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Updated 8:09 PM |

What Went Down In The Second Presidential Debate

Filed under 2016 Election


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Micah Cohen 11:04 PM Good Night. Good Morning.

That was … something. The second presidential debate is in the books, and it was … well, it was disjointed, uncivil, substantive (at times), cringe-inducing (at times) and historic. To re-live it all, start at the bottom of the live blog and scroll up.

Trump went into the second debate with his campaign teetering, facing a real possibility that the bottom could fall out. Did he right the ship on Sunday night?

The crew from our elections podcast — Nate, Clare, Harry and Jody — huddled to talk through the night’s events. You can listen to that here or watch video of it below.

I also asked our live-blog team to predict the main story coming out of tonight — fill-in-the-blank style: “Tomorrow’s main debate headline will be about ___________.”

Clare: Trump and Clinton’s mudslinging about sexual impropriety, and perhaps a sub-hed about Trump’s special prosecutor line about Clinton’s email.

Farai: The unbridled disdain these two candidates appear to have for each other.

Carl: Unfortunately, the ugly first 30 minutes of personal attacks.

Christie: Personal attacks; no one’s mind changed.

Julia: Incivility.

Harry: It will be about the first few minutes, like everyone else has said. I also wouldn’t be surprised if it’s about Trump maintaining his stamina during this debate, unlike the first debate.

Seth: Trump vowing to prosecute his opponent should he be elected president.

David: And don’t forget Trump admitting that he really did use that $916 million loss to offset nearly two decades of income taxes.


Trump had less “fleeting interjections” this debate than the first round, and slightly more interruptions. Clinton had slightly less fleeting interjections, and the same amount of interruptions. The moderators, however, were much more active in this debate than in the first. They interjected (usually to let the candidate know they were running out of time) 41 times throughout the 90 minute debate.

Carl Bialik 10:57 PM Big Surprise: Trump Won Instant Junk Polls About Who Won The Debate

As Harry said, the instant online opt-in junk polls — call them troll polls, faux polls, clickers, or your favorite term for them — should be ignored as indicators of who really won. And after Trump touted his win in these junk polls after the first debate, and was widely ridiculed for it, he didn’t cite the junk polls that showed Pence beating Kaine in the vice-presidential debate. Nonetheless, Trump supporters appear to still be flooding these things. Trump’s getting 77 percent in a junk poll asking who won tonight’s debate, an identical 77 percent in Fox 5 San Diego’s and 90 percent in Drudge Report’s.

Twitter 10:51 PM

Julia Azari 10:45 PM

On a night when party politics was already sort of confused, one major piece of the fallout of the #TrumpTape was the fact that Republican leaders roundly condemned the candidate, and many have withdrawn their support. It’s a little inside baseball, and it’s a town hall for supposedly undecided voters, but it’s an important aspect of the situation. It’s a little strange that no one brought that up.

Nate Silver 10:42 PM

I suppose I’m in danger of endorsing the conventional wisdom here, but I think you’re going to see a real tug-of-war over whether this debate was defined by the personal attacks in the first 30 minutes — in which Trump was flailing to the point of almost appearing to melt down — or the last 60 minutes, which was a lot more even and substantive. Betting markets have Trump slightly up since the debate began, although not up over the past 24 hours, in part because Trump’s chances fell a lot before the debate.

To go back, briefly, to the discussion about the U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles, I went to look at the state of the U.S. nuclear arsenal compared to Russia’s. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists tracks the two countries’ stockpiles in different ways, due to different levels of transparency from the two countries. But the U.S. actually seems to have more nuclear weapons than Russia, as of 2015. Both countries are in the process of a modernization program for their nuclear arsenals, and the U.S. plans to spend as much as $350 billion on this, while at the same time reducing its stockpile.

Harry Enten 10:37 PM

As the debate comes to a close, remember that the candidate who wins in the insta-polls doesn’t necessary gain in the polls afterward. The post-debate spin is as important, and sometimes gains (like Clinton’s after the first debate) take time to materialize.

Carl Bialik 10:36 PM

Trump named Ohio and Pennsylvania as among the places where the EPA is putting energy companies out of business by being overly restrictive. There’s a 1-in-5 chance that one of those states will provide the decisive vote in the Electoral College, according to our polls-only forecast.

Ben Casselman 10:36 PM

Clinton says the U.S. is now energy independent. That isn’t quite right. We are still a net importer of oil, including some from OPEC countries. But the U.S. oil boom has made the U.S. far less dependent on oil from other countries.

When Clinton says to expect a green jobs revolution under her administration, be aware that this is not the easiest thing to count. And so, while it’s appealing to promise that alternative energy investment will create jobs — and there are studies that show this to be true — it should all come with caveats. For instance, there’s not a solid definition of “green job” that is used by everybody. Different studies also use different methodologies. Even the timelines matter. A 2011 study looking at the impact of Chinese greenhouse gas mitigation laws found a net job loss of 44,000 in the first three years — followed by a net gain of 472,000 jobs after the fourth year.

Farai Chideya 10:35 PM

Clinton’s assertion that Trump is buying the cheaper Chinese steel he criticized was substantiated in a recent investigative report from Newsweek. In response, the president of the United Steel Workers union called Trump  “hypocritical” and “fundamentally dishonest.”

In 2015, we produced 89 quadrillion BTU worth of energy right here in the good old US of A — equivalent to 91 percent of our total consumption. Now, we don’t actually supply 91 percent of our consumption, but that’s only because we’re also exporting some of those energy resources. Meanwhile, net energy imports, offset by our exports, have been falling for 10 years in a row. In 2015, 24 percent of the oil we used was imported, but we get more of that from Canada than from all the OPEC countries combined.

