This is CNN. I’m Anderson Cooper. It is just a few minutes before midnight on Monday, September 26, 2016, and we are reporting live from Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.
The American presidential race has been thrown into chaos as violence erupts at the first, and probably last, presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Security was high and the atmosphere at a fever pitch. The Secret Service were an unusually large presence inside the debate hall. Every audience member was subject to pat-downs and background checks. Riot police held a line around the auditorium as student protesters clashed with Trump supporters on the Hofstra campus.
While security looked only at the audience, it was on stage, the spot at which all the cameras in the world were already pointing, there came an attack that has rocked the American political system to its shaken, if possibly shattered core.
Just 36 minutes into the first presidential debate, a particularly heated exchange between Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump devolved into sharp insults, a shouting match and then, before a shocked world, what appears to be a brief scuffle broke out between the two presidential candidates.
Let’s just turn again the video, the footage which I am sure all of you have already seen.
Video Clip: Audio Transcript
Sec. Clinton: … We cannot allow someone who can be baited by a tweet to control the nuclear launch codes.
Mr. Trump: You already used that line! Who writes this stuff for you! I mean really. Sad!
But you know what’s gonna be worse the second time around? Bill! In the White House! You know what I’m talking about. Amiright? He’s gonna be chasing all those new interns around the West Wing. While you will be too busy being Mad-dame President. [Audience boos Mr. Trump] No, it’s true, Bill joked about it with me during a fundraiser I gave for Hillary in 2008. It’s true.
Don’t boo me. [Waves hand in dismissive gesture.] It’s so unfair. I’m already outnumbered here on stage with these two “real beauties” moderating this thing. [Mr. Trump makes air quotes before pointing to the moderators Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff]. Where’s Megan? Roger and I both like her. This is so unfair. So unfair. This system is rigged. I’m telling you. [Audience boos]
Co-Moderator Gwen Ifill: Mr. Trump, your campaign agreed to this format and to our role as moderators in advance. So I will ask you to confine your comments to the question of foreign policy…
Mr. Trump: This is proof of how political correctness is destroying our country. And it will lead to death, destruction, terrorism and weakness. But really, let me ask you people in the press, what are you gonna call Bill if she gets in? The First Man? First Guy? Yea, right! But the real question, Mad-damn, is this: are you gonna keep him around when he cheats on you in the White House, again?
Co-Moderator Gwen Ifill: Mr. Trump, you are out of time. Secretary Clinton, would you like a rebuttal?
Sec. Clinton: “Gwen, Mr. Trump does not want to debate. He does not understand what is at stake here. Instead he is trying to bait me into sinking to his level. But I will not fall for these misogynist attacks. The American people see them —
Mr. Trump: You see! This is weakness! Weakness. It’s so sad that I alone, I alone can do this job. And what’s with this miss-sog-uh-nee? Who cares? My voters don’t know what that means.
Sec. Clinton: Gwen, there is a double standard at work here. This man lies with every breath. He knows nothing. He insults everyone. Gold Star mothers, our NATO allies, Paul Ryan, Black people, even babies. He actually insulted a woman and a crying baby. That’s what politicians are supposed to do! Kiss babies. I mean! And I get in trouble for having two email accounts on one blackberry! I mean, like… [Secretary Clinton shakes her head rapidly in an exaggerated gesture of exasperation.] America… what happened to you? How did you let this happen? I expect better from you…
Mr. Trump: There’s that concussion again! And how dare you insult the American people! I am their voice! And the American People want to be free of political correctness. And they don’t want Crooked HIllary. No, it’s true.
Look… I’ve bribed both Democrats and Republicans. No problem. I know how this system works. Nobody knows it better than me. I paid for Bill’s Presidency. I got my favors. I always get my favors. And I always win, even if I have to play both sides. I paid for Hillary’s Senate race and I got my favors. Always. Otherwise you waste money, right? I gave so much money to the Clinton Foundation that I made them come to my wedding to Meliana back in… uh… whatever year I married Meliana. No. It true. As a contributor, I demanded that they be there — they had no choice and that’s what’s wrong with our country.”
Sec. Clinton: That’s right…. I went to your wedding Donald… You… You… In Mira Lago in 2005… See I remember… Meliana plagiarized her vows from Maya Angelou! It was the cheapest, tackiest thing I’ve ever seen! I’ve been to Ozark weddings in Arkansas with more class. [Huff, Huff, Huff….]
Mr. Trump: You are such a disgusting liar. I spent millions on that wedding! You loved it… You are laughing in all the photos we staged. It was fabulous. CLASSY! So classy. You dare compare me to hillbillies!”
Sec. Clinton: I do! And you dare talk about my marriage… Bill… Dammit!!!!…. Bill…. But you, you are on your third and still manage to be worse than Roger Ailes! How many beauty pageant contestants did you knock up in Atlantic City? And… You are pro-life now, right?”
