The Five Biggest Moments Of The First Presidential Debate

David Goldman

Watching Monday’s presidential debate was like watching two separate conversations. On the one hand was Hillary Clinton’s policy-heavy explanations of her positions and plans for the country. On the other hand was Donald Trump repeating in various forms what has been the core argument of his campaign: that he was going to be able to shake things up after establishment figures like Clinton had screwed up the country.

But a few exchanges stand out as revealing the dynamics of the two candidates’ debate performances. Here are the five big moments from the first presidential debate.

Trump’s Birtherism Squirming


Asked about his continued birther crusade, Trump at first turned to the blame game, arguing that the rumors about President Obama’s birth had been fed by Clinton campaign aides in 2008. But moderator Lester Holt continued to push Trump on why he flogged the issue for years after Obama’s birth certificate was released and what he would to say to Americans of color.

“I say nothing, because I was able to get him to produce it,” Trump said, before going on to claim that the African-American community “really wanted me to come to that conclusion.”

“I think I did a great job and a great service, not only for the country, but even for the president in getting him to produce his birth certificate,” Trump said.

His refusal to show regret over the rumor-mongering set Clinton up to pounce on Trump.

“Well, just listen to what you heard,” Clinton said, before slamming him for “this racist lie.”

She also referenced the lawsuits brought against his family’s business for racial discrimination to argue that “he has a long record of engaging in racist behavior.”

Clinton Speculates On What Trump's Hiding In His Unreleased Tax Returns


Trump reiterated his usual explanation when asked by he hadn’t release his tax returns by suggesting -- falsely -- that the supposed IRS audit he is undergoing prohibited him from doing so.

Clinton floated some other reasons Trump might not want to make them public.

“First, maybe he's not as rich as he says he is. Second, maybe he's not as charitable as he claims to be. Third, we don't know all of his business dealings, but we have been told through investigative reporting that he owes about $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.”

Trump interjected when she brought up that in a few of his returns that have been made public, he appeared not pay to federal income tax.

“That makes me smart,” he said.

Clinton continued to hound him on his refusal to release the returns: “I think probably he's not all that enthusiastic about having the rest of our country see what the real reasons are, because it must be something really important, even terrible, that he's trying to hide."

Trump Sighs Loudly As Clinton As She Praises The African-American Community


Trump groaned loudly as Clinton critiqued the way he often describes the African-American community.

“It's really unfortunate that he paints such a dire negative, picture of black communities in our country,” she said, just before his sigh could be heard.

“The vibrancy of the black church, the black businesses that employ so many people, the opportunities that so many families are working to provide for their kids, there's a lot that we should be proud of and we should be supporting and lifting up,” Clinton continued.

Clinton Baits Trump On His Father’s Loan -- And Again And Again And Again


Early on in the debate, Clinton referenced casually the $14 million loan from his father Trump used to start his business. This aspect of his biography undermines Trump’s claims that he is a self-made man and Trump was quick to take the bait by jumping on her for bringing it up.

“Well, for one thing, and before we start on that, my father gave me a very small loan in 1975 and I built it into a company that's worth many, many billions of dollars with some of the greatest assets in the world,” Trump said, before turning to the question at hand -- what he would do to create jobs.

The moment signified that Clinton was going to be able to knock Trump off balance, and time and time again, Trump launched into defensive tirades, non-sequiturs and digressions rather than stay on topic and focused on Clinton.

Trump Says He Has A ‘Much Better Temperament’ Than Clinton


After a back-and-forth with Holt about Trump’s false claims that he opposed the Iraq War at its outset, Holt pivoted to a related question more plainly: Why did he believe he had better judgment than Clinton?

“I have much better judgment than she does. There's no question about that. I also have much better temperament than she has, you know,” Trump said, while bashing her for running campaign ads.

The assertion drew laughs from the audience

“I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is by temperament. I have a winning temperament. I know how to win,” Trump said, before referencing some moment when Clinton was “ totally out of control” behind a blue screen at a AFL-CIO event.

“I said, 'There's a person with a temperament that's got a problem,'” Trump said.

Before responding, Clinton confidently exclaimed, "Wooh, OK," with a shimmy.

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