HOFSTRA UNIVERSITY, N.Y. (CN) — The first presidential candidate debate of 2016 started out fiery and remained so throughout its entire 90 minutes, with Republican Donald Trump largely on his heels as Democrat Hillary Clinton hit him again and again on issues ranging from race relations and the economy to how to defeat the Islamic State group.
The debate, which was expected to draw nearly 100 million viewers from around the world, came exactly 56 years after the historic Nixon-Kennedy debates ushered presidential politics into the television age.
During the debate’s early moments, which moderator NBC’s Lester Holt steered to the economy, Trump did quite well, keeping his composure and his comments focused. But he quickly gave into his instinct for counter-punching, as Clinton went right after him, question after question.
By mutual agreement, Clinton answered Holt first, saying, “The central question of this election is what kind of country we want to be and what kind of future we want to build together.
“I want to invest in you,” the former secretary of state said, adding later that she believes “the more we can do for the middle class, the more we can invest in the middle class, the better off we’ll be.”
She spoke of infrastructure investment, investment in small businesses and renewable energy, raising the national minimum wage and equal pay for women, profit sharing for employees, and doing more to support to people “trying to balance family and work.”
Donald Trump opened by talking of “jobs fleeing the country,” mostly, he said, because of bad trade deals.
“China,” he said, “is using our currency as a piggy bank to rebuild their country.”
In the meantime, he said, companies like Ford and Carrier are building plants in other countries.
“We have to do a much better job at keeping our job and offer companies better incentives to build and expand here,” Trump said.
“We have to stop our jobs from being stolen from us and stop our companies from leaving the United States. We cannot let it happen,” he said.
Trump vowed to reduce taxes “tremendously” for small and big businesses alike “and 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.”
Clinton called this proposal, “Trumped-up trickle-down economics.”
That’s when the gloves came off, and Trump never really recovered.
The two went on to trade blows over NAFTA, which Trump called a disaster, laying it at the feet of presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and by extension, his opponent.
“You have no plan,” Trump said. “You are going to approve the largest tax increase in history and drive companies out.”
“What I have proposed will be paid for will be raising taxes on the wealthy,” Clinton said.
Needling Trump, Clinton undermined his self-made image by pointing out the $14 million he received from his father.
Trump painted a picture a dystopian United States wrecked almost exclusively, in his telling, by the Clintons.
He called the North American Free Trade Agreement signed by former President Bill Clinton the “worst trade deal ever signed anywhere,” chasing U.S. jobs abroad. He called her Trans-Pacific Partnership a continuation of those policies.
Clinton reminded Trump that the United States is not an island.
“We are 5 percent of the population,” she said. “We have to trade with the other 95 percent.”
In a surprise to nobody, Holt pressed Trump on his tax returns, and Trump hammered Clinton on her emails, but how the candidates responded provided a gripping moment of the debate as the secretary asked what the businessman is hiding.
In lines that could have been written by her primary opponent Bernie Sanders, the secretary slammed the tycoon for his ties to the financial industry.
“Maybe he doesn’t want the American people to know he owes $650 million to Wall Street and foreign banks,” Clinton said. “Or maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.”
“That makes me smart,” Trump shot back.
But Clinton said that Trump’s smarts came at a price for the workingman and -woman.
“So if he’s paid zero, that means zero for troops, zero for vets, zero for schools or health,” she countered, with a hint of contempt.
During these exchanges, Trump stated that he made $694 million last year.
Pivoting to issues of racial justice, Clinton spoke bluntly about race and the police.
“Yes, it determines how they’re treated in the criminal justice system,” Clinton said.
“We’ve seen those tragic examples in Tulsa and Charlotte,” she added, referring to two of the sites of recent police killings of black men.
On the subject of race relations, Clinton acknowledged that “race remains a significant challenge in our country.”
“Unfortunately, race still determines too much,” she said, pointing to the role it continues to play in where people live, the education of their children and how they are treated by the criminal justice system.
“We need to restore trust between community and police, to make sure police are using the best training and techniques. … Everybody should be respected by the law and everyone should respect the law,” she said.
Clinton went on to say: “We have to tackle the plague of gun violence … and pass bipartisan legislation preventing people who are on terrorist watch lists from buying guns.”
