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Anderson Cooper asked Donald Trump 4 times about his sexual assault bragging. Trump kept dodging.

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

The first two questions at Sunday’s second presidential debate were aimed straight at the elephant in the room: the secretly recorded video, published Friday, of Donald Trump bragging about how he treats women.

Anderson Cooper didn’t sugarcoat it. “What you said was locker room banter — kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals — that is sexual assault,” Cooper said. “You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women.”

Trump’s response, incredibly, was to keep insisting that it was just locker room banter, and to keep trying to change the subject.

“I don’t think you understood,” he said. “This was locker room talk. I’m not proud of it. I apologize to my family. To the American people. Certainly, I’m not proud of it. But this is locker room talk.”

Then he tried to pivot to ISIS, saying he would “get on to much more important things and much bigger things.”

Cooper tried again: “For the record, are you saying, what you said on the bus 11 years ago, that you did not kiss women without consent or grope women without consent?”

“I have great respect for women,” Trump said. “Nobody has more respect for women than I do.”

Cooper tried yet again: “So you’re saying you never did that?”

Trump kept not answering: “I said things that frankly, you hear these things. And I was embarrassed by it. But I have tremendous respect for women.”

Cooper, yet again: “Have you ever done those things?”

Trump again tried to pivot: “No, I have not. I will tell you that I'm going the make our country safe. We're going to have borders in our country. … We're going to make America safe again.”

If anyone doubted that the second presidential debate would be a political spectacle of historic proportions, Trump’s response proved it. It’s not just that he tried, over and over, to avoid answering a question he must have known would come up. It’s that he genuinely seemed to think filibustering on the topic would work. He didn’t bring a well-rehearsed, thoughtful answer to a question about his secretly recorded remarks — something he had to have known would come up.

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