Donald Trump continued to blame Hillary Clinton for nearly every major problem facing the country, and Clinton in turn highlighted worries regarding his temperament and character in the first presidential debate of the 2016 general election. Hofstra University hosted the debate at the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex on Monday, Sept. 26, after having just eight weeks to prepare.
The 20th presidential debate facilitated by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), was moderated by NBC’s Lester Holt and signified the first time the public has seen the two candidates in the same room at the same time since the race began over a year ago.
With 90 minutes and six segments, Holt noted the impossibility of touching on every issue, however he framed his questions around three central themes: “Achieving Prosperity,” “America’s Direction” and “Securing America.”
The candidates – bitter rivals throughout the race – shook hands as they walked onstage together for the first time. All was calm and collected at the start, but soon Holt lost control and the two sparred in front of a television audience expected to reach the 100 million mark.
Clinton, the nominee for the Democratic Party, fielded the first question and immediately began discussing her plans for job growth and economic stimulation. She spoke about making the economy work for everyone, not just the rich; a talking point highlighted by her primary opponent Bernie Sanders.
“I want us to invest in your future. That means jobs in infrastructure, in advanced manufacturing, innovation and technology, clean, renewable energy and small business – because most of the new jobs will come from small business,” she said.
Trump, the Republican nominee, repeatedly called for an end on jobs “fleeing the country.” “We have to stop our jobs from being stolen from us. We have to stop our companies from leaving the United States … we cannot let it happen.”
Trump, in a noticeably calm tone, explained that he would reduce taxes from 35 to 15 percent for small businesses. He has also proposed cuts for wealthy Americans and boasted his plan as offering the most significant cuts since Ronald Reagan was in office.
Clinton called this “trumped up trickle-down economics,” and explained she would increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans to help rebuild the middle class.
Trump painted the former senator and secretary of state as an establishment politician who has not been able to get anything done.
He also went after Clinton for her email controversy, saying he would release his tax returns when she released the 33,000 emails that were deleted from her private server. Clinton responded by admitting the use of that private server was a mistake, and took full responsibility for that decision.
Clinton suggested Trump refused to release his tax returns because he could be hiding something, such as his true monetary worth or his charitable or federal tax contributions.
Throughout the debate, Clinton called on fact-checkers to work overtime, “I know you live in your own reality,” she said to her opponent.
Leading up to the debate, the CPD made it clear that it wanted moderators to refrain from fact-checking candidates during debates. Holt generally allowed the candidates to fact-check each other; however, he did call Trump out specifically on several instances of blatant dishonesty or misinformation.
Race was the topic of debate for Holt’s second theme, and as Trump called for a nation-wide stop-and-frisk program, Clinton offered her support for community policing and addressing systemic racial inequality.
With tensions high after the recent killings of black men in Charlotte and Tulsa at the hands of police, Clinton called for mutual respect. “Everyone should be respected by the law and everyone should respect the law. I have – since the first day of my campaign – called for criminal justice reform.”
Trump talked about the endorsements he’s received from law enforcement groups, and said repeatedly, “We need law and order in our country.”
Both candidates stressed the need for change in individual communities. They argued that both sides are affected by this, and generally, both sides want this issue resolved.
Clinton specifically said she would allocate money to retrain officers to deal with implicit bias. Part of that training would see that officers only use force when absolutely necessary.
Her opponent’s proposed stop-and-frisk program was brought into question by Holt who pointed out that such a program was ruled unconstitutional after being implemented in New York City. Trump told him he was wrong and argued that the judge in that case was anti-law enforcement.
Holt even brought up a popular controversy that Trump is trying to lay to rest: his birther movement against President Barack Obama.
Trump admitted just this year that Obama is a natural born citizen after arguing that he was born in Kenya, something Clinton said was a racist attack. “He tried to put the whole racist birther lie to bed … he has really started his campaign based on this lie that our first black president was not an American citizen,” she said.
She even brought up two Department of Justice lawsuits against Trump for racial discrimination in the 1970s. Trump was quick to fight back, calling Clinton out for acting “holier than thou” when she herself upset many people after seemingly calling black youth in gangs “super predators.”
By the start of the final theme, the crowd in the debate hall began to throw out the rule of no clapping or cheering. The fight between Clinton and Trump heated up, and so did those select few ticket-holders.
With the candidates beginning to bark over one another, Holt struggled to wrangle them in and instead patiently waited for them to get their points across. And there was no shortage of points to be made in a debate on national and international security.
Holt began by asking about cyberspace and hacking as it pertains to U.S. national security.
Clinton highlighted how important it is to fight the Islamic State (ISIS) through cyberspace, saying she believes the U.S. should go after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS.
Trump talked about ISIS as often as he could, and whenever he mentioned the terrorist organization he made sure to say that Clinton was responsible for it. He claimed that Clinton and Obama created a void for ISIS to form after Obama’s administration withdrew troops from Iraq.
“Had we taken the oil, and we should’ve taken the oil, ISIS wouldn’t have been able to form in the first place,” Trump said.
Clinton also talked about Russia’s potential to breach American cyberspace, and how that potential has already been shown through hacks into the Democratic National Committee.
Trump questioned these claims saying “I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400lbs.”
The candidates debated about a number of other issues, ranging from nuclear weapons to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); nothing was off the table.
Trump even doubled down on his long-time feud with Rosie O’Donnell. “I said very tough things to her, and I think everybody would agree that she deserves it and nobody feels sorry for her,” he said.
Through it all, each maintained steady storylines. For Clinton, it’s one of a seasoned public servant with the right experience for the job; for Trump, it’s the story of the anti-establishment change maker whose temperament is his best quality.