct 10, 2016 00:21 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

People walk by the debate site ahead of the second presidential debate at Washington University, in St. Louis.(AP Photo)

Donald Trump is on notice for the debate on Sunday night. This could be his last chance to rescue his campaign hit by a spate of desertions from Republicans outraged, as the rest of the country, by his vulgar boast on a 2005 tape about groping women and forcing himself on them, and calls for him to step aside.

His running mate Mike Pence , who refused to stand in for Trump at a campaign event on Saturday, said in a statement, “I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them”

“We pray for his family and look forward to the opportunity he has to show what is in his heart when he goes before the nation” for the presidential debate, he said.

Some Republicans calling for Trump’s exit have proposed Pence as his replacement, and even urged him to abandon the ticket to force out the real estate tycoon who may have pushed the party to the limit of its tolerance.

Senator John McCain withdrew his endorsement of the party nominee on Saturday, saying his “demeaning comments about women and his boasts about sexual assaults make it impossible to continue to offer even conditional support for his candidacy.”

A stream of Republicans have abandoned their nominee since the tape became public on Friday — more than 40 prominent elected officials by one count, including some present and past governors such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, serving senators and members of the House of Representatives, and former candidates for the White House Carly Fiorina, Jon Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty and George Pataki.

Trump, who has said there is “zero chance I'll quit,” slammed them in a tweet on Sunday, “So many self-righteous hypocrites. Watch their poll numbers - and elections - go down!”

A lot of them are indeed seeking re-election — McCain, Kelly Ayotte, Rob Portman, for instance — and their decision to distance themselves could have been prompted by genuine outrage over his remarks or politically expediency.

Read| Trump vows to remain in presidential race after calls for him to withdraw

They should worry about their poll number, but so should Trump. At this time before the first debate, he was merely two points behind Clinton, having bridged a gap of around eight points.

On Sunday, he was trailing her by over four points in the RealClearPolitics average of polls.

And in FiveThirtyEight's forecast, Trump had only18.4% chance of winning the presidency to Clinton's 81.5%; compared to 41.8% to Clinton’s at 58.2% then.

Clinton, who dominated the first debate and won it fairly and squarely, is coming to the second with a small patch of cloud over head as well. Hacked excerpts from her highly paid speeches to Wall Street banks and institutions, released on Friday by WikiLeaks, contradicted her current position on multinational trade deals and support for big banks. 

And Trump, whose best moments at the first debate came in the first 15 or 20 minutes when he attacked her on trade and economic issues, such as job creation, would use the fresh ammunition provided by Wikileaks to build on that advantage.

Read| Donald Trump has long history of offensive comments about women

But the big question agitating pundits and pollsters was about his threat to bring up Bill Clinton's infidelities. Would he go there this time?

He could, if his faux-apologies for the sex-rant tape were any indication — he mentioned Bill Clinton in both. “I've said some foolish things, but there's a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims,” he said in the second.

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