This was a debate that Donald Trump dominated from the beginning, but not in a way that is likely to give the Republican candidate the advantage with six weeks before voting day.
The bar was also always low for Mr. Trump: appear presidential and knowledgeable. Instead, Mr. Trump was combative, prickly and largely himself — often playing loose with the facts.
Ms. Clinton needed to demonstrate the core of her case against her rival: that he does not have the temperament to occupy the Oval Office. She needled Mr. Trump on the true size of his wealth and racist practices in real estate. Over the course of 90 minutes, a well-prepared Ms. Clinton tried to deflect the attacks. Whether one of the most recognized public figures in U.S. politics was able to break through, connect with voters, and make a compelling case for a second Clinton presidency remains to be seen. Here is how the debate unfolded.
Snapshots of the debate: By the numbers and on social media
Segment 1: Jobs
After Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump meet on stage and shake hands, they take their podium positions. “How are you Donald?” asks Ms. Clinton. The audience applauds. That should be the last time we hear from the audience until the end of the debate.
Moderator Lester Holt opens the debate with a question to Ms. Clinton: “Why are you a better person than your opponent to create jobs that will put money in the pockets of American workers?”
The economic visions are rehashed from the campaign trail.
For Ms. Clinton: equal pay for equal for work; promoting companies that offer profit-sharing; paid family leave; affordable child care; getting the wealthy to pay their fair share and closing corporate loopholes.
For Mr. Trump: stop the flight of American business and jobs to Mexico and other countries; cut taxes for small businesses, which will create jobs. Ms. Clinton calls it “Trumped-up trickle-down” economics.
Ms. Clinton needles Trump about inheriting wealth from his father and rooting for the housing collapse in the U.S. “That’s called business, by the way,” said Mr. Trump to the latter point.
Mr. Trump’s key argument is that Ms. Clinton has been in political life for 30 years and has not solved the country’s most pressing problems: “You’ve been doing it for 30 years, and now you’re thinking about solutions.”
Ms. Clinton says she’s been thinking about the issues for many years. “For 30 years,” chimes in Mr. Trump, as the audience chuckles.
Mr. Trump is making a very strident critique of NAFTA and trying to unsettle Ms. Clinton on the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that she once supported. This is charged stuff: Donald Trump is coming out swinging and constantly interrupting Ms. Clinton.
Segment 2: Tax cuts
Mr. Trump is high-energy. And when he is listening to Ms. Clinton he is shaking his head and almost seething. This is not the presidential version of Mr. Trump. He is combative.
His argument in a nutshell: Bring jobs and businesses back to the U.S. through tax cuts and cutting red tape. He blames Ms. Clinton for the flight of business and U.S. jobs.
Ms. Clinton suggests that by the end of the night, Mr. Trump will blame her for everything that’s ever gone wrong. “Why not?” he retorts.
But this section of the debate is going in Ms. Clinton’s favour. The moderator’s question about Mr. Trump’s tax returns puts the Republican candidate on his back foot – and at one point he suggests that he will release his returns if Ms. Clinton releases e-mails she deleted after leaving the Obama administration.
Ms. Clinton is sharp in distilling why Mr. Trump not releasing his tax returns is an issue: Mr. Trump could be hiding his true wealth, the true extent of his charitable donations, and the next-to-nothing taxes he’s likely paying, according to Ms. Clinton.
This segment stands out because the audience is cheering and responding to what is being said by both candidates – a big no-no.
Segment 3: Race
The question is about race relations and blacks getting killed in police encounters: How do you heal the divide?
Mr. Trump presents himself as the “law and order” candidate who is calling for “stop and frisk,” while Ms. Clinton talks about the need to restore trust between police and American communities and the need for greater gun control.
Check out this issue by issue comparison of the two candidates on a range of issues, including criminal justice reform.
But what makes this segment stand out is Mr. Trump’s fumbling of the “birther” controversy. Rather than apologizing for perpetuating the claim that Mr. Obama was not born in the U.S., the real estate billionaire credits himself with getting the President to produce his birth certificate.
The moderator presses Mr. Trump on why for several years after the 2011 disclosure of the birth certificate he continued to propagate the “birther” claim. Mr. Trump has no real reply.
Ms. Clinton is sharp in this segment. “Just listen to what you heard,” she says, as the audience chuckles. She points to Mr. Trump’s long record of engaging in “racist behaviour” – points to Mr. Trump’s real estate practices highlighted in the U.S. media.
