It was, in the words of so many who watched and most of the experts covering it, the worst debate ever.
What happened in St. Louis on Sunday has many calling it one of the most unfortunate — if not darkest — moments in the history of American politics.
Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump literally stalked Democrat Hillary Clinton as she tried to gracefully answer questions posed by select audience members and moderators during the town hall-like setting at Washington University.
For 90 minutes, Trump and Clinton called each other liars, untrustworthy and unfit for office as they sparred not so much about their policy differences as their basic character.
Trump even threatened to “jail” Clinton if he became president.
“Believe me, she has tremendous hate in her heart,” Trump said.
Clinton accused Trump of launching distractions and diversions: “Anything to avoid talking about your campaign and the way it’s exploding.”
The debate was nearly nonstop name-calling and nastiness — they opened by eschewing the traditional handshake, and things only worsened from there. An agitated Trump repeatedly encroached Clinton’s physical space as he paced the debate stage.
That action by Trump, who had called on Muslims to report on perceived terrorist activities, led to the social media hashtag: MuslimsReportStuff.
“I’d like to report a creeper who stalked a woman on the stage tonight. #MuslimsReportStuff,” wrote Fasiha Khan on Twitter.
“Hey, it’s me again, I’d like to report a man who goes around kissing women without their consent,” wrote one Twitter user, a reference to the woman-demeaning comments Trump made to NBC’s Billy Bush on the viral video that even has some Republicans jumping off the Trump train.
There were only brief reprieves of policy discussion that quickly reverted to contentious sniping, even as they had to balance their attacks with flashes of geniality before a town-hall audience of undecided voters.
From its earliest moments, the debate was colored by the events of the past few days, mainly a decade-old tape surfacing Friday that revealed Trump describing in graphic and sexually aggressive terms making unwanted advances on women, which he said was easy to do because he is a “star.”
Legions of Republicans have abandoned his campaign in the last two days over the lecherous remarks that moderator Anderson Cooper described to Trump on Sunday night as amounting to “sexual assault.”
Trump tried to downplay the tape — “it’s just words folks, it’s just words” — as he shifted the topic to Bill Clinton, to the Islamic State, to Clinton’s emails, to anything else.
“This was locker room talk,” Trump said over and over.
But Clinton would not let Trump off the hook.
“What we all saw and heard on Friday was Donald talking about women, what he thinks about women, what he does to women, and he has said that the video doesn’t represent who he is, but I think it’s clear to anyone who heard it that it represents exactly who he is,” she said.
Clinton framed this race as different from any other she’s taken part in.
“I never questioned their fitness to serve,” she said of past opponents. “Donald Trump is different.”
Trump acknowledged he wasn’t proud of his comments but he accused Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, of far worse “actions,” pointing to the four women he invited into the audience who have made sexual-related allegations against the Clintons.
Trump had held a brief press event with those women before the debate.
Asked three times by Cooper whether he had physically accosted women the way he described on the tape, Trump eventually said, “No, I have not,” though some women have publicly accused him of touching them inappropriately.
CNBC noted that the event itself was the most tweeted-about debate ever, according to Twitter, which reported 17 million debate-related tweets were sent. It was also the most tweeted day of the 2016 election, with almost 30 million tweets sent.
Social media marketing platform Spredfast found that there were 5.78 million Twitter mentions involving the terms “debate,” “debate night” and “debate 2016” during the second presidential debate, compared to 5.77 million such tweets during the first.
Twitter’s numbers included tweets about Trump and Hillary Clinton, according to CNBC.
Trump was involved in 64 percent of all debate-related chatter, Twitter said.
The most talked-about moment on social media was when the New York businessman threw his own running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, under the bus.
Trump, when asked about his running mate’s stance on the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo and about Syria, tersely responded, “He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree.”