The big debate is here at last. Hillary Clinton v. Donald Trump face off in the first General Election Presidential debate of 2016 at Hofstra University in Long Island, NY.
Tonight’s debate is scheduled to last 90 minutes (commercial-free), broken up into six segments moderated by Lester Holt of NBC News (Holt is a registered Republican, BTW; Trump falsely claimed last week that Holt is a Democrat).
We’ll be live-blogging what could be the most-watched television event in American history, so get your eyeballs ready for the Colorado Pols Debate Diary. For details on the format and rules tonight, check out this guide from the New York Times.
*NOTE: The most current update appears at the top of the page. As always, unless it is in direct quotes, consider all statements paraphrased in the interest of time.
The spin room may not be terribly efficient tonight. Clinton absolutely destroyed Trump in this debate, sounding intelligent, prepared, and even-tempered. No reasonable person who watched this debate could possibly make a case otherwise.
Trump, on the other hand, was easily baited by Clinton into talking about issues that are not good for him. He offered very little substantial information in any of his answers and failed to suppress his temper, while also doubling-down on troublesome topics such as the birther issue and his tax returns. Clinton was masterful in using Trump’s own words against him and baiting Trump into diving down into weird political rabbit holes.
Holt: “Will you accept the outcome of this race?”
Clinton says yes, that she respects Democracy and that “sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”
Trump declines to say whether or not he will accept the will of the voters and instead goes on a rant about illegal immigration.
Finally, Trump says, “If she wins, I will absolutely support her.”
Holt asks Trump about his quote that she doesn’t “have a Presidential look.”
Trump says that he was talking about her stamina. Holt cuts in and says that this is not what Trump said. Trump talks over Holt, but the damage has been done.
Clinton hits back by saying that Trump can talk about stamina when he has traveled to 112 countries, negotiated peace treaties and cease-fire agreements, and testified 11 hours in front of a Congressional committee.
Clinton says Trump tried to switch topics from criticizing Clinton’s appearance because he doesn’t want to talk about all of the terrible things he has said about women. Trump tries half-heartedly to deny these claims, but it’s obvious he doesn’t have a response.
Trump did just say that nobody would disagree with him about saying nasty things about comedian Rosie O’Donnell.
Trump then decries Clinton running negative ads against him. Says he doesn’t deserve it.
Clinton: “Let me say that words matter. Words matter when you run for President, and let me reassure our allies” that we will continue to stand with them. Very strong from Clinton.
“Donald never tells you what he would do [on Iran]. Would he cause a war? Would he bomb Iran? It’s like his plan to defeat ISIS — he says it is a secret plan, but the only thing that is secret is that there is no plan.”
Trump is so completely overmatched here that it’s impossible to suggest that anybody watching this debate might seriously argue that Trump won this debate. It’s not even close.
Holt: “Do you support the current U.S. policy on first-use for nuclear weapons?”
Trump responds with something about B-52 airplanes being too old. Trump says he would certainly not support a “first strike”…then he immediately says that he would not rule anything out. Trump is debating himself now.
Trump again says that other countries should pay the United States for our military support. If he’s trying to make a point, Holt can’t figure it out and is trying to get Trump to move along.
Clinton hammering Trump for saying repeatedly that he “doesn’t care” if other countries develop nuclear weapons.
Trump looks defeated and dejected right now. He is absolutely getting his ass handed to him by Clinton.
Trump says that his temperament is his biggest strength, and that he has a better temperament than Clinton.
Clinton can’t help but smile. This is an absolute disaster for Trump; he wouldn’t have sounded more unbelievable if he had tried to make a case that his hair is completely natural.
“I did not support the War in Iraq,” says Trump. “That is a mainstream media [lie].”
“The record shows otherwise,” says Holt.
This debate has gone so far off the rails for Trump that he should just cause a distraction and make a run for his limousine.
For some reason, Trump keeps talking about all of these numerous conversations he supposedly has had with Sean Hannity. No idea why this is relevant.
Trump doubles-down on his comments that the United Nations isn’t paying the U.S. enough for its security and military help.
Trump then says that it was his suggestion that NATO should focus on terrorism, and that he is the reason NATO made this decision.
The more the candidates talk about foreign policy, the more confident Clinton becomes. Trump really needs to get off this subject.
And…then Trump says that Iran is about to become “a major power.”
Trump blames Obama and Clinton for creating ISIS.
Trump then says that we “should have taken the oil” when we invaded Iraq.
Hillary responds by mentioning something about fact-checkers. Says “Donald supported the invasion of Iraq.”
