5 Bizarre Moments: Trump Goes All Out to Make Presidential Debate Bad Reality TV
The second presidential debate was filled with weird and sick moments, courtesy of Donald Trump’s decision to distort and disrespect the process by turning the event into a reality TV circus where he played by his own rules, threw slime at his opponent, ignored and attacked the moderators, and stalked Clinton as she replied to audience questions.
The Trump circus began before the national television audience even tuned in, when Trump brazenly tried to turn the focus away from a newly discovered videotape in which he bragged about sexually assaulting women and getting away with it because he was a celebrity. That disclosure Friday led Republicans to abandon him in droves, drove millions of Americans to cringe at his creepiness and set the stage for Trump’s reality show hijacking of the second presidential debate.
1. Dirty tricks before debate. Trump’s intentionally shocking behavior began as a lurid stunt before the televised debate when he held a hotel press conference with four women, three of whom who claimed they had been sexually assaulted in the past by Bill Clinton, and a fourth who was the victim in a sexual assault case where Hillary Clinton was the assigned public defender for the accused. Digging up 40-year-old dirt on Bill Clinton was Trump’s way of neutralizing the 2005 video where he bragged about sexual assaults. Then his campaign team tried to seat the women in Trump’s onstage VIP box to confront Clinton—a stunt that was quickly shut down by the debate organizers, the Washington Post said.
“We had it all set. We wanted to have them shake hands with Bill, to see if Bill would shake hands with them,” said ex-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who represented Trump in debate negotiations. The four women were given seats in the audience. Giuliani bragged they wanted to use the women to rattle the Clintons, something reality TV producers do when they want to ambush on-air guests. “They were in the holding room and ready to go,” Giuliani said. “But I knew the minute we got pushback that we had gotten into their heads.” There were other rumors Monday that Trump’s campaign even paid the women to be at the debate.
2. The dictator-in-waiting speaks. Trump’s opening gambit turned the first third of the debate into a reality show-like display where he kept upping the ante to shock and surprise everyone not in on the stunt—Clinton, the town hall participants, the debate moderators, and the national television audience. He spent the first 20 minutes taunting Clinton, calling her out and getting frustrated as the debate moderators tried to contain him. Like a pay-per-view wrestling match building to a pre-ordained climax, he frowned, sulked, pointed fingers and threw more bile at Clinton.
Trump called her “terrible” and “disgraceful,” said she should be “ashamed,” called Bill Clinton the worst abuser of women in recent political history, accused her 2008 presidential campaign of starting the birther rumor that President Obama was an illegitimate president born in Kenya, and said she and the Democratic National Committee stole the nomination from Bernie Sanders.
Then, like a circus ringmaster, Trump made an announcement:
“If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation,” Trump said, pointing his finger at Hillary Clinton. “Because there has never been so many lies, so much deception. There has never been anything like it, and we’re going to have a special prosecutor.”
Clinton laughed. When it was her turn to speak, she told the audience to check the facts, “because everything he just said is absolutely false,” prompting another interruption from Trump. “It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country,” Clinton continued, prompting him to interrupt her yet again. “Because you’d be in jail,” he defiantly declared.
Trump looked like a wrestler who was waiting to slam his opponent and grab the crown. He again revealed his lust for power and his willingness to use any means to get it, and he put his dictatorial streak on full display.
3. Trump the stalker. Trump didn’t just invade Clinton’s space as she was replying to audience questions and repeatedly interrupt her; he stalked her on stage and shadowed her almost like a predator, numerous reports said Monday. Trump made matters worse by acting as if the 2005 video was little more than a bad joke that was somehow made public and he inconveniently had to apologize for. As Erin Ryan wrote in the Daily Beast, his behavior was far more than buffoonish. “He was a living museum exhibit on how not to be appealing to women,” she wrote. “He loomed over Hillary Clinton, stalking behind her and glaring at her as she answered questions, in a manner that many women might recognize as the sort of way a man who is trying to physically intimidate them might act.”
