First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
2016 Campaign Hits New Low in Debate
ST. LOUIS -- Last night's second presidential debate will likely be remembered for two things. One, Donald Trump bringing Bill Clinton's accusers, including Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and Juanita Broaddrick into the debate hall (and holding a press conference with them right before the event). And two, Trump saying he'd appoint a special prosecutor to bring charges against his political opponent. All of the other news from last night -- Trump appearing to confirm he used a $916 million loss to avoid paying nearly 20 years in federal taxes, Trump breaking with running mate Mike Pence on Syria and Russia, Trump dismissing his lewd 2005 comments as "locker room talk," Trump walking up right behind Hillary Clinton, Clinton's defensive answer on her email use -- seems secondary to those two things. "I'll tell you what. 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, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception," Trump said. When Clinton responded that it's "good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country," Trump fired back: "Because you'd be in jail." As Buzzfeed writes, Trump went "Full Breitbart" last night. And it all produced a new low in this 2016 presidential campaign.
And it sets up a looming disaster for the GOP
Trump going "Full Breitbart" has definitely fired up his base (last night was what Trump operatives Steve Bannon and David Bossie had always dreamed about). And that creates a looming disaster for Republicans who need to win over non-Breitbart voters: How do you distance yourself from Trump -- especially after those 2005 lewd comments -- but avoid the wrath coming your way from the base? We're sure quite a few Republicans were rooting for Trump to self-destruct last night and for Hillary Clinton to deliver a knockout blow. But Trump is still standing, and that is a big problem for downballot Republicans like Kelly Ayotte (in New Hampshire), Pat Toomey (in Pennsylvania), and Marco Rubio (in Florida).
Today's test of character
As the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, who's opposed to Trump, says: "The emergence Friday of the disgusting Trump tape was a gift to the Republican party. It provided an occasion, at the very last minute, for the party to dump a fundamentally unworthy and radically unfit nominee. At the very least it provided an occasion for the party to separate itself radically from that nominee. But it's always easier to find excuses for inaction than to mobilize to take bold and difficult action. Sunday night's debate may prove an excuse for inaction. If so, it will mark an important station on the road to disaster." GOP strategist Mike Murphy (another Republican opponent to Trump) puts it another way: "We will learn a lot about character."
A more focused, relaxed, and vicious Trump
NBC's Benjy Sarlin and Alex Seitz-Wald have more on last night's debate: "His campaign bleeding support, Donald Trump showed up to the second debate against Hillary Clinton looking more focused, more relaxed, and more vicious. With his presidential bid in a near death spiral following the release of a 2005 tape where he boasted of sexually assaulting women, Trump offered a morale boost for his base but did so while stepping well outside the bounds of American political norms… His performance may help slow the exodus of Republican officials from his campaign — RNC chairman Reince Priebus notably praised his performance — but it did little to shore up his credibility outside his base as polls show Clinton overtaking him nationally and in key states."
The facts Trump and Clinton got wrong last night
Here's a sampling of the facts that Trump and Clinton got wrong last night. (And for a comprehensive list, here's Jane TImm's summary.)
- Trump once again stated he was against the Iraq war from the beginning: "If I were president at that time, [Capt. Khan] would be alive today, because unlike her, who voted for the war without knowing what she was doing, I would not have had our people in Iraq." In fact, there is no evidence of Trump publicly opposing the Iraq war until Aug. 2004 -- when the war had been going on for a year and a half.
- Trump once again stated that Hillary Clinton and her 2008 campaign started the birther conspiracy against President Obama: "Well, you owe the president an apology, because as you know very well, your campaign, Sidney Blumenthal -- he's another real winner that you have -- and he's the one that got this started." In fact, while Clinton supporters kicked around that conspiracy in 2008, there is no record of her campaign doing that.
- Trump stated that Hillary Clinton supports a single-payer health-care plan: "But she wants to go to single payer, which means the government basically rules everything." In fact, that was Bernie Sanders who supports a single-payer plan.
- Trump said he didn't tell people to check out a "sex tape" when it comes to Alicia Machado: "No, there wasn't check out a sex tape. It was just take a look at the person that she built up to be this wonderful Girl Scout who was no Girl Scout." In fact, here's what he tweeted in the wee hours of Sept. 30: "Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?"
- Clinton suggested that she wasn't secretary of state when President Obama declared his red line against Syria using chemical weapons: "TRUMP: She was there as secretary of state with the so-called line in the sand, which... CLINTON: No, I wasn't. I was gone." In fact, Obama drew that red line in 2012 (when Clinton was secretary of state) but Obama didn't take military action after Syria crossed in 2013 (when Clinton was no longer secretary of state.
On the trail
Hillary Clinton holds voter-registration events in Detroit, MI at 2:45 pm ET and Columbus, OH at 7:30 pm ET… Donald Trump, in Pennsylvania, holds rallies in Ambridge at 3:30 pm ET and Wilkes Barre at6:00 pm ET… Tim Kaine stumps in Colorado… Mike Pence is in North Carolina… And Chelsea Clinton hits Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Countdown to third presidential debate: 9 days
Countdown to Election Day: 29 days