Clinton expects to have an opportunity early on during the town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis to respond to the controversy, according to a campaign aide who asked not to be identified. The moderators — ABC’s Martha Raddatz and CNN’s Anderson Cooper — may bring the topic up, or the undecided voters asking candidates questions may, or Trump himself may address his remarks head-on. Either way, Clinton will be ready to pounce with her prepared reaction in front of tens of millions of viewers.
|Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during their first presidential debate. (Photo: Rick Wilking/Reuters)|
Clinton has not done an interview or even released a statement since the Washington Post reported on audio from 2005 in which Trump bragged about how he could “do anything” to women, including grabbing them by the genitals. Dozens of GOP officials had condemned or withdrawn their support from Trump as of Saturday night, and his own running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, said he could not “defend” Trump’s comments.
Instead of responding, Clinton spent hours Saturday in debate preparations with a small circle of aides in Westchester. Campaign leaders made the decision to have Clinton’s first reaction come during the town hall, which they expect to draw one of the largest audiences they’ll have between now and Election Day. Meanwhile, her official campaign Twitter account called the comments “horrific” and her staffers released a video inserting Trump’s remarks with other offensive comments about women he’s made in the past.
It’s unclear how Trump will address the controversy Sunday. In the video apology he released Friday night, the GOP nominee lashed out against President Bill Clinton, saying he has “actually abused women” and that Hillary Clinton “has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims.” This suggests Trump could try to deflect attention from his own comments by bringing up Bill Clinton’s past infidelities and Juanita Broaddrick’s rape accusation against the former president. (Trump retweeted Broaddrick on Saturday.) Clinton has brushed off Trump’s comments about her husband in the past, but she’s never before had to react to them in real time as she stands next to Trump.
The badly wounded candidate could be even more unpredictable than usual on Sunday, according to Aaron Kall, director of debate at the University of Michigan and the editor of a book about Trump’s debating style. “Clinton needs to be prepared for an outside-the-box Trump Hail Mary during the debate, including the announcement of a multimillion donation to Planned Parenthood or another women’s group,” Kall predicted. He said Trump could throw the “kitchen sink” at Clinton and her husband, or try to deflect from the subject altogether. “This makes her debate preparation extremely difficult,” Kall said. “Clinton doesn’t know which version of Trump will show up and how much time this explosive subject will take up.”
Clinton must also prepare for Trump to bring up leaked emails from her campaign chair, John Podesta, which were posted on Wikileaks Friday night and were almost entirely overshadowed by the Trump news. The emails include excerpts from Clinton’s paid speeches on Wall Street and other venues, where she talked about her vision for unfettered free trade and the need for policy decisions to happen in private as well as public.
The town hall style of the debate makes it risky for either candidate to spend too much time addressing the scandal or defending themselves at the expense of answering questions from undecided voters. The intimate setting also means the candidates will be physically closer to each other than at the first debate in New York, making any conflict potentially more awkward.
During the first debate, Clinton baited Trump into a dayslong feud with a former Miss Universe over her weight after mentioning his treatment of Alicia Machado near the end of the 90-minute match-up. This time, the onus is already on Trump to redeem and defend himself, which means Clinton could take more of a backseat. David Axelrod, a former top adviser to Barack Obama, tweeted on Friday that the Trump video “speaks for itself,” advising the Clinton campaign to “lay off” the tweets on the matter. PLACE YOUR TEXT ADVERT BELOW:>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>