early and often

Andrew Sullivan Liveblogs the Second Presidential Debate

The press center for the second presidential debate. Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Welcome to the special edition of the grotesque reality show that is now our presidential election.

If you want to send me your thoughts as the events proceed, email me at sully@nymag.com (if you’re a recovering dishhead, you can also always use the old email address).

Please refresh to update.

And may God help us all.

10:37 p.m.

I’m horrified to say that Trump will survive this, even though he absolutely shouldn’t. I suspect this performance will prevent a total meltdown in his campaign. His Breitbart-style attacks on Clinton will have riled up his base. Her defensive rebuttals were not crude enough to hit home. But it remains true that this man openly pledged to put his opponent in jail if he is elected – something that is truly destructive of a liberal democracy. He pledged to ally with Putin’s Russia in global politics. He offered mere slogans when asked to provide substantive policy answers. And he took politics to a new low in his tabloid antics.

He’s a disgrace and a national embarrassment. And he may still win this election.

10:36 p.m.

10:28 p.m. Trump is now free-associating on energy. There’s something about the magnitude of his sweep of lies – rebooting coal will bring back countless jobs, for example, or that the Obama administration is putting energy companies out of business, when the fracking revolution has taken place in the last eight years – that makes it hard to respond empirically or rationally. But Clinton hasn’t done a great job at rebutting his bald-faced fantasies. His monosyllabic sentences beat her complex syntax.

It’s the advantage of a demagogue who knows how he wants us to feel, but has no idea what he’s talking about. How does a hyper-democracy, fueled by reality television, cope with that? I guess we’ll find out.

10:26 p.m. Clinton tells us what a Supreme Court justice should do. That is not the role of a president. But it has, of course, become one.

10:24 p.m.

10:23 p.m. She’s just not capable of it, alas:

10:20 p.m. I cannot but note that the longer this goes on and the more bullshit Trump spouts and the less Clinton attacks him, the more normal this candidate appears. He is not normal. He is a threat to liberal democracy. He is an unhinged, reckless ignoramus. And now he’s ranting about Sidney Blumenthal again.

10:19 p.m.

10:15 p.m. Clinton’s response to Mr Carter is a summary of her resumé in public life. And a somewhat smug one. She fails to attack Trump on his own awful history of racial provocation and discrimination.

10:13 p.m. Trump’s response on the deplorables and irredeemables was his best line of the night.

10:11 p.m.

10:05 p.m. An accomplished answer on Syria by Clinton. Trump then returns to Syria with a reference to the “line in the sand.” And I’m afraid I can’t quite make out what else he is arguing. It seems as if he just disagreed with his vice-presidential candidate and wants to ally with Assad and Iran and Russia to destroy ISIS.

“Basically, Aleppo has already fallen.” I guess if you don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s fine just to make some authoritative statement. Now he’s endorsing “sneak attacks.”

10:03 p.m. A reader writes:

Trump is not your Fox News watching uncle. He’s the tragic picture of a wounded animal from Hemingway’s or Jack London’s imagination: threatening, snorting, disoriented, trapped and pacing, snapping at whomever is near.

It just seems sad and so unnecessary.

9:58 p.m. I think Trump just admitted he doesn’t pay personal federal income taxes. How does he get away with this? Or maybe finally he won’t.

9:56 p.m. Trump keeps literally turning his back to her and walking pensively away.

9:54 p.m. Trump really has the reptilian Republican instincts: “she’ll raise everybody’s taxes massively.”

9:50 p.m. Trump does not really respond to Clinton’s nuanced defense of political shenanigans. But he is able to call her a liar. And that will work, to some extent. Amazing to me though that Trump cannot attack the Kremlin for interfering in this country’s election. Amazing but by now not at all shocking.

9:47 p.m. Trump’s core talking points have not changed since the primaries.

9:46 p.m.

Truth teller.

9:43 p.m. Trump repeats his untrue assertion that he opposed the Iraq War and personally blames the death of Captain Khan on Clinton. His inability to concede that he has altered his Muslim ban is yet another sign of his refusal to take responsibility for anything.

9:41 p.m. Clinton makes her strongest argument yet on the need not to inflame the Muslim world.

9:40 p.m.

9:38 p.m.

9:35 p.m. Trump’s only answer on Obamacare is more competition across the states. Generously, that might help a little. The rest of his answers on healthcare are gibberish. But I suspect they will persuade some.

9:33 p.m. Trump cannot answer how he’d replace the ACA. He has no idea.

9:31 p.m. Trump is now hovering over her in the background, looming like a predator. Her response on Obamacare was pretty good – although her proposals to fix it weren’t actually honest or relevant.

9:28 p.m. Trump is now hazing her. And now he’s attacking Anderson Cooper. This gets at it:

9:26 p.m.

9:25 p.m. Did she just lose her cool? I think so. All she needs to do is apologize. But she’s digging in.

9:23 p.m. For the first time in American history, a presidential candidate is openly pledging to bring criminal charges against his opponent. This is what happens in a banana republic.

9:21 p.m. Trump is now actually doubling down on Hillary being the origin of the Birther movement. Now he’s trying to say that Michelle Obama is not Hillary Clinton’s friend. This is a meltdown – a sad, pathetic, incoherent meltdown.

9:18 p.m. Now he’s claiming he didn’t commit sexual assault and tells Clinton she should be ashamed of herself for her trashing of Bill’s victims. It’s not just a losing gambit, it seems as if even he can’t quite nail it home.

9:16 p.m.

9:15 p.m. I thought Clinton’s measured, calm attack on Trump’s fitness to be president was very finely tuned. She assumed control. Trump seems as if the wind has completely gone out of his sails.

9:12 p.m. Trump now denies in public what he bragged about in private.

9:10 p.m. ISIS is the reason Trump cannot cop to bragging about sexual assault, it appears. It was just “locker room talk.”

9:07 p.m. Clinton goes for the high ground. Trump seems subdued and does his best to keep the tone sober. He hasn’t brought up the tape, or the question of moral character. Just a quick summary of his campaign – but with less, er, vigor.

9:05 p.m. No handshake this time.

9:02 p.m. The look on Bill Clinton’s face speaks volumes: bleary, resigned, grim. Uday and Qusay Trump look pretty tense as well.

9:01 p.m. Some context for that press conference Trump just held:

9 p.m.

How does one prepare for tonight’s grotesquerie? Donald Trump has removed any suspense by just holding a press conference with three women who claim (credibly in my view) to have been sexually assaulted and, in one case, brutally raped, by former president Bill Clinton. (The fourth has nothing to do with Bill Clinton at all.) It is as if every foul odor from the 1990s has emerged to fuse with the reality television stench of this campaign.

If we are comparing Bill Clinton with Donald Trump morally, I plead the fifth. I cannot know each man’s soul. But it remains true that this election is not between Bill Clinton and Donald Trump; it’s between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Her comparable flaw, we are told, is attacking and smearing and denigrating the victims of her husband’s sexual assaults. That’s foul – and I don’t believe Hillary was taken by surprise as these stories came out. But the wife of a husband is easily forgiven for thinking poorly of her husband’s sexual partners and victims. That’s how most Americans responded in the 1990s; and it seems to me obvious even more people will react in this vein today.

So what we’re learning is how deep the self-sabotage of Donald Trump can be. And this is a relevant issue in this election. If he were to become president, he would not be sabotaging himself, he’d be sabotaging all of us – and the safety and security of the entire world. That must not happen. That cannot happen.

Andrew Sullivan Liveblogs the Second Presidential Debate