go to content
Politics

Well, That Was Easily The Craziest And Most Surreal Debate In Modern History

BuzzFeed News reporters Ben Smith, Ruby Cramer, Adrian Carrasquillo, Darren Sands, Rosie Gray, and McKay Coppins were at Washington University in St. Louis; Ema O’Connor and Dominic Holden reported from New York; Emma Loop reported from Washington, DC; and Claudia Koerner reported from Los Angeles.

Posted on

* OK AMERICA! Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton held the most surreal US presidential debate in modern history (and probably ever) Sunday night. Settle in, folks, we're gonna unpack this thing for you. 💁🏾

* The debate was happening amid utter upheaval in the Trump campaign: 2005 hot mic comments, revealed Friday, suggested Trump sexually assaulted women. Many Republicans pulled their support for him.

* So first, a digest of the night: Trump denied he has ever sexually assaulted a woman; Hillary defended her speeches to big banks by citing...Abraham Lincoln; Trump literally vowed to lock Clinton up if he became president; Trump straight-up dissed his running mate, Mike Pence; and Trump denied referencing a "sex tape" by one of his former Miss Universe contestants, which, well, is a lie.

* The takeaways: Clinton was unfazed in the face of aggressive personal attacks. And Trump did well enough to keep himself afloat.

* The madness began before the debate even kicked off: Trump held a surprise appearance with several women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual abuse in the past. The move caught everyone — even Republican Party officials — off guard. Then the accusers sat in the crowd.

* The night began with Trump being asked if he's ever sexually assaulted a woman as described in the 2005 comments — he denied it, and dismissed the whole thing as "locker room" talk.

* Trump then attacked the Clintons, saying “there’s never been anybody in the history of politics in this nation that’s been so abusive to women" about Bill and that Hillary “attacked” the accusers.

* Trump, incredibly, said he would appoint a prosecutor to look into Clinton if he became president. When Clinton said she was glad he wasn't in charge of national law enforcement, Trump responded, "because you'd be in jail."

* And, um, Trump kept creepily hovering behind Clinton during the debate. People were freaked out.

* And that's not the half of it — at the end everyone just related to this dude.

* Who do you think won the debate? Take our poll.

This thing was 👀 right from the get-go, when Bill Clinton and Melania Trump had the most awkward/intense handshake. Watch it here:

video-cdn.buzzfeed.com

Then the candidates came out and did not shake hands.

video-cdn.buzzfeed.com

Remember: No one had said a word by this point.

Holy shit #1: Trump denied he's sexually assaulted women despite saying he grabs "them by the pussy.”

video-cdn.buzzfeed.com

Trump was asked whether he would be an appropriate role model after the comments were revealed.

“I don’t think you understand that this was locker room talk. I apologize to my family and to the American people,” he said. “Certainly I’m not proud of it. This is locker room talk and when you have a world where ISIS is chopping off heads, drowning people in steel cages, where you have wars and horrible, horrible sights all over.

"I’m very embarrassed by it, I hate it but it’s locker room talk and one of those things. I will knock the hell out of ISIS. We’re going to defeat ISIS.”

Moderator Anderson Cooper probed Trump on whether he had actually done the things he claimed to do in the video — kiss women without asking and “grab them by the pussy” — and still Trump shifted back to pledging military might.

“I have tremendous respect for women and no, I have not,” Trump said. “I will tell you I’m going to make the country safe.”

Clinton said, “That’s why, to go back to your question, I want to send a message, we all should, to every boy and girl and indeed to the entire world, that America already is great but we are great because we are good.”

Trump rejoined with a dig at former President Bill Clinton: “There’s never been anybody in the history of politics in this nation that’s been so abusive to women."

He added that Hillary Clinton also “attacked” these women, four of whom — Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, Kathy Shelton, and Paula Jones — Trump brought to the debate and sat in the front row.

Bill Clinton “was impeached, lost his license to practice law, he had to pay an $850,000 fine to one of the women, Paula Jones, who is also here tonight, and I will tell you that when Hillary brings up a point like that and she talks about words that I said 11 years ago,” Trump continued.

