Many viewers must have cringed at the nastiest stuff of the second presidential debate.
By the end, there was plenty of fuel to reinforce existing negatives in the public’s mind about both candidates — and perhaps not much basis for their haters to convert into admirers.
To those bent on disliking Hillary Clinton more, there was the sanitizing and dodgy way she responded to the deletion of emails and the most recent leaks of parts of her high-paid speeches to financial bigs.
She seemed to force smiles when attacked. She leaned, while staying put, and seemed determined to stroke the uncommitted voters asking her questions, politician-style.
Those who dislike Donald Trump more could read into his performance a defensive sulkiness, starting with deflection of the recently revealed taped remarks from 11 years ago. He paced. He interrupted. He complained that his time was limited but not hers. And he threatened authoritarian-style to put her in jail.
Of course, not every candidate gets pressed by moderators on whether he actually committed sexual assault or just talked about it.
That was why he trotted out women who said they were victims of former President Bill Clinton, and a woman whose accused rapist was defended in court by Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s boast on video about the ability to grab women with impunity because he’s famous might have cost him few if any determined supporters.
But it may have galvanized turnout from those who already suspected, from his earlier violent rhetoric, that whatever his politics, he lacked the stability or intelligence to be president.
She played on that as usual.
Then there was the food for Clinton’s detractors.
Revelations by WikiLeaks of Clinton’s paid-speech statements — which have yet to be disputed — seem to sharply contradict public positions she’s taken regarding border security, fracking, Wall Street regulation and trade agreements.
She indicated, according to the purported leaks, that she has both a “public position” and a “private position” regarding Wall Street. When pressed on the matter, she cited the Steven Spielberg movie on Abraham Lincoln, which allowed Trump the opening essentially to say Lincoln was honest but Clinton lied, as in, “You’re no Abraham Lincoln.”
When an audience member named Carl Becker essentially asked for one thing that one candidate admired about the other, it drew applause. She hailed his family; he said he respected her refusal to quit. It was a little sorbet to clear the aftertaste of the very tart exchanges that lasted most of the 90 minutes.