An all-time low: Europe’s press reacts to Clinton-Trump showdown

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton pause during their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis, October 9, 2016.
Rick Wilking | Reuters
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton pause during their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis, October 9, 2016.

European commentators looking in on Sunday night's second televised presidential debate have almost unanimously slammed what they saw as the squalid standards of the debate, adding that the U.S. political tone has sunk to an all-time low.

In the latest staging post in the race to the White House, Trump was more commonly seen as having had the slight edge on his opponent, with the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph commenting, "The bar was low – way, way low – but Trump still slithered over it."

Although not everyone concurred the Republican candidate was the relative winner, it was more commonly agreed that the loser was the country and its political system. In the words of the BBC's Anthony Zurcher: "Mrs Clinton may have emerged the beneficiary, but the nation was the worse for it."

Such was the quality of the face-off that the majority of reports stuck to analyzing the fractious chemistry between the pair – described by France's business paper, Les Echos, as a "veritable duel" and by Italy's La Repubblica as a "poisoned face-to-face" - and offered a round-up of the evening's lowlights rather than highlights.

In what the U.K.'s left-leaning Guardian newspaper described as an "ugly war of words between two nominees devoid of civility", Trump's "leonine menace" seemed to have had some effect. This as France's Le Monde newspaper commented that the Republican candidate was "more reactive than during the first debate" and "attempted to take his adversary by the throat" over the ongoing scandal regarding her use of a private email server to send emails.

U.K. broadcaster Sky described Trump's repetitive attacks centered around allegations of infidelity by Hillary Clinton's husband Bill as"a televised assault" on the former president.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is shown on video screens as journalists work
Javier Galeano | Reuters
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is shown on video screens as journalists work

Several media outlets restricted their praise of the Republican candidate's performance to the simple observation that things could have been worse, with the BBC's Zurcher saying, "anything less than a total Jack-Nicholson-at-the-end-of-A-Few-Good-Menstyle meltdown onstage has to be deemed a marginal success on his part, and so it was." This in what Zurcher went onto describe as "easily the most tawdry exchange in 56 years of televised presidential debates" with a warning it would "likely cast a shadow over US politics for years to come."

U.K. outlet The Independent said that the session "may go down as the most toxic and ill-tempered presidential debate in history", while Italy's Corriere della Sera called the debate "ugly" and "full of low blows".

La Repubblica summed up its primary takeaway from the event as the conclusion "American democracy is ill." This sentiment was closely echoed by Britain's The Economist newspaper which surmised the debate was "a telling, lamentable milestone in America's politics."

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