Americans tuning in for the second presidential debate on Sunday night got a heaping helping of adult-only television.
The debate started off in the gutter, with Donald TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry negative images are defining White House Heller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll MORE delving deep into personal details of their private lives. Things got nastier from there.
Here are five takeaways from a jaw-dropping debate in St. Louis.
An ugly campaign gets uglier
The candidates and their spouses and families glumly strode into the Washington University in St. Louis auditorium on Sunday night knowing exactly what they were in for.
The first 10 minutes of the debate focused on Trump’s obscene remarks that surfaced over the weekend from a 2005 television appearance. The graphic, sexually explicit comments provoked a stampede of Republicans away from his campaign and calls for him to drop out of the race one month before Election Day.
“You described kissing women without their consent and grabbing their genitals,” debate moderator Anderson Cooper said. “That is sexual assault. You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?”
Trump’s wife Melania and his adult children looked on from the crowd.
Trump sought to deflect from that controversy by attacking Clinton for her treatment of the women who have accused former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonHas China already won? Budget impasses mark a critical turning point in Biden's presidency Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results MORE of sexual harassment or rape.
Shortly before the debate, the campaign took a surreal turn as Trump held an impromptu press conference featuring three of those women: Paula Jones, Juanita Broaderrick and Kathleen Willey.
A fourth woman, Kathleen Shelton, was also on hand. Clinton had been appointed to defend the man accused of raping Shelton when she was 12. The man pleaded to a lesser charge.
The women sat side-by-side in the same auditorium as Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea Clinton, to bizarre and dramatic affect.
The gutter talk continued after the debate, as Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway beat back at the Republicans in Congress fleeing Trump’s campaign, saying several members may have made unwanted sexual advances on her and have otherwise “rubbed up against women or stuck their tongues in their mouths uninvited.”
Both candidates entered the night with horrible favorability ratings. Polls show the public believes the campaign has brought out the worst in people.
Sunday night is likely to exaggerate those sentiments.
This debate is unlikely to change the race
The reaction to the first debate was swift and nearly unanimous: Clinton had won in a rout and would get a bump in the polls because of it.
The reaction to the second debate was mixed, with pundits cast into despair over the ugliness and declaring that both candidates had scored points and absorbed damaging blows.
An instant poll from CNN/YouGov found 47 percent viewed Clinton as the winner, with 42 percent saying Trump had won it.
Trump endured an awful opening stretch in which he had to defend his past sexually explicit remarks. But he had a few memorable zingers and stayed on the attack no matter the question — something he failed to do at the first debate.
Clinton struggled through questions about her private emails and server and paid speeches to Wall Street. But she’s far more natural in the town-hall setting, warmly approaching the citizen questioners as Trump stalked the stage or lingered awkwardly behind her.
A draw is a win for Clinton, who leads in nearly every battleground state and is the overwhelming favorite among election handicappers to be the next president.
Trump entered the night in free fall. He may have stopped the bleeding, but he didn’t alter the dynamics of the race, which are very much against him.
Clinton’s emails are Trump’s best weapon
If Trump left points on the table at the last debate, he made up for it on Sunday night, sinking his teeth into attacks against Clinton for her use of a private email account and server while secretary of State.
Clinton has struggled to explain or defend herself on the matter, and Sunday night was no different.
She sought to run out the clock by saying the debate should be about issues people care about. Clinton accused Trump of lying, without addressing any of his claims.
As Clinton tried to move on, Trump came in with the dagger, saying that as president he’d appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton.
“It's good that somebody with the temperament of Donald Trump is not running this country,” Clinton responded.
“Because you’d be in jail,” Trump shot back.
And Trump has a new line of attack over a different set of emails — these published by WikiLeaks on Friday that detail some of the things Clinton said to the Wall Street banks that paid her enormous sums of money for speeches.
Here, moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News asked Clinton if she was “two-faced” because one email revealed the Democratic nominee saying one to have “both a public and private position” on issues.
Clinton had a prepared response, saying it was similar to how President Abraham Lincoln had different messages for the different members of Congress he worked with to pass the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery.
“Now she’s blaming the lie on the late, great Abraham Lincoln,” Trump shot back. “Honest Abe never lied, and that’s the difference between Abraham Lincoln and you. That’s a big, big difference.”
Trump at war with the media
Trump clashed with moderators Raddatz and Anderson Cooper of CNN from the start.
“One on three,” an exasperated Trump said at one point, referring to Raddatz, Cooper and Clinton ganging up on him.
Trump repeatedly accused the anchors of interrupting him, of allowing Clinton to go well beyond her allotted time and of trying to quickly move on from issues that were damaging to Clinton.
“I’d like to know, Anderson, why aren’t you bringing up the emails?” Trump asked after Cooper attempted to segue from Clinton’s email controversy to an audience member's question about healthcare.
“We brought up the emails,” Cooper responded.
“It hasn’t been finished at all,” Trump shot back.
That was one of several tense exchanges that left the impression the moderators were tougher on Trump than they were on Clinton.
That has been a recurring theme of the first two debates.
Conservatives have accused NBC anchor Lester Holt of studiously avoiding asking Clinton tough questions about some her emails or Benghazi at the first debate, leading to cries of media bias.
At least this time Trump’s microphone appeared to be working on Sunday night.
Trump not afraid to break with Pence
Friends like these.
GOP vice presidential nominee Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePence says he hopes conservative majority on Supreme Court will restrict abortion access Federal judge to hear case of Proud Boy alleged Jan. 6 rioter seeking release from jail The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems attempt to tie government funding, Ida relief to debt limit MORE ripped Trump over the weekend for the scandal surrounding his lewd comments. The Indiana governor also backed out of a campaign event as he fumed over the hugely embarrassing remarks.
Trump on Sunday night was apparently not concerned about losing his running mate, openly breaking with him over whether the United States should attack Russian military targets over the conflict in Syria.
Trump was asked about Pence’s support for the military intervention, and the GOP nominee threw his running mate under the bus.
“He and I haven't spoken and I disagree,” Trump said.
Still, it appears the two have patched things up, at least publicly.