Takeaways from the First Presidential Debate


(Photos: BU Rob13/Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)

By Grace Geraghty

Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York played host to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Monday, Sept. 26 for the live-broadcast of the first presidential debate of the season.

Moderated by NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, the debate encompassed policy issues, as well as a plethora of personal comments and accusations from each side.

The two candidates began by outlining their economic policies. Clinton emphasized the need to create a better economy featuring greater equity for future generations.

“I want us to invest in your future,” Clinton said. “That means jobs in infrastructure and advanced manufacturing, innovation and technology, clean renewable energy and small business, because most of the new jobs will come from small business. We also have to make the economy fairer. That starts with raising the national minimum wage and also guaranteeing, finally, equal pay for women’s work.”

In response to the same question, Trump spoke, at times incorrectly, about the job market and outsourcing, as well as U.S. competition with other countries, notably China.

“Our jobs are fleeing the country. They’re going to Mexico; they’re going to many other countries,” Trump said. “You look at what China is doing for country in terms of making our product — they’re devaluing their currency and there’s nobody in our government to fight them.”

However, China’s currency has actually appreciated in value since 2014. Trump also mentioned that thousands of jobs were leaving Michigan and Ohio for plants that have been relocated to other countries, perhaps forgetting that those two states both have unemployment rates lower than the national average of 4.9 percent.

Clinton continued by outlining how her plan would help avoid another crisis like the Great Recession.

“That [the Recession] was, in large part, because of tax policies that slash taxes on the wealthy, failed to invest in the middle class, took their eyes off of Wall Street and created a perfect storm,” Clinton said. “In fact, Donald was one of the people who rooted for the housing crisis. He said, back in 2006, ‘Gee, I hope it does collapse because then I can go in and buy some and make some money.’ Well, it did collapse. Nine million people… nine million people lost their jobs. Five million people lost their homes. And thirteen trillion dollars in family wealth was wiped out.”

Trump’s response to Clinton’s accusation was brief.

“That’s called business, by the way,” Trump said.

Clinton continued by reminding the audience that ‘independent experts,’ most notably nonpartisan groups like the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, have analyzed the two candidates’ plans and determined that Trump’s will affect the economy more negatively by leading to a massive increase in the federal deficit.

Clinton then took a swipe at Trump’s former comments first made in a 2012 tweet, where he called climate change “a hoax,” claiming it was invented “by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.”

Trump denied ever making such a statement.

Holt brought up Trump’s vocal support for the “birther movement,” which sought to prove that President Barrack Obama was not, in fact, a natural born U.S. citizen, and therefore could not be president.

“Mr. Trump, for five years you perpetuated a false claim that the nation’s first black president was not a natural-born citizen. You questioned his legitimacy,” Holt said. “In the last couple of weeks you acknowledge what most Americans have accepted for years, the president was born in the United States. Can you tell us what took you so long?”

Trump tried to pin the origins of the birther movement onto Clinton herself, although there is absolutely no evidence besides his wild, incoherent speculation to support this, before claiming he was “satisfied” with Obama’s birth certificate in 2011. When Holt pointed out that Trump had questioned the president’s legitimacy as recently as 2015, Trump’s confounding response was that “nobody was pressing it.”

When it was Clinton’s turn to respond, she called out Trump for his record of racism, which began with two lawsuits filed against him (and his father) for racial discrimination by the Justice Department.

“He [Trump] has really started his political activity based on this racist lie that our first black president was not an American citizen. There was absolutely no evidence for it, but he persisted,” Clinton said. “And the birther lie was a very hurtful one. You know, Barack Obama is a man of great dignity, and I could tell how much it bothered him and annoyed him that this was being touted and used against him.”

Clinton then brilliantly used the opportunity to bring up a quote form Michelle Obama’s 2008 DNC speech, which was infamously copied — nearly word for word — by Melania Trump over the summer.

“But I like to remember what Michelle Obama said in her amazing speech at our Democratic National Convention,” Clinton said. “When they go low, we go high. And Barack Obama went high despite Donald Trump’s best efforts to bring him down.”

The debate only got more personal from there. Moderator Holt brought up a previous Trump quote about Clinton: “I just don’t think she has a presidential look.” After a non-responsive rant from Trump about Clinton’s stamina, she responded with an overview of some of her accomplishments as Secretary of State.

Trump then coined Clinton’s experience as “bad experience.”

“Hillary has experience, but it’s bad experience. We have made so many bad deals during the last… so she’s got experience, that I agree, but it’s bad, bad experience,” Trump said.

He went on to mention the Iran deal, saying that “…whether it’s the Iran deal, whether it’s anything… you almost can’t name a good deal. I agree, she’s got experience, but it’s bad experience. And this country can’t afford to have another four years of that kind of experience.”

Clinton countered by pointing out Trump’s switch from his original quote about her appearance to focusing on her stamina, as well as reminding everyone about his previous statements about women.

“He tried to switch from looks to stamina, but this is a man who is called women pigs, slobs, and dogs, and someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers,” Clinton said.

Trump claimed he never made comments about pregnancy being “an inconvenience,” though he definitely did in an October 2004 interview with NBC’s Dateline.

Overall, this debate showed Clinton holding a lot of Trump’s questionable former comments against him, with Trump denying claims he clearly made. The time off the campaign trail Clinton took before the debate to prepare certainly seemed to help, with Trump’s ranting, unclear, and non-responsive answers to Holt’s questions making his stances very confusing.

The next presidential debate will be held on Sunday, Oct. 9 at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.