Mr. Trump: Where did you hear that? Who have you been talking to? I’ll sue you for slander. I am very pro-life now. But the rest of that is a lie. I’ll sue you!
Sec. Clinton: You forget, Donald, I knew your first wife. Ivana. You beat and raped your first wife. You raped Ivana! She wrote about it in her autobiography. I read it about it on Gawker. Bill… Bill, he cheated on me, he humiliated me, everyone knows it. But you, you raped your wife!”
Mr. Trump: You can’t rape your wife! Goddammit! My lawyers said if you are still married you can’t rape… [Microphone cuts out as candidate leaves the podium to confront Ms. Clinton]
Moderator Judy Woodruff: Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump, please. Mr. Trump please! Oh my god…. Stop… .
[Sound of a scuffle as both microphones cut out and Secretary Clinton tumbles off stage]
Mr. Trump: I told you I’d hit you back. You pantsuit wearing slob! No wonder Bill cheated on you! I’m tough. I’m strong. And unlike Bill, my wife is an absolute babe. One of the best… Believe me… It’s in the Post. You get up and I’ll show you how big my hands are… Believe me!
Sec. Clinton: You… You monstrous douchebag, you [Bleeeeep]-ing pig! Take him!!!! Take him!!!”
In an event that is sure to scar our nation forever, Mr. Trump turned and took two strides towards Secretary Clinton, grabbing her right arm with his left hand, before appearing to raise his right to strike her. Secretary Clinton then ducked to her right as if to flinch or dodge what our legal department is still requiring us to call “the alleged blow.” At which point, Secretary Clinton broke free of Mr. Trump’s grip and fell backwards off the stage and on top of a bank of photographers.
As the auditorium gasped in shock, Mr. Trump continued to shout insults at the obviously injured Secretary Clinton. Mr. Trump’s private security detail rushed in, physically picked up their candidate and rushed him out the back of the hall. Cameras picked him up as he got into his armored Trump car and sped away to the EAB Plaza Heliport, less than a half-mile from Hofstra University.
And at this hour, Donald J. Trump, the Republican Presidential nominee remains in the back of his Trump helicopter. Local air traffic control and the FBI have denied him permission to take off and return to Trump Tower. Negotiations are underway between the Trump campaign, the FBI and NYPD.
Republican Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence told reporters: “In the name of Christ our Savior, I alone am ready to take over the ticket, to lead the party, and make America great again, again.”
RNC chairman Reince Priebus, clearly anxious about Governor Pence’s polling numbers and suffering from an apparent hernia rupture caused by an explosive outburst of laughter, told the press in Spin Alley that Trump’s polling numbers are still strong. “Heh, heh, Mr. Trump is not under arrest at this point. Ha! He never hit anyone that I saw. Er, that is, until which time as he is formally charged, he is still our candidate. But what this demonstrates is Secretary Clinton’s physical unfitness to lead our country.” Instant polling by CNN indeed showed a spike in support for Mr. Trump, putting him within striking distance for the first time since the conventions.
Secretary Clinton was unavailable for comment at this hour where she is still in surgery at Nassau University Medical Center. Hospital official have confirmed that she has a broken knee and a possible concussion. Our medical experts agree that she should make a full recovery, though it will be a slow process that is expected to take several months.
Will this injury damage her campaign just as it is heating up? Clinton campaign officials are privately concerned that her lack of mobility will limit her ability to compete in battleground states. The Democratic party is worried that public appearances in a wheelchair will make her look weak and frail. If she can manage, they say crutches poll far better in the targeted demos.
There may be a silver lining for Secretary Clinton. Several campaign strategists have told CNN that her injury will likely boost support from senior citizens who are tired Secretary Clinton’s efforts at projecting a youthful image. And they expect a big turnout from the critical battered-white-rural-wives demographic. Strategists say this usually suppressed segment of voters could help Hillary in battleground states like Missouri, North Carolina, Indiana, Ohio, Florida and in central Pennsylvania.
Also injured in the melee was debate moderator Gwen Ifill. The sixty year-old PBS newswoman was apparently tackled and tasered by a New York police officer who was recorded on a cell phone video threatening: “I’ll light you up, you black [Bleeeeep].”
Apart from the shock at seeing two presidential candidates fight or “allegedly” fight, the Constitution itself, which says nothing about how political parties are organized, seems at stake. A stunned nation, and two now leaderless political parties, must somehow decide how to move forward after perhaps the strangest night in American politics since the Kennedy Assassination.
Now that we are all up to date, let’s turn to our fourteen member panel of experts, strategists and spokesmen. And I want to go back to Spin Alley and begin with our Trump supporter…
Excuse me… Yes… Go ahead… I need to interrupt our panel because it looks like Mr. Trump’s helicopter is spinning up its rotors and appears to be attempting a take off. We do not know if this has been authorized or if he is in fact looking to make a getaway.
Let’s now go out to Hempstead, New York, where we are live on the ground…