“I think it’s disgraceful and I think she should be ashamed of herself, if you want to know the truth.”

And here's Trump saying "nobody has more respect for women than I do."

video-cdn.buzzfeed.com

Holy shit #2: Trump essentially says he'll lock Clinton up if he wins the White House.

video-cdn.buzzfeed.com

Trump told Clinton that if he wins the election, he will order the attorney general "to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there has never been so many lies, so many deceptions, there has never been anything like it, and we're going to have a special prosecutor."

Trump had been criticizing Clinton over the State Department emails she stored on a private server.

Trump said people he's spoken with in the country "are furious" over Clinton's email scandal. He said "there has never been anything like this", where 33,000 emails were deleted after a subpoena from the attorney general.

"And then you acid wash them or bleach them as you would say, a very expensive process," Trump said. "So we're going to get a special prosecutor and we're going to look into it because you know what?

"People have been, their lives have been destroyed for doing one-fifth of what you have done and it's a disgrace," Trump told Clinton. "Honestly, you ought to be ashamed of yourself."

Clinton responded by saying that everything Trump said "is absolutely false," and urged viewers to visit her website to fact-check the claims.

"I expect we'll have millions more fact checking," Clinton said, "because, you know, it's just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country."

Trump retorted, "Because you would be in jail."

(By the way, Trump’s threat to lock up a political enemy puts him in the company of authoritarian leaders around the world. Here are 12.)

THEN, Clinton defended her speeches made to big banks — which she refused to reveal and BuzzFeed News reported on first — by referencing the 16th president of the US. 🤔

WikiLeaks on Friday released emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, including a speech in which Clinton noted that "You need both a public and a private position" in terms of policy.

"Well, as I recall that was something I said about Abraham Lincoln after having seen the wonderful Steven Spielberg movie called Lincoln," Clinton said. "It was a master class watching President Lincoln get the Congress to approve the 13th Amendment … President Lincoln was trying to convince some people, he used some arguments, convincing other people he used other arguments. That was great."

Trump countered that Clinton instead "got caught in a total lie" with the email hack. He seemed to suggest the documents reveal Clinton's coziness with "all her friends at the banks."

He added, "She lied and now she's blaming the lie on the late, great Abraham Lincoln. Honest Abe never lied. I notice any time anything wrong happens they like to say it's the Russians. They don't know, but they always blame Russia because they think they're trying to tarnish me with Russia. I know nothing about Russia."

Alright, that was a lot. It's time to meet the audience member everyone said was the real winner of the debate. This guy:

CSPAN

Trump was answering a question, and this guy was having not. One. Word. Of. It.

And people loved it:

Time for the Donald Trump Fact-Check Corner.

Donald Trump claimed that the US doesn’t have borders.

⛔️ Incorrect

Trump claimed that Muslims in the United States are not reporting terror plots to the authorities.

⛔️ Incorrect

Trump: “I was against the war in Iraq.”

⛔️ Incorrect, no matter how many times he says it.

“We don’t know if the Russians doing the hacking.”

⛔️ Incorrect

Trump says he didn’t say “check out sex tape.”

⛔️ Incorrect, and here's the tweet.

Want more? Read the full fact-check here!

Trump said his position on banning all Muslims from entering the US has evolved to "extreme vetting."

video-cdn.buzzfeed.com

Hillary Clinton said she wanted to be clear the US was not at war with Islam, while Donald Trump said his original plan to ban Muslim immigrants had evolved to be "extreme vetting."

Trump also said he could have prevented the death of an American Muslim soldier whose family he had previously criticized. Capt. Humayun Khan died in 2004 in Iraq, and his father criticized Trump during the Democratic National Convention, saying the Republican nominee did not uphold the ideals of the US Constitution.

"I would not have had our people in Iraq," Trump said. "Iraq was a disaster. He would have been alive today. The Muslim ban is something that in some form has morphed into extreme vetting from certain areas."

