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The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election

The Second Presidential Debate, Decoded

It's finally over. But what did it mean?
(AP Photo/John Locher)

  This article originally appeared on VICE US

It's hard to explain exactly why Sunday's presidential debate was so tiring to watch. It could be the way Donald Trump just stood there like a guy waiting in line at the DMV the entire night. It could be that so much of the event—ostensibly a chance for the country's last dozen or so undecided voters to ask the candidates questions—was consumed by petty questions. It could be because the campaign was sidetracked by the video of Trump bragging about pussy grabbing and leaked transcripts of Hillary Clinton speaking to audiences of bankers. I don't know, maybe it was because Trump all but threatened to literally put Clinton in prison if he got elected. Whatever the exact cause, it was the sort of thing that makes you understand why some people are stockpiling food.


What made this debate slightly odd was just how far Trump's campaign spun out of control following the first debate, after which Trump got into a fight with a former beauty queen over her weight, then had to face stories about how he claimed a nearly $1 billion loss on his taxes in 1995. And that was before it came out that he bragged in 2005 about how he could grab women by the pussy and bemoaned his failed efforts to fuck an unnamed married woman.

Unsurprisingly, Clinton treated the second debate as if she were debating a pile of rotting fish. "Look, this smells terrible, let's just take it out," she seemed to be saying. Trump, meanwhile, was more focused than he was during the first debate on his core idea that Barack Obama has failed the country on every level. Let's take apart some of the things that were said, shall we?

Trump, on his remarks about grabbing women by the pussy: "This was locker room talk. I'm not proud of it. I apologize to my family. To the American people. Certainly I'm not proud of it. But this is locker room talk. When we have a world where you have ISIS chopping off heads, where you have frankly drowning people in steel cages, wars, and horrible, horrible fights all over—so many bad things happening. We haven't seen anything like this, the carnage all over the world. 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. Yes, I'm very embarrassed by it. I hate it. But it's locker room talk and it's one of those things. I will knock the hell out of ISIS. We're going to defeat ISIS."


Translation: "The only way you are going to defeat the terrorists is to elect a dude who isn't afraid to grab some pussy, sorry, that's just the way it is."

Clinton, on Trump: "We saw him after the first debate spend nearly a week denigrating a former Miss Universe in the harshest, most personal terms, so, yes, this is who Donald Trump is. But it's not only women and it's not only this video that raises questions about his fitness to be our president. Because he has also targeted immigrants, African Americans, Latinos, people with disabilities, Muslims, and others, so, this is who Donald Trump is, and the question for us, the question our country must answer is that this is not who we are."

Translation: "I get to be president now, right? For fuck's sake, you can't elect him, can you?"

Trump, responding to criticism of his support for the idea that Obama wasn't born in the US: "Well, you owe the president an apology because as you know very well, your campaign Sidney Blumenthal, another real winner that you have and he's the one that got this started along with your campaign manager and they were on television just two weeks ago, she was, saying exactly that. So, you really owe him an apology. You're the one that sent the pictures around your campaign. Sent the pictures around with president Obama, long before I was involved. Number two, Michelle Obama. I've gotten to see the commercials that they did on you."


Translation: "I really hope this fires up the 500 voters that this makes sense to, because most people have no idea what I'm talking about here."

Trump, on Clinton's email scandal: "I'll tell you what I didn't think I'd say this and I'm going to say it and hate to say it: If I win, I'm going to instruct the attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there's never been so many lies, so much deception."

Translation: "This is a terrifying thing to say, for one candidate to threaten to prosecute another if he wins. But it's also kind of par for the course for me, so I don't think anyone will mind."

Clinton, on healthcare: "Look, we are in a situation in our country, where if we were to start all over again, we might come up with a different system. But we have an employer-based system. That's where the vast majority of people get their health care. And the Affordable Care Act was meant to try to fill the gap between people who were too poor and couldn't put together any resources to afford health care, namely, people on Medicaid. Obviously, Medicare, which is a single payer system. Which takes care of our elderly, and does a great job doing it, by the way, and then all of the people who were employed. But people who were working, but didn't have the money to afford insurance and didn't have anybody, an employer, anybody else to help them. That was the slot that the Obama care approach was to take. And like I say, 20 million people now have health insurance."


