5 key takeaways from the second US presidential debate

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton traded barbs in a tense televised debate

Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump,

Image: John Locher AP/Press Association Images

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton went head to head on the stage at Washington University in St. Louis in what was a very tetchy and ill-tempered debate. 

As both candidates attacked each other, what were the key moments in the debate that voters will take with them to the polls?


Donald Trump seemed to be better prepared for this evening's proceedings, as he attacked Clinton on a number of key issues that his camp would surely have highlighted to him after his performance in the first debate.

His answer to the questions on the scandal that broke on Friday surrounding his comments about women was not particularly strong, but the debate moved on given the time constraints, and he tried to turn it around to his key talking points. However, there does need to be a higher standard placed on a presidential candidate than simply being prepared.

Clinton, on the other hand, did seem to struggle in landing some really clean hits on Trump on a night that he should have been particularly vulnerable, which may well frustrate her camp. She was once again pressed on her emails, and Trump went after her on the issue stating that he would get a special prosecutor to investigate the situation. 

"I didn’t think I’d say this, but I’m going to say it, and I hate to say it, but if I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation," said Trump, adding that she would "be in jail" if he was in charge.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder tweeted that a president issuing such instructions means Trump "is promising to abuse the power of the office."

The Trump Tapes

Clinton may have been thrown off her rhythm on the night slightly by the press conference which took place right before the debate, where Trump appeared with a number of women who have made accusations against Bill Clinton - Paula Jones, Kathy Shelton, Juanita Broaddrick, and Kathleen Willey. 

Trump also raised the issue when he was confronted with his own comments on the leaked tapes dating back to 2005, an area where he particularly struggled on the night. He once again dubbed it "locker room talk", as he did in his first apology immediately after the news broke, which was widely criticised. 

Image:Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, center, sits with, from right, Paula Jones, Kathy Shelton, Juanita Broaddrick, and Kathleen Willey, before the second presidential debate with democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at Washington University. Evan Vucci AP/Press Association Images

If there are any voters who were hoping to see Trump redeem himself somehow after the scandal on Friday, they didn't get the answer they were looking for tonight, but we can expect that Trump will be going on the offensive with his attacks on Bill Clinton in the coming days. 


On several occasions, Trump appealed to the moderators, claiming that they were showing favour to Clinton by not interrupting her when she went over time, but were making a "huge deal" when he went one second over time. At one stage, he also stated that it was "one on three," referencing his belief that Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper were against him.

The pair also had to remind the audience several times about their behaviour, as they interjected into proceedings with rounds of applause or laughter at some of the lines the candidates were delivering. 

For their part, Raddatz and Cooper had a very tough night in trying to get both candidates to stay on topic and within the time limit in what turned out to be a debate that lacked a huge amount of substance on the issues that will have an effect on voters when one of these two ends up in the Oval Office. That, perhaps, is telling of the campaign to date as a whole.

Stopping the slide

After the events of Friday, a number of GOP figures have begun to distance themselves from Trump. A particularly strong performance tonight may have helped him to stem the tide of those leaving, but it appears that it's going to take much more than that to overcome this particular scandal. 

Even Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager, seemed to be struggling to defend her candidate in the wake of the debate, saying she was with the campaign to the bitter end, "unless..."

A high note

The final note struck on the night was, in a rare moment, a high one as a member of the audience, one Karl Becker, asked if there was anything that either candidate respected about the other one. In a campaign that has been characterised by low blows, the moment drew applause from the crowd, and some vaguely nice comments from one to the other.

If anyone "won" the debate tonight, it was more likely to be Karl than either candidate on stage.