The Second Debate: Oh, Those Dastardly Russians!

The second presidential debate was supposed to have been an ambush in which the “threat” of Trump was dispatched with little effort on Hillary’s part. The tape of Trump engaging in what heterosexual men call “locker room talk” had just been released and the two moderators, Anderson Cooper (Clinton News Network) and Martha Raddatz (resident foreign policy “expert” at ABC) were primed and ready to pounce.

It didn’t work out that way.

Trump batted down questions about the tape like a lion swatting a fly. He then proceeded to go on the offensive. Particularly effective was his raising of the Clinton email question. The big moment came when Trump pointed out that people’s “lives have been ruined when they did one fifth of what you have done,” and Hillary responded by telling people to go to her web site so Trump could be “fact-checked”:

“Last time at the first debate, we had millions of people fact checking, so I expect we’ll have millions more fact checking, because, you know, it is – it’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.

“TRUMP: Because you’d be in jail.”

The audience burst into applause.

From that moment on, the smug smile Hillary had been wearing was absent from her visage, and with each blow Trump landed she flinched. By the end of it I thought she was going to burst into tears, but never mind – you can go see for yourself. Foreign policy didn’t come into the debate until a good twenty minutes or so into it. In response to Hillary bringing up – again! – the Captain Khan imbroglio, Trump averred:

If I were president at that time, he would be alive today, because unlike her, who voted for the war without knowing what she was doing, I would not have had our people in Iraq. Iraq was disaster. So he would have been alive today.”

This segued into an argument about the refugees pouring into the West, with Raddatz asking Hillary why we should raise the number coming into the US from 10,000 to 65,000, as she would have it. As usual, Mrs. Clinton deployed diversionary tactics to avoid the issue:

“First of all, I will not let anyone into our country that I think poses a risk to us. But there are a lot of refugees, women and children, think of that picture we all saw of that 4-year-old boy with the blood on his forehead because he’d been bombed by the Russian and Syrian air forces. There are children suffering in this catastrophic war, largely, I believe because of Russian aggression. And we need to do our part.”

She went on from there, but this was the first instance of many when she used those dastardly Russians as a shield to protect herself from inconvenient questions, like this one from the audience via Raddatz:

“This question involves WikiLeaks’ release of purported excerpts of Secretary Clinton’s paid speeches speeches, which she has refused to release. In one line in particular, in which you Secretary Clinton purportedly say, ‘You need both a public and private position on certain issues.’ So, two from Virginia asks: ‘is it okay for politicians to be two-faced? Is it acceptable for a politician to have have a private stance on issues?’ Secretary Clinton?”

Here Hillary invoked none other than Abraham “Honest Abe” Lincoln to justify her two-faced approach to public policy question, a typical exercise in Bizarro World logic that will go down in history as one of the worst answers ever given during a presidential debate. Aside from that, however, look where she went with that:

But, you know, let’s talk about what’s really going on here, Martha because our intelligence community just came out and said in the last few days that the Kremlin, meaning Putin and the Russian government, are directing the attacks, the hacking on American accounts to influence our election. And WikiLeaks is part of that as are other sites where the Russians hack information, we don’t even know if it’s accurate information and then they put it out. We have never in the history of our country been in a situation where an adversary, a foreign power, is working so hard to influence the outcome of the election, and believe, they’re not doing it to get me elected. They are doing it to try to influence the election for Donald Trump. Now, maybe because he praised Putin, maybe because he says he agrees with a lot of what Putin wants to do, maybe because he wants to do business in Moscow. I don’t know the reasons, but we deserve answers, and should demand that Donald release all of his tax returns so that people can see what are the entanglements and the financial relationships …”

Rather than answer the question about her two-faced approach, she again launched into what can only be described as an unhinged tirade about those evil Russians. Think about this: have we ever had a presidential election in which one candidate is accusing the other of being in league with a foreign power? Not that I can think of. It’s unprecedented, at least in modern times. And they accuse Trump of being a “demagogue”!

I could reiterate all the many reasons why this neo-McCarthyite nonsense is crazy, but Trump himself called her out. After highlighting the oddly counterintuitive way in which she blamed her lying on “Honest Abe” – which got a laugh from the audience, while Hillary looked visibly shaken – Trump went on to say:

“As far as other elements of what you were saying, I don’t know Putin. I think it would be great if we got along with Russia because we could fight ISIS together, as an example, but I don’t know Putin. But I notice, any time anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians, well she doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking … and the reason they blame Russia is they think they’re trying to tarnish me with Russia…. but I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don’t deal there, I have no businesses there, I have no loans from Russia.”

