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By Andrea Stone




The three presidential debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were like no other campaign matchups before them.

While previous debates had their heated moments, none could compare to the anger, the personal accusations and the on- and offstage antics that marked the meeting of the former secretary of state and the reality TV star.

Perhaps sensing there would be fireworks, the first debate on September 26 in Hempstead, N.Y., was watched by a record 84 million people, not including livestreaming.[1] Those who tuned in heard Trump say she “doesn’t have the look” to be president while Clinton, accusing him of mischaracterizing a position, said, "I know you live in your own reality, but those are not the facts."

In their final debate on October 19 in Las Vegas, Clinton called Trump Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “puppet.” He called her “a nasty woman.”[2]

But it was the second debate that proved most memorable.

Two days before, the Washington Post[3] released an “Access Hollywood” video in which Trump boasted about women saying that “when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. ... Grab them by the p----. You can do anything.” Trump soon after dismissed his words as “locker room talk” but apologized in hopes of defusing the biggest crisis of his campaign.

Then, two hours before the October 9 debate in St. Louis, he held a surprise news conference featuring three women who had accused President Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct. The spectacle was intended to neutralize the “Access Hollywood” tape and unsettle his rival -- Trump even tried, unsuccessfully, to seat the women in the audience where Hillary Clinton would see them.

The stunt “totally transformed the debate into a made-for-television show,”[4] said Princeton University political historian Julian Zelizer.

Later, during the town-hall debate, Trump lurked[5] behind Clinton as she spoke, scowling, pacing and getting in her space. Clinton later wrote in her memoir that, “It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled.”[6]


At another point, when Clinton said it was good that someone with Trump’s temperament wasn’t in charge of law enforcement, he shot back, “Because you’d be in jail.” Polls dinged Trump’s performance, giving all three debates to Clinton. Yet, despite Clinton's winning the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, Trump was elected the 45th president thanks to an edge in the Electoral College.

Trump says Clinton doesn’t have “the look”:

Donald Trump News Conference with Bill Clinton Accusers:

Third Full Debate October 19 in Las Vegas:

Clinton calls Trump a “puppet” at 27:51

Trump calls Clinton a “nasty woman” at 1:28:48




[4] Original interview with Julian Zelizer, Princeton political historian



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