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10/10/16

US Presidential Debates: The Lowest Moment in the History of Debates?

Everyone expected Sunday night’s town hall debate to get ugly. It capped off one of the most explosive weekends in American political history. The Republican nominee had been caught on tape making vulgar comments about women, which caused an avalanche of GOP lawmakers to rescind their support. The Democratic nominee was handling a mess of her own—the leaked transcripts of speeches she had kept secret during the primaries.

Nonetheless, the raw tension on the debate stage Sunday night still shocked.

There was Donald Trump calling Hillary Clinton the “devil,” a person filled with “tremendous hatred” whom he would jail if he were president. There was Clinton’s icy nod at Trump upon their greeting—no handshake—and her almost immediately declaring Trump “unfit to serve.”

Discussions about policy frequently vacillated into personal attacks.
And at the end of the night, when an audience member asked each
candidate to say something nice about the other, they hardly hid their
reluctance.

So: Was this the nastiest, lowest moment in presidential debate history. And what does it matter to the state of the race? We asked some of the savviest political watchers and operatives to talk us through what we just witnessed—“incomprehensibly demoralizing,” “a grim, tawdry affair,” and “surreal, bizarre and often entertaining” were some of their responses—and game out what it means for this highly unusual election.

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