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HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Hillary Clinton seemed to overpower Donald Trump in their first presidential debate Monday night as the Republican nominee stumbled over his words and found himself spending most of the night on his heels.
“I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate,” Clinton said at one point. “And yes I did. And you know what else I prepared for is I prepared to be president.”
Moderator Lester Holt of NBC News led the candidates through many of the most explosive issues of this election and Trump found himself re-litigating many of his previous controversial comments. Here are six key moments:
1. Trump gets agitated out of the gate: Despite expectations that Trump would show a cooler, more presidential demeanor, he began repeatedly interrupting Clinton, raising his voice, and sniffing loudly during the very first section of the debate on jobs. It set the tone for the rest of the debate.
Tensions were so high that when Clinton asked the audience to visit her website, Trump admonished her posting her plan to defeat ISIS online, saying Gen. Douglas MacArthur would not approve of Clinton posting. “You're telling the enemy everything you want to do,” Trump said.
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2. “A long record of engaging in racist behavior:” After multiple clashes on race, Clinton accused Trump of having “a long record of engaging in racist behavior” going to back a 1973 Department of Justice lawsuit accusing him of discrimination for not renting apartments he ran to black people.
Trump dismissed the issue by saying the suit included lots of companies, and that he settled without admitting guilt. He also praised himself for opening a club in Palm Beach, Florida, that did not discriminate against anyone.
And Trump forcefully defended stop-and-frisk, the controversial policing policy that a court ruled unconstitutional when used in New York City. Trump called it “tremendous beyond belief” and said other cities needed to adopt it in order to implement “law and order.”
3. “I say nothing:” After his five-year crusade to raise questions about Barack Obama’s birth certificate, Trump expressed no contrition and gave no explanation for why he finally changed his mind last week when he admitted Obama was born in the United States.
Instead, Trump tried to blame Clinton for starting the rumor (fact checkers say that’s not true) and praised himself for forcing Obama to produce his birth certificate.
Pressed by Holt what he had to say to African-Americans who were offended by the claim, Trump responded, “I say nothing, because I was able to get it,” he said of the birth certificate. “I think I did a good job.”
4. Tax returns: Trump has refused to release his tax returns and didn’t budge when pressed during the debate, giving Clinton a wide opening. “You’ve got to ask yourself, why won’t he release tax returns?” she asked, speculating that he might not be as rich or charitable as he claims, or that he’s hiding business practices or debts.
Trump retorted by saying that tax returns don’t give the public much information, and that his financial disclosures tell you more, noting that his showed he made over $600 million last year. He also said he has relatively little debt.
Noting her father ran a drapery business, Clinton hit Trump for “stiffing” thousands of vendors, saying, “I’m relieved that my late father didn’t do business with you.”
Clinton also invoked an architect she brought to the debate whom she said Trump had failed to pay in full. “Maybe he didn’t do a good job and I was unsatisfied with his work,” Trump replied.
5. “Presidential look:” Holt asked Trump to turn to Clinton and tell her what he meant when he said she doesn’t have a “presidential look.” Trump said Clinton lacked the “stamina” necessary to be commander in chief.
Then, accusing Clinton’s campaign ads of being “not nice,” Trump ominously said he was refraining from saying something worse. “I was going to say something extremely rough to Hillary and her family,” he said, before adding that he decided against it.
Clinton responded by invoking a litany of comments Trump has made about women, and his former ownership of the Miss Universe pageant. “He loves beauty contests, hanging around them,” she said.
6. Iraq: Trump got bogged down in a lengthy and unconvincing defense of his claim that he opposed the Iraq War from the start, which fact checkers have repeatedly noted is not supported by the public record.
Trump responded with hostility when Holt noted this fact. While he acknowledged that Howard Stern in 2002 that he was in favor of the war, he said he said so “lightly” and argued that his private conversations with Fox News Anchor Sean Hannity — where he allegedly expressed opposition to the war — should be given more weight. Trump lashed out at Holt, accusing him of repeating a “mainstream media thing,” started by Clinton.
Clinton, who has been forced to bear the burden of her vote for the war for years, seemed to delight in Trump’s re-litigation of the issue, before doing some of her own. At a different point in the debate, she delivered a prepared zinger: “Well, Donald, I know you live in your own reality, but that is not the facts,” she said.