by Xinhua writers Zhu Lei, Shang Yang, Xu Jianmei
ST. LOUIS, Missouri, the United States, Oct. 9 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had rolled up his sleeves for a battle with his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the second presidential debate on Sunday to lift the shadow left hanging over his campaign by his subdued performance in their first showdown.
But the disclosure of his demeaning comments about women and his brags about sexual assaults unleashed a nearly deadly blow to his already momentum-stalling campaign and it is hard for the brash New York billionaire to bring the campaign back on track with the Nov. 8 election only four weeks away, experts said.
Trump "can't do any worse than the tape. I do not think he can reverse any effect but he can try to stop any further damage," Robert Shapiro, a professor and former chair of the Department of Political Science at Columbia University, told Xinhua on Sunday.
Since the disclosure on Friday of a 2005 video in which bragged in obscene language about forcing himself on women sexually, more than two dozen Republican lawmakers have distanced themselves from their party's nominee - some withdrawing endorsements or called for him to drop out of the race for the White House. Some spoke of vice presidential candidate Mike Pence as an alternative.
Pence, whose calm and collected performance in last week's vice presidential debate scored points for the party's ticket, also delivered an unheard-up reproach by a running mate, saying in a statement that "he was offended by the words and actions described by Donald Trump." He called the second debate as a crucial moment to turn around the campaign.
Although the Republican Party's top leadership, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and party chairman Reince Priebus, stopped short of reversing their support, they decried his vulgar comments.
Trump acted as his own fireman, offering an apology for what he called "locker room banter" conversation in a brief statement while attacking former President Bill Clinton for even worse remarks on women. However, Trump vowed not to quit under any circumstances.
The tape scandal is "clearly a further setback" to his already momentum-stalling campaign, Shapiro said. "The best he can hope for is that he does not lose any more voters and Republican leader support and that he can get out his base of support in the key states in the election."
"He may be able to stop any further damage and still mobilize voters who greatly dislike Clinton, even if they might be less enthusiastic for him. He will try to offset the damage by continuing strong criticisms of Clinton and perhaps increase his criticism of the media's coverage of Clinton's shortcomings," Shapiro said.
WOMEN VOTERS, UNDECIDED VOTERS
Dave Robertson, professor and chair of Department of Political Science at the University of Missouri, believed that "it looks like that Trump is unlikely to do anything to overcome the problem."
The tape scandal hurt the feelings of the women voters most, Robertson told Xinhua on Sunday, noting that "women voters, especially those who are highly educated, are going very heavily for Hillary Clinton right now."
"For those undecided women voters, the lewd tape may push them to Clinton. He may not have the ability to convince them to come back and consider him anymore. If that's true, Clinton will win the suburbs of American cities, which cast half the votes in the election. Those suburbs would carry her to victory," Robertson said.
In their first face-off held on Sept. 26, Trump was not eloquent, not thoughtful, and not strategic whether in his approach to the debate or even post-debate reactions, Amra Sabic-El-Rayess, senior research scientist on education policy and social analysis at the Columbia University, told Xinhua.
"As a result, he is more likely to take a very aggressive stance, give us a much more aggressive performance both in his gestures, his narratives and in the content he brings to the second debate," Amra said. "The only unknown that remains to be seen is to what extend he is going to be aggressive."
"The more aggressive Trump gets in his languages and attacks whether they are targeting Hillary Clinton or the languages reflecting his negative attitude toward Muslims, or Mexicans and women in this country, the more it would influence a small portion, but an important portion of the voting population. Those are moderate Republicans, women and immigrants and those who have not made up their minds," she said.
A Quinnipiac University poll released on Friday showed that Clinton has a three-to-five point lead over Trump nationally, adding that women, non-Whites gave Clinton five-point lead over Trump, and independent voters were in big shift to Clinton.
Among the four biggest battleground states - those that do not have reliable vote either Republican or Democratic -- Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania are tilting Clinton's way, while Trump still has an upper hand in Ohio where he claims strong support among working-class white voters, the poll showed.
Shapiro also believed that Trump's demeaning words may affect women voters most of all. But, "most of his supporters will not be affected by his comments -- they are strong (white and especially male) supporters and opponents of Clinton who have not cared what Trump says and does that is disrespectful," the professor said.
As the second and third debate looms large as one of the final chances to alter the trajectory of the race, both campaigns are working feverishly in the most competitive states to get their core supporters to vote early and persuade undecided voters to back their candidates.
"Voter turnout of each party's base will decide the election," Shapiro said. "If his remarks help mobilize Clinton's base of support on Election Day or lead Republican voters to not vote for president (or not vote for Trump), then the Democrats may win big."
As for Clinton's email scandals and new release by WikiLeaks showing Clinton told top banking executives that she has "both a public and a private position" on Wall Street reform and is reliant on wealthy donors to fund her campaign, Robertson said "there are also serious concerns about Clinton's honesty."
But the scandal surrounding Clinton is not so terrible that many of her supporters abandon her, the professor said, adding that "Trump's tape scandal is so sensational that it made so many headlines and that many people overlooked the Wikileaks problem entirely."
Robertson believed that the tape scandal "hasn't dealt a death blow to Trump's hopes" because of the possibility of "October Surprise."
"New scandal could come out; she may have a serious health problem; or maybe a big terrorist attack could turn things around. But Trump has no control of his own fate at this point," he said.