A Missouri expert who helped develop town hall presidential debates thinks Sunday night’s face-off at Washington University in St. Louis was far different from previous events in the format.
The entire election was jolted by the revelation late Friday Republican Donald Trump bragged, on tape, about sexually assaulting women in 2005.
By yesterday afternoon, almost 60 congressional members had condemned, rescinded endorsements or asked Trump to step down. The GOP candidate responded by holding a press conference before the debate with women who’ve accused former president Bill Clinton of sexual assault or rape.
University of Missouri Professor Mitchell McKinney says Trump set up the debate to deviate from the town hall format. “(Trump is saying) ‘I’m going to not back down. I’m not going to use this as an opportunity for an apology per se. I’m going to turn it into an opportunity to attack Bill and Hillary Clinton” said McKinney. “There really was no way to avoid, to pretend, OK we’re just going to focus on the concerns of these citizens all night and we’re not going to talk about this issue.”
Mitchell thinks Democrat Hillary Clinton handled attacks from Trump well. He notes last night’s town hall debate was unusual because questions from audience members were overshadowed by the candidates’ confrontation with each other. He says the encounter ended up being the most attack oriented, hostile town hall debate ever.
Previously, only President Barak Obama had ventured outside the town hall protocol. He took on an aggressive role in 2012 when Mitt Romney was perceived to have won the first debate and was picking up ground in the polls.
McKinney thinks the element of audience interaction Sunday night was overshadowed by the confrontational nature of the event. “I think some of that was driven by the fact that on so many questions, Mr. Trump seemed to maybe just briefly make indirect reference to whatever the questions was, but then would quickly turn it into an attack of Hillary Clinton.”
McKinney’s thinks Trump was reacting to the Friday disclosure in the debate. He’s not convinced the billionaire candidate was able to overcome the revelation’s negative impact. “Anything he did last night certainly wasn’t in the realm of ‘Oh this is going to change the dynamics or turn any momentum around’. I don’t think that’s what we saw last night.”
Mitchell thinks we’ll know in a couple of days if Democrat Hillary Clinton’s lead in the polls stabilizes or starts to grow. But there appears to be early movement in her favor. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted on Saturday and Sunday, but before the second presidential debate, shows Clinton with 46 percent support among likely voters in a four-way matchup, compared to 35 percent for Trump. Libertarian Gary Johnson garners nine percent support, followed by Green Party candidate Jill Stein with two percent.
Mitchell advised the Commission on Presidential Debates in 1992, when the town hall format was introduced.