“WRONG! WRONG!” says Trump (this is, of course, not wrong).
Clinton then says that it was George W. Bush who decided on the strategy for withdrawal from the Iraq War.
Clinton is now speaking confidently and expertly about ISIS and related foreign policy issues. This is right in her wheelhouse, and it shows. Trump cannot hope to compete with Clinton on the specifics of this topic.
Trump says he was just endorsed by ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement), which is almost certainly not true. No organization in the federal government is allowed to publicly endorse one candidate over another.
Trump says ISIS is beating us “at the Internet.” Then he says his 10-year-old son is “really good with computers.” Alright, then.
Holt shifts topics to cybersecurity.
Clinton says she thinks it will be among the most important issues for the next President. “There’s no doubt, now, that Russia has used cyberattacks against many different groups in the United States.”
Clinton slyly mispronounces the name of Vladimir Putin, and Trump falls right into the trap by blurting out “Putin! It’s Putin!”
Clinton then moves on to talking about Trump calling on Russia to continue to hack into the email accounts of Democrats and the Clinton campaign.
Just so we’re clear, we’ve just listened to the candidates discuss the birther issue for the last 10 minutes. This is absolutely a terrible direction for the debate to have taken for Trump.
Trump is now talking about settling a lawsuit with no admission of guilt, which is apparently a good thing.
Holt asks Trump about his birther history. Trump immediately goes into a story about Clinton’s campaign really being behind birther claims about President Obama (this claim has been widely debunked).
Trump is now trying to take credit for getting Obama to produce a record of his birth certificate.
“I think I have developed very good relationships over the last…little while…with the African-American community,” says Trump, who then indicates that African-Americans were glad that he put the birther question to bed.
“Well, just listen to what you heard,” says Clinton to a chorus of laughs from the crowd.
Trump tries again to say that Democratic politicians ignore African-American communities unless it is an election year.
“I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate,” says Clinton. “And I did. And I have prepared to become the next President of the United States.”
Great, great line.
Clinton says that crime rates continue to decline in New York under the current Mayor.
“You’re wrong,” says Trump. “Murders are up.”
Holt asks Clinton if she believes that there is “systemic bias” in police departments. Clinton answers masterfully, saying that everyone in America is biased in some form or another.
Trump says he agrees with Clinton that people who are on the “no-fly list” should not be allowed to purchase guns. He says many people in his own political party disagree.
“We can’t just say, ‘law and order,'” says Clinton in dealing with racial injustice.
Clinton talks about gun violence again and the need to reduce the number of “military-style weapons” in our communities.
Trump accuses Clinton of being unwilling to use the words “law and order.” Says nearly 4,000 people have been killed in Chicago since Barack Obama has been President.
“African-American communities are being decimated by crime,” says Trump.
Holt points out that “stop and frisk” in New York — which Trump just praised — was ruled unconstitutional. Trump says that Holt is wrong.
Trump is openly advocated for “stop and frisk” policing policies.
Ugh. Trump then says that the police-community relationship in Dallas was working well until a man shot and killed several police officers last summer.
When it is Clinton’s turn to speak, she notes that “stop and frisk” was indeed ruled unconstitutional because it is a discriminatory policy.
Holt directs the conversation in a different direction — asking about racial divides and concerns about police brutality.
Clinton says she has long called for criminal justice reform. Says that there are many police officers who also want reforms. Clinton then brings up the “illegal gun epidemic” in the United States. “We have to tackle the plague of gun violence.”
Trump fires off an uncharacteristically self-effacing joke about opening a new property on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. “So if I don’t get to Pennsylvania Ave. through the White House, I can get there another way.” Pretty good joke.
Trump says that we don’t have enough money to fix infrastructure problems because Clinton wasted so much money somehow. Clinton responds by saying, “Maybe we’d have more revenue if you paid your taxes.”
Clinton notes that Trump has declared bankruptcy 6 times.
In response, Trump says this: “We used, four times, certain laws. We take advantage of the laws in this country.”
Clinton says she made a mistake in using a private email server as Secretary of State. She says she will not make excuses about it, and would not do the same thing if she could do it over again.
Clinton earlier baited Trump by suggesting he is not as rich as he claims. Trump is now talking about being “under-leveraged” and says that if he made $600 million last year, it was a down year for him. This is a YUGE mistake.
Clinton attacks Trump over his refusal to release tax returns, saying it may be because he’s not as rich as he claims or because he’s not as charitable as he claims. She says Trump may not even pay taxes at all.
“Because I’m smart,” says Trump, in a very un-smart response.
