Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump got down and dirty in a battling debate never quite seen before in American presidential politics. The two criticised one another during a 90-minute confrontation over programmes — or lack thereof — as well as on temperament, trustworthiness and stamina.
Clinton appeared relaxed and in control throughout most of the Monday night (26 September) debate, the first of three before the November election, at Hofstra University in New York.
Clinton was largely viewed as the night's winner, with several analysts and news publications praising her ability to effectively slam Trump with facts and figures.
The Washington Post declared Clinton occasionally came across as "overly rehearsed and robotic," but applauded her responses to Trump and her apology for the email scandal. The New York Times, which recently endorsed Clinton, also noted her triumph over Trump.
Meanwhile, ABC News analyst Rick Klein said that neither candidate won the debate, writing: "They proved they can get under each other's skin. But neither candidate proved that he or she has a winning message, not on the night of the first debate."
Clinton smiled, appearing bemused by many of her rival's claims, and called on fact checkers to do their job. She seemed to enjoy riling Trump with quips about his temperament, business knowledge and past remarks.
She repeatedly questioned Trump's grasp on reality, at one point calling his remarks "crazy".
He often dodged questions or rambled, and even doubted claims that Russia was behind hacking emails from the Democratic National Committee. He said instead it could have been a "400-pound man sitting in his bed" — a phrase that instantly lit up the Twitterverse and tech blogs.
In a fiery discussion on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, Trump accused his Democratic rival of supporting the TPP and noted she once referred to it as the "gold standard of trade deals."
Clinton quickly shot back: "Well, Donald, I know you live in your own reality, but that is not the facts."
When Trump appeared to criticise Clinton for taking time off from the campaign trail, she insinuated that while she prepared for the debate and the presidency, he did not. "I think Donald just criticised me for preparing for this debate. And yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president, and I think that's a good thing."
Trump began calmly and cordially, his face relaxed, even smiling slightly. But he very quickly raised his voice, grew angrier, ignored time limits and talked over Clinton and NBC moderator Lester Holt as he clashed with his rival over trade deals, exported jobs and businesses, taxes and the Islamic State (Isis).
Highlights from the debates
- Clinton calls Trump's economic plan: "Trumped up, trickle down"
- Trump is pressured by both moderator Lester Holt and his rival about his tax returns. Clinton wonders aloud what he is hiding. Is he not as wealthy as he says he is? Or has he failed to pay federal taxes?
- Clinton accuses Trump of having "a long record of engaging in racist behaviour".
- Trump says Clinton does not have the "stamina" to be president.
- Trump maintains the false claim that he never supporting the invasion of Iraq.
He also doubled down on two lies with added, confusing scenarios: That it was Clinton, not he, who launched the so-called birther rumour that President Barack Obama was born in Africa, and that he opposed the Iraq war right from the start.
He insisted Clinton started the birther movement because she lost out to Obama during the 2008 election.
"You treated him with terrible disrespect and I watch the way you talk now about how lovely everything is, it doesn't work that way," he said. "When you try to act holier than thou, it really doesn't work." Clinton would go on to support Obama following her failed bid for the presidency and became his secretary of state.
Clinton pointed to Trump's birther movement as she accused him of repeated racist behaviour, including lawsuits for refusing to rent to African-Americans. "He has a long record of engaging in racist behaviour and the birther lie was a very hurtful one. Barack Obama is a man of great dignity," she said. "I could tell how much it bothered him and annoyed him that this was being touted and used against him."
When asked by Holt why he has not released his tax returns, a standard practice for presidential candidates, Trump maintained he would release them after an IRS audit of his taxes was complete. After Holt reminded him that he is free to release his returns during an audit, Trump then said he would do so when Clinton released her missing emails.
"Maybe he doesn't want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he's paid nothing in federal taxes," Clinton said. Trump interjected: "That makes me smart."
Trump slammed Clinton for putting her plans to fight IS (Daesh) on her website — and thereby tipping off America's enemy. "Well, at least I have a plan to fight Isis," Clinton shot back, referring to his previous statements that he has a "secret" plan to destroy the terrorist group.
At times Trump seemed to be out of specifics.
Frustrated by Clinton's critique of his economic plan he sputtered: "Typical politician. All talk. No action. Sounds good. Doesn't work. Never gonna happen. Our country is suffering because people like Secretary Clinton have made such bad decisions in terms of our jobs, in terms of what's going on."
Trump called for a tough law-and-order crime-fighting policy. He said that African-Americans and Hispanics were "living in hell," adding: "You walk down the street, you get shot." He touted the "stop and frisk" policing strategy that allows police to search pedestrians at will.
When Holt reminded Trump that a federal judge ruled the policy was unconstitutional because it disproportionately targeted minorities, Trump responded: "That's not true," describing the judge as "very against-police".
Trump said Clinton does not have the "look or the stamina to be president." Clinton took the opportunity to slam him for insulting women's looks, calling them "fat slobs" and "pigs." She accused him of calling one of his beauty pageant contestants "Miss Piggy."
"Where did you get that?" he asked, saying her accusations weren't "very nice."