In response, Trump said there were two words Clinton did not want to use: “law and order.”
“We need law and order. If we don’t have it, we are not going to have a country,” Trump said. “We need law and order. We need stop and Frisk. We need to take guns away from the members of gangs, many of whom are illegal immigrants. We have to protect our inner cities.”
Lester Holt broke in, saying the police technique of stop and frisk had been declared unconstitutional in New York.
“You are wrong,” Trump said. “It went before a judge who was very against the police, and the case was taken away from her. Then our new mayor [New York Mayor Bill de Blasio] refused to go forward and appeal …
“We need more police, we have to have stop and frisk, and we need better community relations. … We have to take guns away from bad people who shouldn’t have guns,” he said, going on to accuse Clinton and other politicians of pandering to the black community, then ignoring them until it’s time for them to be re-elected.
In calling for wider use of stop-and-frisk policing, Trump is embracing methods that a federal court in his hometown found illegal and ineffective. The NYPD’s rampant use of street stops against black and Latino New Yorkers drew no fewer than four class-action lawsuits.
At the height of the program in 2011, New York City police clocked in 685,724 street stops, overwhelmingly targeting people of color.
Those statistics took a nosedive as a major trial showing rampant civil-rights violations against people who were not suspected of a crime.
After a federal judge put the NYPD under court-monitoring, the numbers dropped even further, with only 24,000 street stops last year. Police always claimed that restraining the program would make New York more dangerous, but the decline of the program coincided with a sharp drop in crime.
Standing in front of a backdrop of the U.S. Constitution, Trump did not let these facts and history dampen his support for practices found to have violated the Fourth and 14th Amendments.
Clinton reiterated that the facts speak for themselves.
“Stop and frisk was found to be unconstitutional and, in part, because it was found to be ineffective,” she said. “The black community has been very ill-treated by the professional politicians,” Trump said in response. “It’s see you later. I’ll see you in four years.”
Trump was asked about why he hasn’t released his income tax returns. Trump says he can’t because he’s being audited by the IRS.
“I will release my tax returns, against my lawyers wishes, when she releases the 33,000 missing emails,” Trump said.
The audience cheered, causing Holt to remind them they’d been told not to interrupt.
Clinton responded by saying, “I think what you’ve just seen here is another example of bait and switch.”
Holt asked Clinton whether she wanted to respond to Trump’s comments about her email.
“I made a mistake using a private email server,” Clinton said. “If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t do it. But I am not going to make excuses.”
“That was done purposefully,” Trump said.
As the debate continued, Trump appeared to be taken by surprise by Clinton’s aggressive approach, his voice rising in volume and his demeanor becoming more combative.
Holt asked Trump what he meant when he said Clinton didn’t have the “look” of a president.
Trump said: “I don’t think she has the stamina to be president. You have so many things you have to be able to do [as president] and I don’t think you have the stamina to do it.”
Clinton replied: “When Donald Trump travels to 112 countries, negotiates a peace deal, a cease fire, the release of dissidents, or even spends 11 hours testifying before a congressional committee, then he can talk to be about stamina.”
Trump hit back, saying “Hillary has experience, but it’s bad experience … and this country can’t afford another four years of that kind of experience.”
Clinton then brought the exchange back to Holt’s original question – about Trump’s comments about her “looks.”
“He’s called women pigs, slobs, and dogs … and he is someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers … he said to woman in a beauty contest … he called her ‘Miss Piggy’ and ‘Miss Housekeeper,’ because she is Latina …”
Trump complained that Clinton has been running “$200 million in negative advertisements against me … and it’s not nice and I don’t deserve that.”
Holt concluded the debate by reminding the candidates that in the end, only one of them will win. He asked whether if they would accept the outcome as the will of the people if the vote goes against them in November.
“I will support the outcome of this election … [because] this election is really about you … it’s not about us, so much as it is about you, your family, and the future you want.”
As for Trump, he said the country is “seriously troubled,” and “I want to make America great again.”
That said, “if she wins, I will absolutely support her,” Trump said.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Photo caption 2:
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton laughs to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Photo caption 3:
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump answers a question during the presidential debate with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
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