The first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump arrived as the former secretary of state’s lead over the reality television show host has been whittled down to single digits (depending on the poll, anywhere from a statistical tie to a six-point gap) with just 42 days to go in the 2016 election.
What once appeared to be a cake-walk against Trump—the brash, unruly, and bigoted first-time candidate—has turned into a close contest that could be won or lost in a few battleground states. After both sides attempted to work referee Lester Holt ahead of their contest, they shared a stage for the first time on Monday night at Hofstra University on Long Island.
Clinton’s team pushed rigorously beforehand for fact-checking from the moderator, arguing that Trump’s frequent lies were left largely unchecked during a forum hosted by Matt Lauer this month, while Trump’s team argued that any attempt to call balls and strikes would further prove the media is biased against their camp.
In the first 15-minute segment of the debate, Trump found himself in a familiar position over the last year: yelling and gesticulating while talking over his opponent and the moderator. Holt largely let the candidates talk for themselves, even as Trump frequently interrupted Clinton and ignored the moderator’s attempts to ask follow-up questions.
“We have to do a much better job at giving companies incentives to build new companies or to expand,” Trump said in a long exchange on trade, one of many in which he tried to paint Clinton as the long-time face of a failed establishment. “Because they’re not doing it. And what you have to do is look at Michigan and look at Ohio and look at all of these places where so many of their jobs and their companies are just leaving. They’re gone. And Hillary, I’ll just ask you this. You’ve been doing this for 30 years. Why are you just thinking about these solutions right now? For 30 years, you’ve been doing it, and now you’re just starting to think of solutions.”
Turning the attack around, Clinton said that her husband had in fact done a good job with the American economy during his administration.
“I have—well, not quite that long,” Clinton responded. “I think my husband did a pretty good job in the 1990s. I think a lot about what worked and what can work again.”
Trump retorted with his signature line about wanting to demolish the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“Well, he approved NAFTA, which is the single worst straight deal ever approved in this country,” Trump said using a familiar line in his stump speech.
As the exchange turned to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Clinton began to dig in.
“Donald, I know you live in your own reality, but those are not the facts,” she said explaining her movement on support of TPP. “The facts are, I did say I hoped it would be a good deal, but when it was negotiated, which I was not responsible for, I concluded it wasn’t.”
“So is it President Obama’s fault?” Trump shouted a few times.
“There are different views for what’s good for our country, our economy, and our leadership in the world,” Clinton said. “And I think it’s important to look at what we need to do to get the economy going again. That’s why I said, new jobs with rising incomes, investments, not in more tax cuts that would add $5 trillion to the debt.”
As the night went on, Trump continued to leap in while she was speaking, perhaps taking the bait that Clinton’s campaign had set.