As Jeffrey Carr and other cyberwarfare experts have pointed out, we don’t know who hacked the Democratic National Committee or any of the other organizations recently targeted: Hillary doesn’t know, the FBI doesn’t know, and we won’t know unless the perpetrators openly take credit. It could be an insider: it could be a couple of teenagers sitting in a Shanghai cybercafe. Yet this question is much less important than the information that’s being revealed – and, again, Hillary and her media fan club are pulling their diversionary tactics, screaming that “The Russians are coming!” in the hope that we don’t notice the evidence of corruption that’s being laid at our feet on an almost daily basis.

Speaking of the media’s key role in all this, Raddatz showed her cards when the subject of Syria came up. Here’s the “question” she asked both candidates to answer:

“The heart breaking video of a 5-year-old Syrian boy named Omran sitting in an ambulance after being pulled from the rubble after an airstrike in Aleppo focused the world’s attention on the horrors of the war in Syria, with 136 million views on Facebook alone. But there are much worse images coming out of Aleppo every day now where in the past few weeks alone 400 have been killed, at least 100 of them children. Just days ago, the State Department called for a war crimes investigation of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and of its ally, Russia, for their bombardment of Aleppo. So this next question comes from social media, through Facebook. Diane from Pennsylvania asks: If you were president, what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo? Isn’t is a lot like wasn’t it like the Holocaust when the U.S. waited too long before we helped?”

This kind of emotional blackmail is typical of Raddatz and the media’s Islamist cheering squad, but it has nothing to do with what we ought to be doing – or not doing – in Syria. The reality is that the Islamist rebels are no better than al-Qaeda or ISIS, as this video of a 12-year-old child being beheaded by US-funded rebels near Aleppo shows. Yet Raddatz has never, to my knowledge, mentioned this grisly event: it doesn’t fit into her neat little narrative that depicts the rebels as angels and Assad as the Devil.

Quite naturally, Hillary – who championed the rebels during her tenure at State – took to Raddatz’s question like a fish to water. She reiterated her longstanding call for a “no-fly zone” – in spite of testimony from the chairman of the joint chiefs that this would mean a midair confrontation with Russian aircraft, i.e. war with Russia. She finished her peroration with another long rant against “Russian aggression,” and it was left to Trump to answer her in the only way she could be answered:

“She talks in favor of the rebels. She doesn’t even know who the rebels are. You know, every time we take rebels whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else, we’re arming people. And you know what happens? They end up being worse… Look at what she did in Libya with Qaddafi. Qaddafi is out. It’s a mess.”

 Raddatz wasn’t about to take this laying down. In that stern schoolmarmish tone she used whenever she addressed Trump, she said:

“Mr. Trump, let me repeat the question. If you were president, what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo, and I want to remind you what your running mate said. He said provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength and that if Russia continues to be involved in airstrikes along with the Syrian government forces of Assad, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets of the Assad regime.

“Trump: Okay. He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree.

Raddatz: You disagree with your running mate?

“Trump: I disagree. Right now, Syria is fighting ISIS. We have people that want to fight both at the same time. But Syria is no longer Syria. Syria is Russia and it’s Iran who she made strong and Kerry and Obama made into a powerful nation and a rich nation, very quickly, very, very quickly. I believe we have to get ISIS. We have to worry about ISIS before we can get too much more involved. She had a chance to do something with Syria, they had a chance, and that was the line.

“Raddatz: What are do you think will happen if Aleppo falls?”

It was as if Raddatz had taken Hillary’s place, and was joining the debate as her surrogate. One had to look on the spectacle and wonder if Raddatz knew how brazenly her sympathies were being put on display for millions of viewers to see: Trump’s answer was that Aleppo has already fallen.

The focus then turned to Hillary, who was asked by Raddatz what would she do if and when Aleppo does fall: would she put US troops on the ground? Hillary then showed what a “two-faced” policy analysis really looks like by saying no – and then saying she’d put “special forces” in there. Are not Special Forces ground troops – or would they be walking on air? Raddatz, of course, didn’t call her out on this.

That was the extent to which foreign policy was discussed at the second debate: after all, don’t we have more important things to talk about – like Trump’s off-color comments made in private eleven years ago?

To any foreign policy mavens who were watching, this debate underscored one essential fact: the danger of allowing Hillary Clinton in the White House. Her antipathy for Russia goes beyond anything we have seen, even during the cold war. If she really believes Russia is actively trying to intervene in the election on behalf of Trump, who can doubt that this notoriously vindictive woman will take revenge on Moscow once she has her hands on the nuclear trigger?

Another interesting aspect of this debate was Trump’s break with his running mate on the all-important Russian Question. As a conventional, i.e. neoconnish, Republican, Pence echoes the boilerplate Russophobia that is the conventional wisdom in Washington. That Trump didn’hesitate to distance himself from Pence on this issue shows that his instincts are good, i.e. that avoidance of conflict with nuclear-armed Russia is a core conviction rather than a mere idiosyncrasy.

To our hysterically anti-Russian media, this is nothing less than treason. As far as the rest of us are concerned, it’s just common sense.


You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].