Trump faces Clinton in first presidential debate


Following a turbulent preliminary season, the presidential race has moved into its final stretch with the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Sept. 26.

Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., hosted the debate, moderated by Lester Holt of NBC Nightly News.

“We are going to be having a debate where we are talking about the important issues facing this country,” Clinton said in her opening statement. “You have to judge us.”

While it’s safe to say that the public has been judging both candidates since last fall, and perhaps longer than that, this was the first time they have appeared in a one-on-one setting.

Both candidates put a good foot forward in their opening statements, overviewing how they plan to handle job creation should they become president. Clinton covered debt-free college, raising the minimum wage, and increasing taxes for the wealthiest, while Trump mainly focused on bringing jobs back to the United States.

“Our jobs are fleeing the country,” he said. “They’re going to Mexico, they’re going to many other countries . . . Thousands of jobs leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio — they’re all leaving.”

According to NPR’s fact checker, the unemployment rates in both Michigan and Ohio are lower than the national average, which raises the question of why he chose to use them as examples.

Trump’s plan to keep jobs in America is to cut taxes on businesses — small and large — from 35 percent to 15 percent. “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,” he said.

In response, Clinton argued that such a plan was not the way to build the economy.

“It would be the most extreme version — the biggest tax cuts — for the top percents of the people in this country that we’ve ever had,” she said. “I call it ‘Trumped up trickle-down.’”

Bringing up the fact that her father was a small businessman, Clinton proposed the idea of supporting the middle class: “What I believe is the more we can do for the middle class, the more we can invest in you — your education, your skills, your future — the better we will be off and the better we will grow. That’s the kind of economy I want to see again.”

Holt asked Trump how exactly he would get businesses to bring their jobs back into the country. When Trump replied by reiterating that the jobs were leaving, Holt pressed the question more firmly. Trump’s reply: “Well, the first thing you do is don’t let the jobs leave.”

Following this, the debate’s format began to fall apart. Clinton spoke of the need for green energy and of Trump’s opinion that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. Trump immediately denied her statement, but NPR fact-checkers confirmed that he has been documented saying basically that at least twice.

Trump spent the rest of the debate on the offensive, interrupting both Clinton and Holt to deny their statements or make his own point, changing the subject and turning the conversation around to reiterate his few main points.

When Clinton asked the audience to go to her website, the front page of which became a live fact checker for the purpose of the debate, Trump used the opportunity to accuse her of revealing national security secrets.

“She tells you how to fight ISIS on her website,” he said. “I don’t think General Douglas MacArthur would like that too much.”

After a brief back and forth of Clinton defending the fact that she at least had a plan and Trump saying that she was telling the enemy everything, Trump said, arguably, one of the most ridiculous statements of the night: “No wonder you’ve been fighting ISIS your entire adult life.”

Since ISIS has only existed, in its present form, for five years at most, the statement was almost complete nonsense. Perhaps Trump was speaking figuratively, although the meaning would still be difficult to decipher.

When Holt asked Trump why he had not released his tax returns, the Republican nominee replied repeatedly that he could not release them while under audit, despite Holt’s assurances that the IRS has no such rules.

“I will release my tax returns, against my lawyer’s wishes, when she releases her 33,000 emails that have been deleted,” Trump said, pointing toward Clinton.

Clinton did not immediately reply to the subject of emails, instead saying, “Well, I think you have just seen another example of bait and switch here.”

She continued on to say that the only few years that Trump ever did release his tax returns showed that he had not paid any federal taxes during those years. Trump did not deny this, saying only, “That makes me smart.”

Brought back to the subject of her emails by Holt, Clinton said, “I made a mistake using a private email, and 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.”

Trump replied, “That was more than a mistake. That was done purposely. That was not a mistake. That was done purposely.” He then proceeded to explain that tax returns aren’t really that informative, so it would be better for people to look at his financial disclosures.

In the course of the debate, the two candidates also discussed the issues of gun control and crime rates, cybersecurity and nuclear weapons.

To close out the evening, Holt asked the nominees if they will accept the outcome of the election, whether or not they win.

“Well, I support our democracy. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but I certainly will support the outcome of this election,” said Clinton. “It’s not about us so much is it about you and your families and the kinds of country and future you want.”

Trump replied less cohesively, reiterating the loss of American jobs. He only answered the question once Holt repeated it, with an answer that slightly contradicted itself: “I want to make America great again. I’m going to be able to do it. I don’t believe Hillary will. The answer is, if she wins I will absolutely support her.”

While Trump started the debate with some composure, as the discussion progressed and grew more heated, he began to fall back on tactics of misdirection and interruption. Clinton was clearly aggravated by Trump’s interruptions and inability to produce facts and, although she maintained much more composure than her opponent, occasionally shoehorned her way back into the conversation as a way to level the field.

Overall, the debate lacked structure and neither candidate seemed to give the other — or the moderator — as much respect as they deserved. The debate went approximately twenty minutes over its time slot, but still barely covered all of the five sections Holt announced at the beginning.

Despite all of that, it can at least be said that the 2016 campaign season’s first presidential debate contained no mention of a wall.