Disavowed by one third of Republican senators, facing calls to step down from his presidential campaign, accused of attempted rape and “a pattern of sexual assault”, Donald Trump flew into St Louis, Missouri, this morning for the second of three TV debates with his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The debate at Washington University – and reaction over the following 24 hours – will determine the outcome of November 8’s election, although many commentators say it is already impossible for Trump to win, given the peculiarities of the US presidential election system.
If Trump’s campaign was in turmoil before the weekend, it is in chaos now. On Friday US time, the Washington Post released 2005 video and audio footage of the then-reality TV host talking to a fellow TV host – Billy Bush, cousin of Republican President George W. Bush and nephew of Republican President George Bush.
Trump made vulgar jokes about seducing married women and groping women because of his status as a star.
As one commentator put it, the reaction within his own party has become “the Republican Hunger Games”.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie “disinvited” him from scheduled rallies beside them. One third of the party’s senators withdrew their endorsements of their candidate; they and many other figures indicated they would not vote for Trump on November 8. Those include John McCain, who ran against Barack Obama in 2008.
Amid the firestorm, Trump released a video statement: “I’ve said some foolish things but there is a big difference between the words and actions of other people,” which has been taken as a reference to Bill Clinton’s behaviour and an indication of Trump’s tactics for tonight’s debate.
Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine, responded: “The tape raises an awful lot of questions of a pattern of assaultive behaviour, not just words.”
Trump then turned on his own party, tweeting: “Tremendous support (except for some Republican ‘leadership’). Thank you” and “So many self-righteous hypocrites. Watch their poll numbers – and elections – go down!”
The debate in St Louis will be in a “town hall” format, with audience members asking some questions in a less confrontational format than the traditional moderated head-to-head.
In his unfinished novel The Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald observed, “there are no second acts in American lives.” Donald Trump will have to produce the performance of his life to convince the US public to give him another chance.