How Hillary Clinton rattled Donald Trump at the first presidential debate

Hempstead, N.Y. – One of the biggest questions going in to Monday’s debate was which Donald Trump would show up to the Hofstra University showdown. But it was Hillary Clinton who turned the tables, showing off a more aggressive side at the head-to-head spectacle.

Seeking to rattle Trump from the get-go, the Democrat accused Trump of rooting for the housing collapse and assailed his pursuit of a “trumped-up trickle down” economic policy. She tore into his refusal to release his tax returns, suggesting he has a secret to hide – and that he didn’t pay any federal income tax at all.

It seemed to work. Trump appeared agitated at times during the 90-minute debate, repeatedly interrupting her and moderator Lester Holt. He put Clinton on the defensive over her support for free trade deals early in the debate, but stumbled over some answers and gave meandering responses to others. And some of his punches fell flat. When he criticized her use of a private emails server while secretary of state, she gave a curt response, saying it was a mistake and that “I take responsibility for that.”

The sharpest exchange of the night unfolded after Trump declared blacks and Hispanics have little to lose by supporting his candidacy because some were in a “living hell” facing violent crime in troubled inner cities.

Clinton countered by trying to hold him to account for his part in claiming that President Barack Obama was not an American citizen. She called the discredited attacks on the first black president a “racist lie” and added a stinging follow-up: “He has a long record of engaging in racist behavior.”

When Trump said Clinton lacks the “tremendous stamina” needed to be president, repeating a frequent attack on the campaign trail, the Democrat’s rejoinder earned a cascade of cheers from the crowd.

“As soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease fire, a release of dissidents, an opening of new opportunities in nations around the world, or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina,” she said.

This was but the first debate and Trump made clear near the end of it he was keeping his powder dry for the next two. In an awkward exchange, Trump said he was “going to say something extremely rough to Hillary, to her family” but decided it was inappropriate.

Could it have been a reference to Bill Clinton’s infidelities? Yes, he said after the debate, it would have been. And would that open the thrice-married Trump open to the same line of attack? Probably.

Asked exactly what his attack would have been, Trump was coy.

“I’ll tell you maybe at the next debate,” he said. “We’ll see.”

More coverage:

Trump and Clinton finally get their showdown

Donald Trump doesn’t back down from ‘birther' claim

Nathan Deal’s advice for Donald Trump’s debate: ‘He has to be nice’

Libertarians unleash the sass as Gary Johnson watches debate from afar

Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton: I’ll release my tax returns if you publish your deleted emails

David Perdue on the pair of four-letter words missing from the presidential debate

Kasim Reed gives Hillary Clinton props for ‘Trumped-up’ shot

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.