Harry Enten 10:33 PM

A lot of people complain about the lack of questions on energy policy in debates. Well, we just got one right at the end here. You should keep in mind, though, that there’s a reason energy questions don’t often get asked. Just 3 percent of Americans say that either fuel/oil prices or the environment/pollution is one of the nation’s most important problems, according to Gallup.

When Trump says there’s a war on coal, he fails to mention that one of coal’s chief adversaries is cheap natural gas, which he also champions. Yes, U.S. coal consumption fell 13 percent from 2014 to 2015, a 50-year record that only the years 2009 and 2012 can approach. And, yes, the Energy Information Administration says that emissions regulations played a role and that Obama’s currently stalled Clean Power Plan is likely to lead to further reductions in coal use over time. But the EIA also says that the bulk of coal’s decline since Obama took office is due to a “market-driven response,” i.e., fracking has supplied us with a lot of cheap natural gas, and electricity companies are choosing to save money on fuel.

Ben Casselman 10:32 PM

Earlier this year, FiveThirtyEight took a hard look at the more than 33,000 gun deaths that take place in the U.S. each year, and we tried to understand what could help bring that number down. Among the key statistics: Nearly two-thirds of U.S. gun deaths each year are suicides, which are particularly common among older white men. The group most at risk of dying by gun homicide, meanwhile, are young black men. Addressing those two problems, and others such as domestic violence, require very different solutions. Explore all our stories and our interactive graphic for more on what we learned.

Ben Casselman 10:32 PM

Clinton says she supports the Second Amendment but wants universal background checks. Evidence from Missouri and Connecticut suggests that background checks can reduce gun homicide (and also gun suicide). But the evidence is much less compelling on other gun restrictions that Clinton supports, such as a ban on the sale of assault weapons.

Jody Avirgan 10:31 PM

Heads up — a few minutes after the end of this debate, we’re going to record a quick-reaction podcast. We’ll also be live-streaming video of the taping right here on this blog. So, what should I ask Nate and Clare and Harry? Post your question in the comments to the right (yes, we read those!) or holler at me on Twitter. And, hey, while we’re at it — if you don’t already subscribe to the podcast, you can do so here.

Nate Silver 10:30 PM

I’m surprised there’s not more polling data on this question. But the last poll I can find, from CNN in late July, gives Clinton a 55-to-41 edge on which candidate voters prefer to handle Supreme Court nominations.

Ben Casselman 10:30 PM

Just a note that we’re nearing the end of the debate and immigration still hasn’t come up.

Harry Enten 10:30 PM

Clinton probably isn’t winning points saying the Senate should confirm Merrick Garland. Only 48 percent of people think he should be confirmed, to 45 percent who think we should wait for a new president, according to a May CBS News/New York Times poll. Justices are something the base votes on, not swing voters.

Farai Chideya 10:29 PM

The current question about the Supreme Court gets to the core of hard decisions facing voters. In our series The Voters, we’ve focused on many different demographic groups, including people who see the Supreme Court as pivotal to their decision, such as evangelical Christians. A Washington Post article by the head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary argues that evangelical Christians have made a poor bargain by supporting Trump, but tonight Clinton reiterated that a vote for her was a vote for justices who support abortion rights. If you are a voter driven to try to maintain a conservative-leaning Supreme Court, that definitely forces hard choices. Trump, on the other hand, despite his apparent moral challenges, said tonight he would choose justices in the mold of the late Antonin Scalia.

Ben Casselman 10:28 PM

Trump says this recovery has been characterized by slow growth. That’s true. But it isn’t just true in the U.S.: Growth has been slow across the rich world since the recession, and even before it. Yet neither candidate has talked much about how they would boost growth.

Carl Bialik 10:28 PM

Trump said he has 25 million people following him on Twitter and Facebook. That’s an overstatement. He has 23.3 million followers on the two platforms combined — but many people probably follow him on both platforms so shouldn’t be counted twice. And many of his followers aren’t real people but are bots.

Seth Masket 10:27 PM

There are a few ways this debate could be covered by the media. They could depict it as a mudslinging contest between two equals. They could focus on all the norms violations occurring over 90 minutes. Or they could note the disparities between the candidates — Trump’s constant interruptions, his fights with the moderators, his going off on tangents of tangents. A both-candidates-were-awful narrative doesn’t really do Trump many favors when he’s as far behind as he is, but it at least doesn’t make things any worse for him.

Harry Enten 10:26 PM

One of the reasons the tweets brought up in this debate are a problem for Trump is that it’s speaking to an issue that doesn’t work for him. In the most recent CNN/ORC survey, more voters trust Clinton to handle the responsibilities of commander in chief, by a 16 percentage point margin. Trump would be better off getting back to an issue where Clinton is on the defensive.

10:26 PM

For what it’s worth, the rhetorical technique of mentioning something by saying that you’re not going to mention it is called praeteritio. That’s a fancy Latin term but I’ve found it quite useful this election.

Ben Casselman 10:25 PM

Clinton says that the late 1990s were a period of widespread prosperity. That’s true. But it’s important to remember that presidents have little control over the economy.

10:24 PM

When Obama talked about uniting the country in 2004, he talked about crossing partisan and cultural lines, talking about church and LGBT rights. When Clinton and Trump talk about uniting the country in 2016, they talk about race and ethnicity.


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