It started with smiles, handshakes and first names — but within minutes, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton were interrupting and talking over one another as they hashed out some of the most heated issues in the high stakes presidential race.
“I have a feeling by the end of this thing I’m going to be blamed for everything that’s ever happened,” Clinton said after Trump said the country lacks leaders, starting with Clinton.
“Why not?” Trump asked.
It was no holds barred as the two presidential nominees went head to head for the first time Monday night during the historic, and much viewed, first debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.
The far-reaching 95-minute exchange addressed the economy, President Barack Obama’s birthplace, Trump’s temperament, racism, tax returns, email scandals, global and domestic terrorism — and the violence plaguing Chicago’s streets.
“In Chicago, they’ve had thousands of shootings, thousands since Jan. 1,” Trump said. “Thousands of shootings. And I say, where is this? Is this is a war-torn country? What are we doing?”
The two stood at separate lecterns, but a split-screen showed TV viewers the disdain each often had for the other’s answers.
As Clinton spoke of the struggles of young African-Americans, saying that Trump “paints such a dire, negative picture of black communities in our country,” Trump could be seen and heard sighing.
And they fought over the release of tax returns, which Clinton pointed out is a longstanding tradition for presidential candidates.
But Trump, who hasn’t released his tax returns, instead flipped the question to an issue central to his campaign and to his supporters: Clinton’s email scandal as secretary of state.
“I will release my tax returns against my lawyers’ wishes when she releases her 33,00 emails that have been deleted. As soon as she releases them, I will release my tax returns,” Trump said.
That prompted Clinton to list examples of what Trump might be trying to hide by not releasing his returns: “It must be something important, even terrible that he’s trying to hide.”
“Maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is. Maybe he’s not as charitable as he claims to be,” Clinton said, adding “maybe he doesn’t want the American people … to know he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.”
“That makes me smart,” Trump responded.
Clinton, when asked about the hot button issue, apologized about her emails.
“If I had to do it over again, I would, obviously, do it differently. But I’m not going to make any excuses. It was a mistake, and I take responsibility for that,” Clinton said.
Moderator Lester Holt asked Trump about his support for the war in Iraq. Trump called that “mainstream media nonsense put out by her,” while pointing to Clinton.
Holt interjected: “The record shows otherwise.”
“The record shows I was right,” Trump said, arguing he was “totally against the war in Iraq.” He said “calling up [Fox TV host] Sean Hannity” would dispel that.
Trump sought to deflect issues Clinton has brought forth for months during campaign stops, and in commercials.
He argued his temperament, which she has described as dangerous, is actually one of his strong suits.
“I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament,” Trump said. “I have a winning temperament.”
“I also have a much better temperament than she does,” Trump said.
The Obama “birtherism” scandal came to a head via Holt, who asked why Trump took so long to take back the false claim.
Trump instead said he did a “good job” in getting Obama to produce his birth certificate, even saying it was good for his presidency and for the country.
“I think I did a great job and a great service not only for the country, but even for the president, in getting him to produce his birth certificate,” Trump said.
In a question about bias in the country, Trump said African-Americans have been let down by politicians who say they’ll be around and disappear after elections
“I’ve been all over the place,” Trump said to Clinton. “You decided to stay home. And that’s OK.”
Clinton took that statement as a criticism of her debate preparation.
“I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate,” Clinton said. “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.”
They differed in their plans to combat gun violence. Trump says he favors stop and frisk policing, repeating his argument that it is one of the answers to Chicago’s murder epidemic.
It’s not the first time Trump has spoken of Chicago’s violence. But Clinton spoke of her opposition to the practice, which said treats minorities unfavorably.
She used that to launch into her criminal justice plan, which included community policing, and changing mandatory minimum sentences.
Trump touted the murder rate in New York City: “Stop and frisk had a tremendous impact on the safety of New York City, tremendous beyond belief. So when you say it has no impact, it really did. It has a very big impact,” Trump said.
And the two largely differed in their economic plans.
“Under my plan, I’ll be reducing taxes tremendously, from 35 percent to 15 percent for companies, small and big businesses. That’s going to be a job creator like we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan. It’s going to be a beautiful thing to watch,” Trump said.
Clinton called that plan “trickle-down economics all over again.”
“In fact, it would be the most extreme version, the biggest tax cuts for the top percent of the people in this country than we’ve ever had,” Clinton said. “I call it trumped-up trickle-down, because that’s exactly what it would be. That is not how we grow the economy.”
Clinton also sought to show typical Americans that Trump’s life experience is different than theirs, and even hers: “He started his business with $14 million, borrowed from his father, and he really believes that the more you help wealthy people, the better off we’ll be and that everything will work out from there.”
“I’m going to cut taxes big league, and you’re going to raise taxes big league. End of story,” Trump said.
The battle for president between the billionaire reality star and businessman and the veteran public servant and the first woman to be on a major party ticket sparked massive interest in the first presidential debate, which was estimated to reach at least 100 million viewers via television, social media and online.