A debate night that was X-rated

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It was just before the debate started and I was chatting to my friend and opposite number at ITV news, Robert Moore.

He told me that he and his wife were undecided about whether they should allow their two daughters to watch the presidential debate because of the subject matter that was likely to be discussed.

I asked Robert if it was OK to tweet what he had just told me, and he agreed. Very quickly dozens of people contacted me to say they were wrestling with the same dilemma.

A presidential debate. Civic engagement, for goodness sake! And parents are afraid to let their children watch?

We've gone way lower than any limbo dancer would dare. This is unbelievably sad. I totally get that kids might not want to watch because they might find it mind-numbing and would rather undergo root canal treatment.

But because their parents are worried about the sexually graphic nature of what the two candidates might be discussing? What have we become?

Politics has always been a contact sport and, yes, part of the fun of reporting is when it gets a bit nasty and personal. But this was something else.

Two hours before last night's debate got under way, Mr Trump conducted a Facebook Live with three women who claim that Bill Clinton had sexually assaulted them and one who had been raped by a man who was represented in court by Hillary Clinton during her public defender years.

The top secret plan, confirmed by his surrogate-in-chief Rudy Giuliani, was to bring them into the elevated family box that each candidate had been allocated. That way, Bill Clinton would have to walk past them on the debate stage before battle commenced. And they would then be in Hillary Clinton's eye-line throughout.

You've got to hand it to Donald Trump - he knows how to make good television. All that time spent hosting The Apprentice wasn't for nothing.

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It would have been road-crash television of the most lurid order - which of course is exactly what he wanted to achieve. Unfortunately those non-partisan spoilsports from the Commission on Presidential Debates vetoed the idea once they got wind of it.

The idea of the debate is to discuss policy, the commission seems to think, not to go in for ritual humiliation and intimidation as though it were some gameshow. The women had to take their place in the wider audience.

But Donald Trump ensured they got the publicity he wanted.

The Trump strategy seemed to be while you might think he was bad after hearing him brag about grabbing women by the - oh let's just say the word he used - pussy, but that Bill Clinton is way, way worse. So he recycled all the claims, as though somehow Hillary Clinton was culpable for her husband's actions.

She didn't bite. She simply didn't engage.

I'm not sure why I'm surprised (and maybe a little bit depressed) at any of this. After all, so far during this campaign I have discussed - on air - such key political topics topics as menstruation and penis size.

The Republican leadership had been urging Trump not to go down this path.

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First, they thought there was no polling evidence to suggest that this would do anything to help his sagging poll numbers - and actually might send independents and women Clinton's way in sympathy.

Secondly, it would be a distraction from the messages that really were connecting with people - on trade, jobs, healthcare, national security.

For what it's worth, I thought he did really well on those subjects last night. He was much more focused in his attacks on Clinton. She looked vulnerable and gave wordy answers.

And on his central message - that if you yearn for change don't entrust it to someone who has 30 years to bring that about, and hasn't - he scored a number of direct hits.

But is anyone discussing that today? Is anyone talking about replacing Obamacare? Or renegotiating trade deals? Or jobs?

No,it's the exchanges over sex. And Trump's pledge to lock his opponent up if he becomes president.

As my bureau chief (who was Middle East bureau chief before he came to the US) tweeted last night, who says Donald Trump doesn't understand Middle-Eastern politics?

Is this what Donald Trump wanted? Has he got the coverage he sought? Maybe it is. But it doesn't seem to have taken him any closer to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.