At the start of Sunday’s second presidential debate, Donald Trump reiterated that he felt that his boasting about sexual assault was just “locker room banter.”
In their opening answers, neither candidate addressed the now infamous leaked 2005 tape where Trump can be heard saying that he can kiss women and “grab them by the pussy” without their consent because he’s famous. But CNN’s Anderson Cooper pressed Trump by asking him to directly respond to those comments and the fact that what he was describing was not locker-room banter, as he had initially defended them as, but “kissing women without consent and grabbing genitals.” Trump responded to whether he was talking sexual assault by repeating his “locker room” line and then attempting to turn the subject to ISIS:
I don't think you understood. This was locker-room talk. I am not proud of it. I apologized to my family and the American people. I am not proud of it. This is locker room talk. When you have ISIS chopping off heads and drowning people in steel cages and wars and horrible, horrible sights all over and you have so many bad things happening, this is like medieval times. The carnage all over the world and they look and see, can you imagine the people that are frankly doing so well against us with ISIS and they look at our country and see what's going on. I am embarrassed by it and I hate it, but it's locker-room talk and one of those things.
As if this bizarre non sequitur was not enough, Trump initially dodged the question when Cooper followed up by asking him if he had ever committed the sexual assault he described in the tapes.
“For the record, are you saying that what you said on the bus 11 years ago, that you did not kiss women without consent or grope women?” Cooper asked.
“I have great respect for women,” Trump said. “Nobody has more respect for women than I do.”
Cooper pressed: “Have you ever done those things?”
Finally, Trump responded. “No I have not.”
Trump has, of course, been accused of doing exactly these things by a woman who has not changed her story and has accused Trump of lying about the episode.
After this exchange, Trump said, “I have respect for women, and they have respect for me,” and repeated his “locker room” line one more time. Finally, he moved on to attacking Hillary Clinton for doing her job and having defended a rapist when she was a public defender and then attacking her for the sexual assault and misconduct charges that have been levied against her husband, Bill Clinton, over the years.
If you look at Bill Clinton, mine are words and his was action. What he has done [was] action. [There has never been] anyone in the history of politics in the nation that has been so abusive to women. You can say any way you want to say it, Bill Clinton was abusive to women. Hillary Clinton attacked the women viciously, four of them are here tonight. One who is a wonderful woman, at 12 years old was raped at 12.
This is in line with a reprehensible attack by the Republican Party on the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, one of the foundational parts of our Democracy that allows criminal defendants the right to an attorney no matter how horrible their crimes.
All in all, it was a blockbuster opening to the evening and an incredibly ugly spectacle.