Trump says again that his tax returns are not being released because he is being audited. Numerous accounting experts have said for months that this is not true. Holt follows up by saying that the IRS itself has said that they are not preventing Trump from releasing his tax returns.
Trump defiantly says that he will release his tax returns when Clinton releases all 30,000 emails.
“So, it’s negotiable,” asks Holt?
“Uh, no, it’s not negotiable,” says Trump.
“We are in a big, fat, ugly bubble,” says trump. Indeed.
“The Federal Reserve…is being more political…than Secretary Clinton.” Huh?
Clinton is trying to hide her excitement at Trump’s early meltdown. Trump is throwing out vague numbers followed by silly quotes such as, “It will be beautiful.”
“Join the debate by saying more crazy things,” says Clinton.
Clinton says that by the end of the evening, Trump will have blamed all of America’s problems on her; “why not?” asks Trump rhetorically, as the crowd groans. Trump sounds like he is still debating on a stage with 18 other Republican candidates — he is not adjusting.
Trump walks right into a trap by accusing Clinton of laying out her entire plan for fighting ISIS on her website. “At least I have a plan,” says Clinton, right on cue.
“I’m really calling for major jobs, because the wealthy are going to create major jobs,” says Trump.
We’re barely 20 minutes into the debate, and Trump is already doing the one thing that pundits universally said he must avoid — he sounds angry and confrontational and comes across as though he is talking down to Clinton. Not good for Trump.
“I’m going to cut taxes, big league,” says Trump. “And you’re going to raise taxes, big league.”
Clinton responds by directing viewers to her campaign website for a real-time fact checking. Trump responds with, “Go to my website, too.”
Clinton says she increased exports 30% while she was Secretary of State. Trump responds by yelling about NAFTA some more. “Nothing will ever top NAFTA,” says Trump.
Trump is starting to get belligerent by yelling at Clinton after every other sentence she speaks. Clinton hits back with a zinger: “I know you live in your own reality, but those are not the facts.”
Trump says America made a bad investment in a solar company. He doesn’t actually say the word “Solyndra.”
Trump repeats his line about not letting companies leave the United States as a way to increase job growth. “I will bring back jobs,” says Trump. “You will not bring back jobs.”
Trump then yells out for the first time tonight, criticizing Bill Clinton over NAFTA.
Trump looks angry. Clinton is hitting him hard on his tax and economic plans, and Trump is doing his best to bite his tongue.
Clinton says that Trump believes climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. Trump interrupts and says that isn’t true.
Trump says that he started his business “with a small loan” from his father. He says China is the “best ever” at negotiating trade agreements.
Trump is clearly trying to dial back his typical blustering style, which may not hold for the entire debate. Watching Trump speak, you can almost see the bombastic side trying to escape.
Holt follows up by asking Trump to mention specifics about how he plans to increase job growth in the United States. Trump’s response, essentially, is to say that we should stop companies from leaving the U.S. in the first place.
Clinton attacks Trump’s economic plan as trickle-down economics. “I call it ‘Trumped-up trickle down economics,” says Clinton, somewhat awkwardly. Clinton going right after Trump about his economic plans to do more to help the wealthy than the middle class.
That didn’t take long: Trump dropped his first big lie of the night by repeating a debunked-claim that Ford Motor Company is moving to Mexico.
Clinton’s opening remarks are relatively bland. She seems to be fighting her own case of nerves.
Trump is perhaps more subdued than we have ever seen him in this election cycle.
Holt gets things started by asking the candidates how they are best-prepared to represent the United States on economic issues. Clinton talks first. She starts by mentioning that today is her granddaughter’s second birthday. Trump is breathing deeply as he tries to calm his nerves while he awaits his turn to speak.
Trump and Clinton take the stage simultaneously. Trump is wearing a blue tie and a dark suit. Clinton is dressed entirely in red. A lot of red.
From the perspective of the audience, Trump will stand on the left, with Clinton on the right. Holt kicks things off with a quick explanation of the rules. There will be six 15-minute segments following two minute opening statements.
Because there are no commercial breaks in this 90-minute debate, we’ll be providing general impressions as quickly as we can type while generally avoiding trying to transcribe direct quotes.
And here comes Lester Holt, who can’t hide his nervousness. We can’t blame him: More than 100 million people are expected to watch the debate tonight.
Bill Clinton and Melania Trump are introduced.
We’re waiting for the candidates to be introduced while various “debate dignitaries” drone on about stuff that nobody cares about. Apparently spouses will be introduced before the candidates take the stage.