Donald Trump launched a scorched-earth bid to salvage his faltering campaign during a caustic presidential debate Sunday, vowing to put Hillary Clinton in jail and accusing her husband of sexual misconduct.
Before tens-of-millions of viewers and an audience that included Bill Clinton and three women who accuse him of past abuse, the Republican nominee shattered the last vestiges of political decorum and gave voice to incendiary allegations against the former president.
With his campaign in a tailspin, Trump apologized for "locker room talk" in which he bragged about groping women, but stated baldly that "Bill Clinton was abusive to women."
"If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse," Trump insisted. "Mine are words, his was action," he said, claiming that there has "never been anybody in the history of politics in this nation that's been so abusive to women."
Going a step further, the 70-year-old real estate mogul threatened his 2016 Democratic rival -- whom he accused of having "hate in her heart" -- with imprisonment if he wins the White House.
"If I win, I'm going to instruct the attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there's never been so many lies, so much deception," Trump said.
The Democrat Hillary Clinton, facing a deeply wounded candidate with one month to go before Election Day, pushed back by saying Trump's lewd comments, caught on a hot mic, merely showed his true self.
"This is who Donald Trump is, and the question for us, the question our country must answer is that this is not who we are."
When Clinton said that it was "awfully good" that someone with Trump's temperament was not leading the nation, he shot back: "Because you'd be in jail."
The opening minutes were tense, with Trump slinging mud even at the two moderators, whom he accused of bias -- it was "one against three" he said -- between a continuous series of interruptions.
The 68-year-old Clinton largely refused to take the bait, saying she took the advice of First Lady Michelle Obama: "when they go low, you go high."
"This is not an ordinary time and this is not an ordinary election," she said appealing directly to voters.
But, as in the first debate, she also laid a series traps for Trump, prodding him toward admitting he had not paid federal income tax in around two decades.
By accusing Russia of trying to tilt the 2016 presidential election in Trump's favor with a series of email hacks, Clinton forced her rival to contradict the intelligence community, which has also fingered Moscow.
"She doesn't know if it's the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking," he said.
- End game –
Trump faces a make-or-break moment after his crude boasts, which he made in 2005 and which became public Friday, as streams of Republicans have retracted their support for his campaign.
With a campaign based on earning free television air time and little ground game, Trump is dependent on the Republican Party machinery to get out the vote.
Trump needs a dramatic boost if he is to claw back ground against Clinton, who has surged in the polls since their first debate on September 26.
In an extraordinary step, Trump convened a press event just moments before the debate that included several women who accuse former president Clinton of sexual harassment and rape.
Introduced by Trump as "very courageous women," the invited speakers included Paula Jones, a former government employee in Arkansas who sued Bill Clinton for sexual harassment, and Juanita Broaddrick, also of Arkansas, who claims that Clinton raped her in 1978.