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Trump lives to fight another day but he needs an awful lot of luck to become the next POTUS

Neither candidate is the person to lead America out of crisis, writes Larry Donnelly.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

THE SECOND SHOWDOWN between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton may have been even more eagerly anticipated than their first debate, coming as it did hot on the heels of the release of a damaging and disturbing 2005 videotape in which Trump discussed grabbing women’s genitals.

The bizarre press conference Trump convened before the debate featuring women who have made accusations that Bill Clinton sexually assaulted them in the past heightened expectations that this could be “car crash TV”, and that Trump would leave absolutely nothing behind on the debate stage.

At the outset, while he first apologised for his comments in the videotape, he did go on the attack. He claimed that former President Clinton’s actions were far more damning by comparison to his “locker room talk” and alleged that his opponent had sought to silence women who say they were victimised by her husband.

Hillary Clinton probably had her high point in the debate when responding to this onslaught. She looked the American people in the eye and argued forthrightly that contents of the newly released videotape should not take Americans by surprise.

She mentioned his litany of other statements about women, racial minorities and people with disabilities. Her critique was devastating and unassailable. Her bearing while delivering it was undeniably presidential.

Yet for much of the remainder of the 90 minutes, Clinton seemed off-balance and did not recapture the moral high ground she occupied in the early going.

Trump hammered her on the infamous email server and the tens of thousands of emails that have disappeared. He opined that it was a real stretch for anyone to be asked to believe that they were all about her daughter’s wedding. He even stated that he would seek to imprison Clinton if elected president.

When he went on the attack – some of which was undoubtedly hyperbolic – she smiled broadly and laughed sarcastically.

Campaign 2016 Debate Source: Patrick Semansky

Her ‘apology’ for inappropriately using a private email server as Secretary of State was again half-hearted.

This will not have helped her with those Americans who have lingering doubts about her character and who believe that “there is one rule for the Clintons and one rule for everyone else”.

Trump scored some points by referencing Clinton’s long time in public life, her questionable judgment at times and her failure to progress any of the reforms she is now proposing as a candidate for the presidency before now.

In particular, tying her to wealthy and powerful campaign contributors as a US Senator for New York will have resonated with the millions of men and women who have been left behind economically.

Campaign 2016 Debate Source: Patrick Semansky/PA Wire

That said, given the speculation before the debate that Trump had finally crossed the line and the announcements made by numerous leading Republicans that they were taking back their endorsements – tepid as they were – of their party’s unlikely nominee, much of his efforts last night were directed at shoring up his base and convincing conservatives that they still should vote for him.

For instance, his high praise for the late US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and his explicit reference to defending the 2nd Amendment will be celebrated by those on the American political right, but are unlikely to elicit much enthusiasm from the middle ground voters Trump needs to win the race.

The overarching question, then, is where do things stand after the second debate? In short, Trump lives to fight another day.

Notwithstanding the ‘it’s over’ talk in the 48 hours between the release of the videotape and last night’s encounter, as well as rumours about other recordings that may surface and cast him in an even more unfavourable light, Trump probably did enough to reassure his supporters, including his purportedly wavering running mate, Mike Pence, who has tweeted his congratulations on a “big debate win”.

The advantage, however, in terms of the all-important Electoral College maths, remains solidly with Hillary Clinton. It is nearly impossible to envisage a scenario in which he could sway enough undecided voters over the next several weeks to prevail in the states he needs to win.

Even looking at the American political map in the light most favourable to Donald Trump, Clinton has an extremely wide path to victory and his is exceedingly narrow.

8 November would have to be a very, very bad day for her and a superb day for him – and even then, he would need an awful lot of luck.

Many Americans (this one included) have already voted either by absentee ballot or pursuant to laws in states that permit early voting. Early voting typically benefits Democrats, as will their far better ground game and get out the vote operation.

There are just four weeks to go in what has been a most extraordinary political campaign. In many ways, it has been difficult and disheartening to watch.

This year’s race for the White House reflects the reality that America – now a country which the overwhelming majority believe is heading in the wrong direction and whose best days are behind it – is in crisis. That crisis requires a president who can credibly lead a national conversation about the future. Sadly, it appears that neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump would be able to do so. But hope springs eternal.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with TheJournal.ie and IrishCentral.com.

More: “If I was President, you’d be in jail” – The key moments from Trump vs Clinton II

As it happened: Clinton and Trump go head to head in second debate

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About the author:

Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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