ST. LOUIS: Donald Trump launched a scorched-earth bid to salvage his flailing campaign in a vicious presidential debate Sunday, vowing to jail rival Hillary Clinton if he wins the White House, and accusing her husband of sexual misconduct.
Before tens of millions of viewers and a live audience that included Bill Clinton and three women who accuse him of past abuse, the Republican nominee shattered the last vestiges of political decorum and gave voice to incendiary allegations against the former president.
With his campaign in a tailspin, Trump apologized for “locker room talk” in which he bragged about groping women, but stated boldly that “Bill Clinton was abusive to women.”
“If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse,” Trump insisted. “Mine are words, his was action,” he said.
Going a step further, the 70-year-old real estate mogul threatened his 2016 Democratic rival — whom he accused of having “hate in her heart” — with imprisonment if he wins the presidency.
“If I win, I’m going to instruct the attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there’s never been so many lies, so much deception,” Trump said.
Hillary Clinton, facing a deeply wounded candidate with one month to go before Election Day, pushed back by saying Trump’s lewd hot-mic comments merely showed his true self.
“This is who Donald Trump is, and the question for us, the question our country must answer is that this is not who we are.”
When Clinton said that it was “awfully good” that someone with Trump’s temperament was not leading the nation, he shot back: “Because you’d be in jail.”
‘Abuse of power’
President Barack Obama’s former attorney general, Eric Holder, led the broad condemnation of Trump’s threat, as critics painted him as a dictator in the making.
“In the USA we do not threaten to jail political opponents. @realDonaldTrump said he would. He is promising to abuse the power of the office,” Holder said in a tweet.
Trump was also tarred as undemocratic by a number of fellow Republicans.
“Winning candidates don’t threaten to put opponents in jail,” said former George W. Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
The debate’s opening minutes were tense, with Trump slinging mud even at the two moderators, whom he accused of bias — it was “one against three” he said — between a continuous series of interruptions.
Clinton, 68, largely refused to take the bait, opting to adhere to advice from First Lady Michelle Obama: “When they go low, you go high.”
“This is not an ordinary time and this is not an ordinary election,” she said, appealing directly to voters.
But, as in the first debate, she also laid a series of traps for Trump, prodding him toward admitting he had not paid federal income tax in around two decades.
By accusing Russia of trying to tilt the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor with a series of email hacks, Clinton forced her rival to contradict the intelligence community, which has also fingered Moscow.