The Democratic candidate makes a smart play: defending the Obamas from the constant chatter about the first black president not being American. She quotes Michelle Obama from her Democratic National Convention speech.
“ ‘When they go low, we go high.’ And Barack Obama went high despite Donald Trump’s efforts to bring him down,” said Ms. Clinton.
This is a long debate, and Ms. Clinton’s preparation is becoming clearer. Mr. Trump does not have the same energy as he had the first 30 minutes of the debate.
Segment 4: Islamic State
Independent fact-checking organizations widely agree that Mr. Trump supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In that respect, his judgement is not all that different from Ms. Clinton’s.
But Mr. Trump tangled with the moderator in this segment, refusing to cede that he supported the invasion and war.
“I was against the war in Iraq,” said Mr. Trump.
“The record shows otherwise,” said moderator, Lester Holt.
“The record shows I’m right,” Mr. Trump jumped in.
On Islamic State, Mr. Trump does have a valid point: the group has expanded its reach beyond where it started and its strongholds in Iraq and Syria. The Obama administration, which Ms. Clinton was a part of, had the opportunity to deal with Islamic State when it was an “infant” and now it’s in 30 countries, he said.
Segment 5: Nuclear policy
This segment produced one of the more memorable lines of the night – in large part, because it was intended as serious. “I also have a much better temperament than she has,” Mr. Trump said after Ms. Clinton critiqued the Republican candidate’s anti-Iran rhetoric, which she said could spark a regional war.
The audience laughed at Mr. Trump’s assertion.
A pattern emerges: The audience is not heeding the calls of the moderator and the organizers to remain silent.
But this section is the core of the Clinton campaign’s argument against Mr. Trump: “A man who can be provoked by a tweet should not be near the nuclear codes.”
Mr. Trump bats away the familiar, rehearsed line. “It’s a good one though. It well describes the problem,” Ms. Clinton responds.
Segment 6: The ‘look’ to be president
The moderator asks Mr. Trump to explain what he meant when he said Ms. Clinton did not have the look to be president.
Mr. Trump dodges the question and focuses on the Democratic candidate’s stamina.
But the moderator presses Mr. Trump to stay on the question.
This is a key moment of the night: Mr. Trump once again tangles with the moderator and refuses to answer what he meant by his comments about Ms. Clinton’s “look.”
“Did you ask me a question?” says Mr. Trump to the moderator, when Mr. Holt tries to interject.
This moment is reminiscent of a comment Mr. Trump made about a Republican rival: “Look at that face,” he said about Carly Fiorina. Most women in the U.S. understand what the comment meant, Ms. Fiorina said during a Republican debate last September.
Ms. Clinton addresses the stamina question head on. “As soon as he travels to 112 countries, negotiates a peace deal, a ceasefire … or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina,” she said.
Ms. Clinton also calls out Mr. Trump for dodging the question. “He tried to switch from looks to stamina, but this is a man who has called women pigs, slobs and dogs,” she said.
The day after
The next immediate challenge for Ms. Clinton is to capitalize on her blistering performance and make her criticisms of Mr. Trump stick with voters. On Tuesday, her supporters were touting the debate on social media using the hashtag #SheWon.
On Tuesday, speaking to reporters on her campaign plane, the Democratic presidential candidate said the debate showed “clear differences” between the candidates’ temperaments and qualifications for the presidency. As she returned to her seat at the front of the cabin, couldn’t resist a final dig on Mr. Trump, who blamed what listeners heard as sniffling during the debate on a “terrible” microphone, which he suggested the moderators gave him on purpose. Ms. Clinton said: “Anybody who complains about the microphone is not having a good night.”
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, tried to put a positive spin on his performance in an appearance on Tuesday’s Fox and Friends. In a report card, he gave Clinton a C+ for her debate performance and said moderator Lester Holt of NBC News, who he accused of asking him unfair questions, earned a C or a C+. (He declined to give himself a letter grade.)
What happens next?
The presidential candidates have two more debates ahead: One on Oct. 9 in St. Louis, the next on Oct. 19 in Las Vegas. Their running mates, Mike Pence of the Republicans and Tim Kaine of the Democrats, have their own debate on Oct. 4 in Farmville, Va.
After Monday’s debate, Ms. Clinton said she was feeling good and is looking forward to the next two match-ups with Mr. Trump.
With reports from Mayaz Alam, Evan Annett, Associated Press and The Canadian Press
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