US election controversies: How low will it go?

Emily Goodin
Article Summary
In the runup to the final presidential debate this week, will more controversial issues be uncovered?

WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will meet for a final debate on Oct. 19 in Las Vegas, and after their last nasty encounter the question Americans are asking themselves is: How low will it go?

Although Trump faced allegations of sexual harassment before he took the stage in St. Louis on Oct. 9, at that point only the “Access Hollywood” tape where he made lewd comments about women had come out.

Since then a half-dozen allegations have been made against him by women. Most notably, The New York Times talked to two women who alleged Trump had made aggressive sexual overtures toward them, one of which occurred on an airplane only a few minutes after the woman had met Trump. That encounter was said to have taken place 37 years ago, but in one sense that added to the creepiness factor — because of the sheer length of time he has apparently been behaving this way. A former writer for People magazine wrote about interviewing Trump and his wife in Florida in 2005, and asserted that when Melania was out of sight, Trump pushed her against a wall and kissed her against her will. In 2010, according to CNN anchor Erin Burnett, a friend reported that Trump kissed her without consent. Burnett said her friend was invited into Trump’s office, where the incident occurred.

Trump has responded by lashing out at his accusers, calling them liars, threatening to sue The New York Times and claiming that the media was fabricating the stories in an effort to manipulate the election. Trump and his allies also say that the media has barely reported on recent revelations about Clinton and her staff contained in the most recent batch of hacked emails posted on WikiLeaks.

The media and the Democrats weren’t the only entities to face his wrath. After the tape became public, House Speaker Paul Ryan criticized Trump and disinvited him from campaigning with him in Wisconsin. Sen. John McCain explicitly withdrew his endorsement of Trump. The Republican nominee fired back at both GOP leaders via his Twitter account. He also attacked his party, tweeting: “Disloyal R's are far more difficult than Crooked Hillary. They come at you from all sides. They don’t know how to win — I will teach them!”

Trump was also busy trying to lay the groundwork for blaming a possible election loss on others: Clinton, Republicans, the media and a “rigged” process.

The Oct. 19 debate in Las Vegas will be moderated by Fox News' Chris Wallace. And while Fox is considered a conservative-leaning network, Wallace challenged Trump on several occasions during the Republican primary debates. The latest allegations from women are bound to come up.

The topics in the debate include debt and entitlements, immigration, the economy, the Supreme Court, foreign hot spots and fitness to be president.

As Trump was defending himself, Michelle Obama condemned him for his treatment of women. Speaking at a Clinton rally in New Hampshire, the first lady said, “This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior, and actually bragging about kissing and groping women, using language so obscene that many of us were worried about our children hearing it when we turn on the TV.”

“And to make matters worse,” Michelle Obama added, “it now seems very clear that this isn’t an isolated incident. It’s one of countless examples of how he has treated women his whole life.”

As both candidates prepare for their final debate, all of this was taking its toll on Trump’s chances.

Clinton ended the week 6.7 percentage points ahead of her opponent in the RealClearPolitics polling average. She is close to reaching the high-water mark she registered in the summer after the conventions, when she led Trump by 7.1 points in the average. 

Found in: women, us presidential elections, sexual harassment, poll, hillary clinton, donald trump, debates

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief of RealClearPolitics and Executive Editor of RealClear Media Group. Carl is a past recipient of the Gerald R. Ford Journalism Prize for Distinguished Reporting and the Aldo Beckman Award, the two most prestigious awards for White House coverage. Previous positions include Executive Editor of, DC Bureau Chief for Reader's Digest and White House correspondent for both the Baltimore Sun and National Journal. He was a 2007 fellow-in-residence at Harvard University's Institute of Politics, a past president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, and is a published author.

Emily Goodin is the Managing Editor of RealClearPolitics. Her journalism experience includes a stint at The Hill newspaper, where she managed the paper's campaign team, launched its Ballot Box blog, and contributed to notable growth in site traffic. She began her political journalism career at National Journal’s The Hotline, working her way up from intern to Senior Editor. Emily has attended seven political conventions and covered four presidential races and 13 cycles of Senate and House races.


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