At Debate, Trump Says He Never Sexually Assaulted Women

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Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speak during their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., October 9, 2016. Trump was under attack for his remarks on a 2005 video that surfaced Friday. Jim Young/REUTERS

Everyone knew it was coming: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump trading fire Sunday night over a 2005 recording of him joking about sexually assaulting women. And their exchange on the debate stage in St. Louis was just as brutal and tawdry as anticipated. After the dust settled from first 20 minutes of jousting, Trump was badly wounded.

The first question of the town hall-style debate came from a woman in the audience, who asked the candidates about the nasty tone of the 2016 campaign and how the country can move on from it. In his reply, Trump avoided mentioning his controversial remarks, publicized Friday by the Washington Post, in which he bragged about kissing and grabbing women without their consent. But CNN host Anderson Cooper pressed him to respond to the video. "You bragged about sexually assaulting women, do you understand that?" He asked. "I didn't say that at all, I don't think you understood," Trump replied, dismissing the remarks repeatedly as "locker room talk." He initially ducked a question from Cooper asking if he had ever engaged in the behavior he was caught laughing about on tape, finally saying, quickly, "no I have not."

It was all the opening Clinton needed to methodically dress down Trump over his history with women. Trump "has said the video doesn't represent who he is," she said. "I think it's clear to anyone who heard it that that is exactly who he is." The Democratic nominee then calmly detailed the instances in which Trump has insulted, belittled and embarrassed women, including, most recently, former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, whom Trump has mocked as fat. "So yes this is who Donald Trump is."

As Clinton was speaking, the split screen showed the Republican nominee fidgeting angrily, ready, it appeared, to explode. And indeed, as soon as she finished her skewering, he unleashed a torrent of angry, disjointed attacks. "It's just words, folks, it's just words," he sneered (it's unclear if he was referring to the now infamous 2005 remarks or Clinton's take-down of him for saying them). "I'm going to help the African Americans, I am going to help the Latinos, Hispanics. I'm going to help the inner cities," he insisted. Then Trump veered into the personal realm, rehashing the well-trod history of Bill Clinton's alleged philandering, something he foreshadowed earlier Sunday evening with an impromptu press conference with three women who claim Clinton assaulted them. "If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse, mine was words, his was action," Trump said of Clinton's husband, the former president. "Bill Clinton was abusive to women, Hillary Clinton attacked those same women, and attacked them viciously."

Clinton didn't respond to the attacks on her husband. But Trump wasn't finished. He began to interrupt and needle the Democratic nominee as their back-and-forth continued. When Clinton observed that it's good someone with Trump's temperament is not in power, he replied snidely, "Because you'd be in jail."

Clinton's reply to the onslaught? Quoting First Lady Michelle Obama, she declared, "when they go low, we go high."