Revelations add ammo to second debate

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

St. Louis — A decade-old video tape featuring Donald Trump making lewd comments about his sexual exploits and hacked transcripts of Hillary Clinton’s speech to Brazilian bankers promoting unfettered free trade added an unexpected jolt to the presidential race ahead of Sunday night’s debate.

Trump and Clinton will meet at 9 p.m. at Washington University in St. Louis for a town hall-style debate, their second of three. It could get personal as Trump reels from revelations that he boasted to a TV host in 2005 about how he used his celebrity to kiss and fondle women.

A defiant Trump resisted calls Saturday from fellow Republicans to drop out of the race. The New York real estate mogul apologized in a web video, but also vowed to hit back at Clinton by dredging up her husband’s infidelities.

“Bill Clinton has actually abused women and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims,” Trump said. “We will discuss this more in the coming days.”

Democratic strategist Howard Edelson said Trump’s handling of the revelations were more evidence he’s unfit to lead the country.

“For him to do his apology and just pivot and try to point fingers at the Clintons, it’s just a perfect example that he doesn’t have the temperament to be president,” Edelson said. “His campaign has just spun out of control.”

One prominent Trump supporter from Michigan said she hoped Trump would apologize for his comments and not dive into a debate with Clinton over Bill Clinton’s sex life.

“I’d like him to avoid the whole thing altogether,” said Lena Epstein, a co-chair of Trump’s Michigan campaign. “I’d like us to focus on the real issues facing America — not Bill Clinton’s sexual indiscretions, not Hillary Clinton’s response to Bill’s sexual indiscretions.”

Clinton, meanwhile, could face new questions in the debate about her lucrative paid speeches after some partial transcripts were hacked from her campaign’s email servers and released by WikiLeaks late Friday.

WikiLeaks obtained Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails that included transcripts of paid speeches Clinton gave after she left the State Department in 2013. She had refused to release these transcripts during the Democratic primaries against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

In one speech to Brazlian banks, Clinton said it was her “dream” of having “a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders” and doubling American trade with Latin America, the Associated Press reported.

Politico.com reported Saturday Clinton raved about the Trans Pacific Partnership in a November 2013 speech to New York business leaders. Trump has railed against the TPP, and during the campaign Clinton has become publicly against the trade deal with Pacific Rim nations.

The second presidential debate comes at a pivotal juncture in the race for the White House as Trump is trailing Clinton in key battleground states, including Michigan.

In addition to the Trump sex talk tape and the WikiLeaks revelations, here are five aspects of the debate to watch for Sunday night:

Economic issues

With Clinton’s past support of trade deals back in the news, Trump may go back to the well that has fueled his meteoric rise to the GOP presidential nomination.

Rewriting decades-old trade agreements has been the cornerstone of Trump’s economic mesasage, which portrays America floundering with $19 trillion in national debt and a sluggish economy.

The Detroit News-WDIV statewide poll conducted after the first debate found 59 percent of likely Michigan voters said they believe the country is on the wrong track. Just under 30 percent think America is on the right track, a response typically tied to long-term economic security.

Voters were narrowly divided over whether Trump or Clinton has a better plan for reviving the economy. Clinton had a three percentage-point advantage over Trump, which was within the poll’s margin of error.

Debate analysts thought Trump was strongest in the first 30 minutes of the Sept. 26 debate when he honed in on economic issues and trade policy.

“He was best talking about the economy, free trade, making specific appeals to voters in Ohio and Michigan,” said Aaron Kall, director of debate the University of Michigan. “He just needs to focus on those.”

Stagecraft

In the town hall format, the presidential candidates aren’t chained to a podium and have been known to cross paths in a small shared stage as they address questions from undecided voters in the crowd.

How they engage with the audience and treat their opponent could be closely scrutinized, Kall said.

“It’s a unique format and it’s all about your interaction with undecided voters,” Kall said. “I don’t think it’s an ideal format that’s conducive to (Trump).”

Clinton needs to can her canned statements that she recites in campaign stump speeches, Kall said.

“They just come across and boorish and inauthentic,” Kall said. “The more time she spends actually addressing questions she won’t know beforehand the better, as opposed to getting in rehearsed lines.”

Preparation

Trump was criticized for appearing unprepared in the first debate on Sept. 26 at Hofstra University against Clinton, an experienced debater.

Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, won praise for his performance in Tuesday’s vice presidential debate against Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine. Both men spent time preparing for their lone debate.

Trump has mocked Clinton for leaving the campaign trail this week to prepare for their first televised encounter.

“I said forget debate prep. I mean, give me a break,” Trump said Thursday in New Hampshire, according to Politico. “Do you really think that Hillary Clinton is debate-prepping for three or four days? Hillary Clinton is resting, OK?”

But Trump left the campaign trail Friday to prepare for the debate after the controversy over the 2005 lewd comments about women erupted.

Trump’s lack of preparation and political experience to turn a tough question into a critique of Clinton’s record showed in the first debate, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

“No doubt he’s been told by his team regardless the question you’re asked, spend 30 seconds answering it and transition to the topics you want to talk about,” Sabato said. “That’s where experience matters.”

Obamacare fight renewed

President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, known as “Obamacare,” had largely taken a back seat in this presidential election until former President Bill Clinton gave it new life on Monday during a speech in Flint.

The former president, known for his ability to explain complex issues in ways other politicians can’t, gave a blistering assessment of Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.

Bill Clinton called the Affordable Care Act a “crazy system” that is harming small businesses and people making too much money to qualify for taxpayer-subsidized private insurance plans.

“So you’ve got this crazy system where all of a sudden 25 million more people have health care and the people that are busting it — sometimes 60 hours a week — wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half,” Bill Clinton said in Flint. “It’s the craziest thing in the world.”

Trump, who has called for repealing and replacing Obamacare, will likely try to use Hillary Clinton’s husband’s words against her in the debate.

Hillary Clinton has defended many of the law’s main components, such as prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing medical conditions.

Trump’s tax returns

Clinton and her allies have turned up the heat on Trump over his continued refusal to release his tax returns following last weekend’s revelation by The New York Times that he claimed a $916 million loss on his 1995 tax returns stemming from the near collapse of his business empire.

The Times obtained three pages of Trump’s 1995 tax return and reported the loss was big enough to shield Trump from paying federal income taxes on up to $50 million of income annually for 18 years.

Clinton has been railing on Trump about it all week in her continued effort to define her opponent as a billionaire who has built his wealth on gaming the tax code.

“It’s Trump first and everyone else last,” Clinton said Monday in Toledo.

On the campaign trail in Colorado, Trump said he “brilliantly used” the tax code to benefit his real estate company, employees and investors.

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3661

Twitter: @ChadLivengood

How to watch the debate

Location: Washington University in St. Louis

Time: Sunday, 9 p.m.-10:30 p.m. No commercial breaks.

Moderators:

CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz, chief global affairs correspondent and co-anchor of ABC’s “This Week”

Format: Town hall. Half of the questions will be asked by uncommitted voters selected by the Gallup Organization and the other half by the moderator. The candidates will have two minutes to respond. The moderator gets an additional minute to facilitate further discussion.

Where to watch

Television: ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, PBS, C-SPAN, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC

Online: Live-streamed on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other internet sites

Where to listen: WJR, NPR News and POTUS channel on Sirius XM