Trump takes the bait

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A visibly peeved Trump keeps trying to cut off Clinton as she needles him about his business, his climate change talk and his secret ISIS plan.

After a few fleeting moments of decorum, the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump quickly gave way to sniping and interruptions as the two candidates clashed on everything from climate change to the economy to ISIS to Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns.

“At least I have a plan to fight ISIS,” Clinton said.

“No wonder you’ve been fighting ISIS your entire adult life,” Trump shot back about a group that has only existed for a few years.

Clinton set the early terms of debate with both prepared lines and clear plans to goad Trump into uncomfortable territory, accusing him of rooting for the housing collapse in 2008, suggesting he isn’t as rich as he claims, and saying he’d made his money by taking a big loan from his father.

It became a rowdy affair within minutes, as Trump lobbed attacks at Clinton, and she at him.

“I have a feeling that by the end of this evening I am going to be blamed everything,” Clinton said with a smile.

“Why not?” Trump retorted.

“Just join the debate by saying more crazy things,” Clinton threw back.

Trump had a clear game plan to portray Clinton as a politician and a figure from the past. “You‘ve been doing this for 30 years,” Trump said at one point, accusing Clinton of promising solutions she could not deliver. “Why are you just thinking about these solutions now?”

When Clinton hit Trump for “Trumped-up trickle-down” economics, Trump dismissed her detailed economic plans.

“Typical politician. All talk. No action. Sounds good. Doesn’t work. Never gonna happen,” Trump said in a staccato summation of his debate plan.

One of the longest exchanges came not on tax policy — but Trump’s refusal to release his taxes, breaking decades of precedent for presidential candidates.

Trump got a rise out of the audience – against the debate’s ground rules of silence from the crowd — by pledging to release his tax returns if Clinton releases all of the emails her staff deleted from the private email server she used as secretary of state.

“I will release my tax returns, against my lawyer’s wishes, when she releases her 33,000 e-mails that have been deleted,” Trump declared.

“So it’s negotiable?” moderator Lester Holt asked, with Trump shooting back, “It’s not negotiable, no.”

Clinton tried to turn the attack on her private email use back on Trump, who had previously said he wouldn’t release his tax returns until a routine audit is completed.

“I think you’ve just seen another example of bait and switch here. For 40 years, everyone running for president has released their tax returns,” Clinton said.

“First, maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is,” she said, detailing her theories about why he’s been reluctant to disclose his returns. “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. Or maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.”

The former secretary of state, often appearing relaxed as Trump scowled and tried to jump in during her answers, also accused Trump of rooting for the housing collapse of 2008.

“Donald was one of the people who rooted for the housing crisis,” she said.

“That’s called business,” Trump tried to jump in.

Clinton plowed ahead, talking about the millions of people who lost their jobs and homes, and her plan to rebuild the economy.

She also got under his skin early on, saying he’d started his own businesses with a $14 million loan from his father. Trump took the bait. “My father gave me a very small loan in 1974,” he said.

Clinton keep digging in, saying “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it’s real.”

“I did not say that,” Trump countered. “I did not say that.”

Clinton and Trump arrived for their first, critical encounter at Hofstra University as Clinton’s once-comfortable lead in August has evaporated into a knife’s edge contest well within the margin of error in the most crucial swing states.

“A wheel-to-wheel race,” Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, had called earlier in the day Monday in a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt.

Between Trump’s celebrity and Clinton’s near-universal name-identification and her standing as possibly the first female president in U.S. history, TV networks are expecting record audiences — as much 100 million viewers — for the debate.

Trump and Clinton faced two fundamentally different questions heading into Monday night. For Trump: Could the celebrity candidate best known only a few short years ago as the star of “The Apprentice” demonstrate the gravitas necessary for voters to envision him in the Oval Office? For Clinton: Could a woman who has been in the public spotlight for more than two decades — as first lady, senator and secretary of state — ease the electorate’s lingering questions about her trustworthiness?

Clinton’s campaign prepared for two different Trumps to show up at Hofstra, her aides said ahead of the debate. The first was the insult-throwing bombastic showman who rampaged through Republican primaries. The second was the more controlled and sober candidate who has appeared on the campaign trail of late, someone who might even make a magnanimous gesture toward Clinton on the debate stage.

The tension between the two Trumps was visible throughout the first hour of the debate.

In the primaries, Trump successfully navigated 11 Republican debates, but he never had to face one of his opponents one-on-one. Indeed, the smallest crowd he competed against was three other candidates, meaning he must fill nearly double the amount of time he ever has before on Monday night.

The showdown was expected to be a study in contrasts: Clinton, the longtime politician and consummate preparer who has pored over briefing materials in recent weeks, versus Trump, a first-time political candidate who, if aides are to be believed, has eschewed many elements of traditional debate preparation ahead of what could be the most watched political event in U.S history.

In the hours leading up to the debate, the Clinton and Trump camps sparred less about each other and more about the role of Holt, an NBC anchor. Clinton backers urged Holt to fact-check Trump on the spot. Trump’s team pushed for a more laissez faire approach.

But after a brief handshake kicked off the debate at 9 p.m. eastern, the bright lights shone on Clinton and Trump alone.

 

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