Translation: "For some reason I'm not allowed to straightforwardly endorse government healthcare. The system we came up with was an utter mess and Obamacare made it slightly better. That's all you can say about it, and I hate having to defend the whole broken system."

Trump, on Islamophobia: "You're right about Islamophobia and that's a shame. One thing we have to do is we have to make sure that because there is a problem, whether we like it or not—and we could be very politically correct, but whether we like it or not, there is a problem and we have to be sure that muslims come in and report when they see something going on. When they see hatred going on, they have to report it."

Translation: "I am an Islamophobe."

Clinton, on a line from one of her speeches to bankers about how politicians need a public position and a private position: "As I recall, that was something I said about Abraham Lincoln, and after having seen the wonderful Steven Spielberg movie called Lincoln. It was a master class watching President Lincoln get the Congress to approve the 13th Amendment. It was principled and strategic. I was making the point that it is hard sometimes to get the Congress to do what you want to do."

Translation: "Christ, of course you need a public position and a private position. I regret saying what was actually true one time I thought no one would record it. How about I say some gibberish about Abraham Lincoln until my time's up?"


Trump, on taxes: "I've heard Hillary complaining about so many different things over the years. I wish you would have done this. For 30 years, she's been doing this stuff. She never changed and she never will change. We're getting rid of carried interest provisions. I'm lowering taxes actually because I think it's so important for corporations because we have corporations leaving massive corporations and little ones, little ones can't form. We're getting rid of regulations which goes hand in hand with the lowering of the taxes."

Translation: "This is the very, very standard Republican position, which is that taxes and regulations—things that the wealthy tend not to like—are bad. Yet I can make this sound rebellious thanks to my status as a bold outsider, a.k.a. a guy who pretty much everyone hates."

Trump, on economics: "But she is raising your taxes and I'm lowering your taxes. That in itself is a big difference."

Translation: "Again, here I am, a Republican."

Clinton, on her record: "Let me talk about my 30 years in public service. I'm very glad to do so. Eight million kids, every year, have health insurance because when I was first lady, I worked with Democrats and Republicans to create the children's health insurance program. Hundreds of thousands of kids now have a chance to be adopted because I worked to change our adoption and foster care system. After 9/11, I went to work with Republican mayor, governor and president to rebuild New York and to get health care for our first responders who were suffering because they had run toward danger and gotten sickened by it. Hundreds of thousands of National Guard and reserve members have healthcare because of work that I did. And children [receive] safer medicines because I was able to pass a law that required the dosing to be more carefully done."


Translation: "Why am I not president yet?"

Trump, on foreign relations: "Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old. We're tired. We're exhausted in terms of nuclear. A very bad thing. She talks tough, she talks really tough against Putin. And against Assad. She talks in favor of the rebels. She doesn't even know who they are. Every time we take rebels, whether it's in Iraq or anywhere else, we're arming people, and you know what happens? They end up being worse than the people."

Translation: "I want to… start up a new arms race with Russia? Or… go after ISIS at the expense of not going after the Syrian government? I'll let the fact-checkers sort this one out.

Martha Raddatz, following up: "I want to remind you what your running mate said. He said provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength and if Russia continues to be involved in airstrikes along with the Syrian government forces of Assad, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets of the Assad regime."

Trump: "OK. He and I haven't spoken and I disagree."

Translation: "Whatever."

Clinton, on the Middle East: "I hope by the time I am president, that we will have pushed ISIS out of Iraq. I do think that there is a good chance that we can take Mosul. And you know, Donald says he knows more about ISIS than the generals. No, he doesn't. There are a lot of very important planning going on and some of it is to signal to the Sunnis in the area as well as Kurdish Peshmerga fighters that we all need to be in this."


Translation: "See? I know shit!" Please, just let me be president."

Clinton, on what she respects about Trump: "I respect his children. His children are incredibly able and devoted, and I think that says a lot about Donald. I don't agree with nearly anything else he says or does, but I do respect that, and I think that is something that as a mother and her grandmother, is very important to me."

Translation: "Fuck yourself."

Trump, on what he respects about Clinton: "I will say this about Hillary. She doesn't quit. She doesn't give up. I respect that. I tell it like it is. She is a fighter. I disagree with much of what she is fighting for. I do disagree with her judgment in many cases, but she does fight hard and she doesn't quit and she doesn't give up and I consider that to be a very good trait."

Translation: "Right back at you."

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