Five things you need to know from the first Presidential Debate

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump went head to head at Hofstra University

Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump,

Image: David Goldman / AP/Press Association Images

The first Presidential Debate featured clashes between Clinton and Trump on a number of issues, as the two finally came face-to-face in the run up to November's election.

The two candidates began in a civil fashion on the night, as Clinton welcomed her opponent to the stage, saying "Donald, it's good to be with you," while he referred to her as Secretary Clinton, asking "is that OK? Good. I want you to be very happy. It's very important to me."

While that note of civility was present for the large part, things got heated very quickly as the two held nothing back in their criticisms. 

Here are some of the key takeaways from last night's first debate:

Trade is the Trump card

The debate opened with a focus on economic issues, and how both candidates intended to bring good jobs back to the American public. Here, the strongest message of Trump's campaign to date shone through, as he criticised her role in trade deals throughout her time as Secretary of State and as a senator, deflecting away from his own lack of political experience. 

"We are in a big fat, ugly bubble and we'd better be careful," warned Trump, stating that his tax cuts for the rich and would create jobs. He added that targeting China and Mexico in trade deal, as well as adding a tax for those companies when they bring goods into the country, would stop companies from leaving America. 

Here, Clinton's responses didn't seem to have the same thrust as Trump's did, with this being s the strongest section of the debate for the Republican candidate. 

Keeping cool in a taxing situation

Trump did manage to handle the discussion on his failure to release his tax returns well, turning it around somewhat by drawing on his business nous. Clinton criticised him for "hiding something" because he was not filing the returns, adding "maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is, maybe he’s not as charitable as he claims to be."

Stating that he was under a routine audit, despite the fact that moderator Lester Holt emphasised that did not mean he couldn't release his returns, he said that his income was filed at "$694 million [...] that's the kind of thinking our country needs."

When Clinton suggested that he might not have paid his fair share of tax, Trump stated "that makes me smart," before later sailing quite close to the wind by adding tax he paid "would be squandered, too, believe me."


Trump's troubled record on this front makes his path to victory in the election all the more difficult. As the old saying goes, Republicans have to be just about perfect, and the Democrats have to be good. 

He did win ground on Clinton's use of the term "superpredators," which she has since apologised for, but she failed to fully explain on the night. 

However, Trump struggled in particular on the issue of his birtherism, stating that "just like she can't bring back jobs, she can't produce [the birth certificate]".

Adding that he was the one who finally made President Obama produce his birth cert, he was pressed on what he says to those people who want to know what changed for him to reverse his position so recently.

"I say nothing, because I was able to get him to produce it, he should have produced it a long time before, I say nothing [...] I think I did a great job and a great service not only for the country, but also for the President in getting him to produce his birth cert."

Trump ran into further trouble when he stated that there were parts of America where "African Americans and Hispanics are living in hell. You walk down the street and you get shot."

Clinton latched on to both of these areas, and cited his previous record as evidence that this was a long-running issue for Trump. 

"He 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 year after year.

"Remember, Donald started his career back in 1973 being sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination because he would not rent apartments in one of his developments to African Americans, and he made sure that people who worked for him knew that was the policy."

Fail to prepare...

Trump criticised Clinton for "staying home" ahead of the debate, while he had been visiting different areas around the country. While the implication was that she didn't have the stamina, something he said rather more fortrightly later on in proceedings, she was more than ready for that tactic.

Stating that she did prepare for the debate, she added: "you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be President, and I think that's a good thing."

That wasn't the only thing that she was prepared for either. Repeatedly, she knew how to needle Trump, leaving bait for him on issues which he gladly took on a number of occasions, showing that she knew how to guide a debate the way she wanted it to go after a difficult opening period, something Trump's camp will surely be looking at before they meet again next month.


There's no doubt that Trump reinforced the doubts that many of his voters already had about Clinton with his performance on Monday night. He hit the former Secretary of State on her emails, on her stance on trade deals and on her stamina, which have been his key criticisms of her since it became clear that the two would be facing each other in November.

However, overall Clinton's performance steered clear of the things that served others in the Republican primaries so poorly: she did not attempt to trade one-liners with him, and when he criticised her, she did well to get a strong reaction from the audience in attendance, something that Trump is usually more adept at. 

When he stated her "look" wasn't Presidential and that she didn't have the temperament to be in the Oval Office, she treated it with a healthy disdain. 

Declaring a winner and a loser after the first debate is a compete misnomer, in particular in this campaign. Trump's supporters have shown that they will back him no matter what, but Clinton may have gone some way to winning over some of those voters who were looking to see her in action against an unpredictable opponent, while Trump's performances on foreign policy, race relations and taxes may raise more questions than they answered.