Trump told Howard Stern in 2002 that he supported invading Iraq. He later changed his position and also continues to claim he has always been against the Iraq War.

Clinton, in contrast, said the path to defeating ISIS and "violent jihadist terrorists" was to partner with Muslim countries and also show support to American Muslims.

"What Donald Trump says about Muslims is used to recruit fighters," she said. "Because they want to create a war between us."

Trump also said “people are coming into our country like we have no idea who they are” and called immigration “the great Trojan horse of all time.”

“I mean, whether we like it or not, and we could be very politically correct, but whether we like it or not, there is a problem,” Trump said.

“And we have to be sure that Muslims come in and report when they see something going on,” he added. “When they see hatred going on, they have to report it.”

That last part brought on a massive clapback by a Muslim professor, shared widely on social media:

I'm a Muslim, and I would like to report a crazy man threatening a woman on a stage in Missouri. #debate

Trump also argued with the moderators...a lot.

video-cdn.buzzfeed.com

(People looooved the debate moderators, by the way.)

Time for some analysis from the BuzzFeed News political crew.

Ruby Cramer's report: Clinton was unfazed as Trump unloaded personal and aggressive attacks.

More:

ST. LOUIS — Early on in Sunday’s debate, a fly drifted into the frame and came to rest, just for a moment, at the base of Hillary Clinton’s left eyebrow.

She blinked, flicked her head, and kept talking.

This was the Democratic nominee’s posture for more than an hour and a half here at Washington University in St. Louis as Donald Trump put on one of the more hostile performances of this year’s divisive presidential race. He called his opponent the “devil,” and said she had “tremendous hate in her heart.” He vowed to put her in prison, raised her husband’s infidelities, and brought women who alleged Bill Clinton sexually abused them into the debate hall. He paced the stage as she spoke. He lied about his opposition to the war in Iraq and asserted that had he been president, the late Captain Humayun Khan would still be alive.

When the debate was halfway through, one of Clinton’s aides back in Brooklyn snapped. “hey, @realDonaldTrump — regarding your claim that Captain Khan would be alive if you were president,” tweeted spokesperson Jesse Lehrich.
“go fuck yourself.”

The harsh tweet, which Lehrich later apologized for, amounted to what Clinton managed to largely avoid in the second presidential debate, a town hall–style forum that finally brought forth some of the personal attacks Trump has vowed to make for weeks.

And from McKay Coppins, who reports Trump did well enough to keep himself afloat.

ST. LOUIS — Donald Trump started Sunday’s debate looking like he might die: sniffling, reeling, lurking, obviously rattled by Hillary Clinton’s early poise.

But when the night ended, Trump was still standing — and Republican strategists across the party grudgingly acknowledged that, for better or worse, it would be his name on the ballot come November.

The debate came at a moment when Trump’s candidacy was spiraling into crisis after the release of an 11-year-old video in which he is heard boasting about his habit of forcibly groping women. In the 48 hours since the video was published, dozens of high-profile Republicans have defected, with many calling on Trump to drop out of the race. Frenzied news reports suggested the Republican National Committee might pull its funding, that Trump’s campaign manager might quit, that his running mate might bolt.

For a fleeting period this weekend, it looked as if the GOP’s presidential nominee could possibly be forced out of the race a month before Election Day.

While Trump’s discursive, belligerent debate performance was far from the miraculous comeback his allies were praying for, Republicans said Sunday night it was non-catastrophic enough to stabilize the party and save him from outright exile — at least for now.

To close: Because last night's debate was a ~town hall format~ — meaning they technically took questions from the audience and walked around the stage — some weird stuff happened...

...Trump creepily hovered behind Clinton...

...and they also sorta looked like they were doing some (very, very public, this is not private room stuff) karaoke?

"You're the one that I want" "You're the one I want" "Oooh ooh ooooooh" "Honey" #debate #karaoke

Contact BuzzFeed News at maggie.schultz+news@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.