2016 Debate Recap: The Second Presidential Debate’s 5 Most Important Questions—and Answers

  • Copy by: Daryl Lindsey

With less than a month until election day, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton once again took to the debate stage Sunday evening. Moderated by Anderson Cooper, CNN, and Martha Raddatz, ABC, this debate took the form of a town-hall-style meeting, during which the candidates took questions from audience members as well as the moderators.

Trump and Clinton refused to shake hands after coming on stage, immediately setting the tone for what would be a dark debate with both candidates on the attack.

If you couldn’t tune in to watch the debate, here were the five most important questions—and the candidates’ answers.

1. “You bragged that you sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?”

Anderson Cooper didn’t wait long to address the elephant in the room: The #TrumpTapes scandal that has dominated the news cycle since a video of Trump making lewd comments about touching women surfaced Friday.

Trump’s response: “No, I didn’t say that at all. I don’t think you understood what was said. This was locker room talk.” He apologized to his family and the American people, going on to say that “nobody has more respect for women than I do.”

When asked, Trump insisted he did not actually kiss or touch women without their consent, saying “it’s just words, folks.” 

Hillary Clinton took her turn, recalling Republican nominees in previous elections. “I disagreed with them on politics, policies, and principles, but I never questioned their fitness to serve,” she said. “Donald Trump is different.”


2. “The Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, is not affordable…what will you do to bring the cost down and make the coverage better?”

Clinton began by admitting plenty about why Obamacare isn’t working: Premiums have spun out of control, and coverage has gone down. However, she defended the act, saying 20 million previously uninsured Americans now have coverage, and companies can’t deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

According to Trump, “Obamacare is a disaster.” Trump pledged to repeal Obamacare after being sworn into office and replace it with “something absolutely much less expensive.” This was arguably Trump’s most substantive answer of the night: He argued competition between insurance companies, something he says Obamacare does not offer, would increase quality of care and drive premiums down.


3. “How will you help [Muslims] deal with the consequences of being labeled a threat to the country after the election is over?”

After a Muslim-American voter asked how he would combat bigotry toward peaceful Muslims living in the U.S., Trump responded by saying more leaders—including Clinton—need to be using the phrase “radical Islamic terror.” 

He then said when Muslim-Americans “see hatred going on, they have to report it,” inferring that cooperation between the U.S. Government and the Muslim Community is a necessary step to make a better place for Muslims. 

Hillary Clinton answered the question by saying she envisioned an America where “everyone has a place, if you’re willing to work hard, do your part, and contribute to the community.” She then attacked Trump, saying his rhetoric about Muslims—both American and otherwise—was “shortsighted and even dangerous.”

Clinton finished by saying the U.S. is not at war with Islam. “It is a mistake—and it plays into the hands of the terrorists—to act as though we are,” she said.


4. “What would candidates do to make sure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share of taxes?”

Trump started out by saying he’d get rid of carried interest, then switched to the offensive by faulting Clinton for not changing the tax code while she was a senator.

Clinton took the opportunity to remind the audience that, she claims, Trump has not paid federal income tax in 20 years. When asked directly by Cooper if he used a $916 million loss to avoid paying federal income tax, he may have admitted that yes, he did. But we’ll let you decide for yourself.


5. “If you were president, what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo?” 

Raddatz prefaced this question by describing the war-torn state of Aleppo, Syria, the city at the heart of the Syrian refugee crisis, where hundreds of civilians—including children—are being killed every week.

Clinton argued the President would need to stand up to Russia, who has been bombing Aleppo “in order to eliminate the last of the Syrian rebels.” According to Clinton, cooperating with Russia whenever possible is fine, but Russians involved in the bombing of Aleppo should be investigated for war crimes.

Trump begun his answer with an attack on Clinton: “Everything she’s done in foreign policy has been a mistake—it’s been a disaster.” He then took a stance on Assad, saying “I don’t like Assad and all, but Assad is killing ISIS.” 

When Anderson Cooper reminded him that his running mate, Mike Pence, said in last week’s VP debate that America should be prepared to use airstrikes on the Assad regime, Trump replied: “OK, he and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree. I disagree.”

The debate wrapped up with each candidate saying what they respected about the other: Clinton respects the devotion of Trump’s children, and Trump respects Clinton’s tenacity and refusal to give up.

Unlike at the beginning of the night, Clinton and Trump shook hands as the debate closed on this surprisingly positive note. You can read a full transcript of the debate here.

Did you watch the second debate? What was the most memorable moment of the night to you?