Trump’s bad behavior, whether visceral or conscious, didn’t stop there, Ryan noted, describing the antics of a petulant child and an adult with anger issues. “He whined about the moderators, barking over co-moderator ABC News chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz when she tried to get him to answer a question about Syria. He interrupted Hillary Clinton. He just couldn’t stop himself from interjecting ‘WRONG’ into her microphone and speaking over her during her allotted time.”
4. Obsessively preoccupied with Bernie. Once he finished his underhanded attack on the Clintons, Trump made an odd appeal to Sanders supporters by saying Clinton and the Democratic National Committee had stolen the nomination from Sanders. “Take a look at WikiLeaks [hacked and stolen Clinton emails] and just see what they say about Bernie Sanders and see what [former DNC chair] Deborah Wasserman Schultz had in mind,” Trump said, “because Bernie Sanders, between superdelegates and Deborah Wasserman Schultz, he never had a chance. And I was so surprised to see him sign on with the devil.”
But Trump didn’t stop there. He kept dropping Sanders’ name, more than a half-dozen times, perhaps to get his supporters' vote for anyone but Clinton. He kept repeating Sanders’ line from the primaries that “Hillary Clinton has very bad judgment.” He said this in reference to Obamacare, which Sanders voted for even though he favors a single-payer system. Trump said it in reference to his anti-immigrant stances, which Sanders has repeatedly criticized as racist and repugnant. And he dropped it again with Libya foreign policy.
“I’m proud of the campaigns that Bernie Sanders and I ran,” Clinton said, repeating a line from her stump speeches. “We ran a campaign based on issues, not insults. And he is supporting me 100 percent.”
5. Playing to a reality TV audience. Trump unpredictable outbursts and stage antics are not what anyone covering presidential elections expects. But they perfectly fit reality TV’s “can’t-look-away personality,” as Jim Rutenberg, a New York Times media columnist, wrote Monday. While the moderators were looking for serious answers to serious questions, Trump was playing to an audience that relishes scoring points at someone else’s expense. They are fans, not voters interested in policy. One of the night’s most interesting examples showed exactly how Trump brought tabloid TV into 80 million American homes.
When moderator Martha Radditz of ABC-TV asked Clinton about comments in a Wikileaks hack of her paid corporate speeches in which she talked about having public and private positions, Clinton replied the line was in response to a film about Abraham Lincoln, saying that politicians sometimes need to take different positions to gain support from differing members of Congress. “Honest Abe never lied,” Trump tartly replied. Then, gloating, he said, “That’s the difference between Abe Lincoln and you.”
Turning Presidential Debates Into Reality TV
As the fallout from last week’s sexual assault confession video kept reverberating Monday, it seemed likely that Trump’s ploy of turning the presidential campaign into a reality TV slugfest is going to set the stage for the last month of the campaign. It hardly matters to Trump’s base what the serious Republicans care about or are doing, like House Speaker Paul Ryan refusing to campaign with Trump for the rest of the election. While that drama was echoing in political circles, it’s likely that Trump will take his voyeuristic, made-for-TV staged show wherever he goes.
It may be that Trump is most comfortable fighting on his turf in his sleazy way, but it’s also true that he can lose control and support—as he did last Friday when the 2005 video surfaced. Indeed, also Monday, there were more reports of Trump videotapes and recordings in which he ruthlessly criticized the physical appearance of women on his TV shows.
The Huffington Post reportedabout one recording from "The Apprentice," in which he demeaned a country singer managed by former star Cyndi Lauper. “Personally, I am, as you probably heard, not a gay man, but I think he’s [a judge on the show] better looking than Emily, okay?” Trump said, according to a transcript. “Yes, of course [he said that],” Lauper told HuffPost, confirming its accuracy and then saying, “Of all people to talk about people’s skin! What the hell is going on with his?” Lauper continued, “There [Hillary Clinton] is [during Sunday night’s debate], and he is walking behind her like he’s a thug. And he’s talking to her and her husband like that. And it’s like, who are you? How dare you? … He has low-lifed our entire political system.”