Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump today battled out in front of tens of millions of American voters over jobs, taxes and terror in their fiery first presidential debate ahead of US polls as the Democratic nominee put her Republican rival on the defensive. The 90-minute clash witnessed the 68-year-old former secretary of state and the 70-year-old reality TV star, who have attacked the other for months in separate campaigns, taking the stage together here for the first time and indulge in a series of combative, acrimonious exchanges.
The battle turned personal, with the controversial real estate mogul being questioning the “stamina” of the former secretary of state after her recent bout of pneumonia while the latter was seen smiling through the insults.
She landed jabs of her own to put Trump on the defensive over his temperament, refusal to release his taxes and his past comments about race and women.
Trump said he will release his tax returns if Clinton releases her 33,000 emails deleted by her from the period when she was the secretary of state in the first term of the Obama Administration.
“As soon as she releases them, I will release,” he said when he was being grilled for not releasing his tax returns.
The two leaders clashed as they came face-to-face for the first of the three high-stake presidential debates at Hofstra University in Hempstead, about an hour’s drive from New York City and projected themselves as best-prepared to lead the nation just six weeks before the November 8 general election.
Clinton accused Trump of being “anti-women” and challenged his allegations that she lacked the stamina to be the commander-in-chief as the real estate mogul said “she does not have the stamina”.
“She doesn’t have the look. I said she doesn’t have the stamina. And I don’t believe she does have the stamina. To be president of this country, you need tremendous stamina,” Trump said in response to a question during the first presidential debate.
Clinton hit back, saying: “Well, as soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a ceasefire, a release of dissidents… or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina.”
She said the “racist lie” perpetuated by her rival about Barack Obama of not being a natural-born citizen “bothered and annoyed” the US President, whom she called a man of “great dignity”. She slammed Trump’s long record of engaging in “racist behaviour” and said “the birther lie was a very hurtful one”.
Meanwhile, Trump – who is running for the top post for the first time – said Clinton has “got experience”, but it is “bad experience” and that the country can not afford to have another four years of it.
However, the non-politician interrupted Clinton several times and appeared agitated as Clinton appeared calm and composed.
Trump claimed that the US is being used as a “piggy bank” to rebuild China and many other countries are doing the same thing as he underlined the need to stop jobs from being “stolen” from the US.
Showing their political colours, Clinton was dressed in a Republican red pant suit while Trump in a Democratic blue tie for the first debate ahead of the November 8 polls.
Trump, who was seen drinking water multiple times during the debate that had Clinton making a number of thinly veiled swipes, alleged his rival has no plans to defeat ISIS, the biggest national security challenge to the country.
“Secretary Clinton is talking about taking out ISIS. “We will take out ISIS.” Well, President Obama and Secretary Clinton created a vacuum the way they got out of Iraq, because they got out — what, they shouldn’t have been in, but once they got in, the way they got out was a disaster. And ISIS was formed,” he alleged.
Clinton disagreed, saying: “I have put forth a plan to defeat ISIS. It does involve going after them online. I think we need to do much more with our tech companies to prevent ISIS and their operatives from being able to use the Internet to radicalise, even direct people in our country and Europe and elsewhere.”
At the same time the US would also have to intensify its air strikes against ISIS and eventually support Arab and Kurdish partners to be able to actually take out ISIS in the Syrian city of Raqqa and end their claim of being a Caliphate, she said, adding “We’re making progress.”
Clinton alleged that Trump has flip-flopped on his policy on Iraq as he initially supported the war in Iraq, though Trump strongly denied the charge.
“I hope the fact-checkers are turning up the volume and really working hard. Donald supported the invasion of Iraq,” she said as the two entered into a verbal duel.
Both elicited laughter and cheers despite pleas from the organizers for no cheering, booing or clapping. Moderator NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt could be seen struggling to get a word in edgeways, saying “We need to move on as Trump spoke into the microphone about the nuclear threat.
“I think my strongest asset, maybe by far is my temperament,” said the real estate tycoon to laughter.
“Woah. OK,” she said to more laughs.
Trump called Clinton as “Secretary Clinton”, avoiding his “Crooked Hillary” epithet from the campaign.
Clinton, who acknowledged that using personal email hosted on a private server was a mistake, said Trump is not releasing his tax returns may be because of certain reasons.
“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 USD 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, because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax,” she said.
Clinton, while calling Trump “anti-women”, went on to say: “This is a man who has called women pigs, slobs and dogs, and someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers, who has said women don’t deserve equal pay unless they do as good a job as men.
Trump said he never said that.
Clinton told an anticipated television audience of up to 100 million that her rival was fatally out of touch and willing to say “crazy things” to get elected.
“You live in your own reality,” she said in the first debate that came after a deeply polarising 15-month campaign as the non-politician rose to become his party’s presidential nominee despite infighting.
Trump began the keenly awaited debate with a restrained tone but as the temperature rose, he brought out the verbal brickbats and repeatedly interrupted Clinton.
The debate ended with a question whether each would accept the outcome of the election, to which both the candidates set all speculations to rest and pledged to accept the voters’ mandate of the general elections.
“I support our democracy. And sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But I certainly will support the outcome of this election,” Clinton said.
“And I know Donald’s trying very hard to plant doubts about it, but I hope the people out there understand: This election’s really up to you. It’s not about us so much as it is about you and your families and the kind of country and future you want. So I sure hope you will get out and vote as though your future depended on it, because I think it does,” she said.
When asked if he will accept the outcome of the election, Trump said “I want to make America great again. I’m going to be able to do it. I don’t believe Hillary will. The answer is, if she wins, I will absolutely support her”.
A CNN/ORC poll of voters who watched the debate said Clinton was deemed the winner of the first debate by a massive 62 per cent as compared to 27 per cent who said Trump had a better show.