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Updated 8:00 PM |

What Went Down In The First Presidential Debate

Filed under 2016 Election


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Micah Cohen, Jody Avirgan 11:11 PM Good Night. Good Morning.

That’s a wrap, people. If you missed the debate, though, just start at the beginning of this live blog and scroll up — you can experience all the debate’s majesty chronologically.

Or, just read our post-debate analysis. Nate Silver’s is here. In addition, Nate, Clare, Harry and Jody huddled for a post-debate Elections podcast.

Here’s the audio:

And here’s a video version as well:

Christianna Silva 11:09 PM Appealing To The States

One thing we were interested in tonight is whether Trump or Clinton tried to appeal to specific swing states. So we tracked which states were mentioned during tonight’s debate by Trump, Clinton and the moderator, Lester Holt.

California 1 0 0 1
Florida 0 2 1 3
Illinois 0 4 0 4
Michigan 0 3 0 3
Minnesota 1 0 1 2
Missouri 0 1 0 1
New Jersey 1 0 1 2
New York 2 2 2 6
Ohio 0 3 0 3
Oklahoma 1 1 1 3
Pennsylvania 0 2 0 2
Washington, D.C. 0 1 0 1

Trump certainly made more state-specific callouts (we’re counting any time a city was named as a point for its state.) There are certainly battleground states on this list, but the candidates, especially Clinton, weren’t over-the-top in their appeals to certain states.

Andrew Flowers 10:56 PM

Trump and Clinton debated how to grow jobs and incomes; Trump mentioned cutting regulation, while Clinton vowed to boost manufacturing jobs; both touted their tax and trade policies.

But one proposal you didn’t hear in this debate tonight: universal basic income. With a UBI, the government regularly cuts a no-strings-attached check to each citizen. No conditions. No questions. Everyone, rich or poor, employed or out of work would get the same amount of money. While it sounds like socialism, some libertarians and Silicon Valley techies are rallying around the idea as a way to consolidate (and possibly cut) government programs while ushering in a future transformed by new technologies.

I’m really surprised energy didn’t come up more often. But Trump did get in a dig about the risks of climate change towards the end. Which makes me want to bring up this chart from the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites, which shows the temperature changes over the past 22 years in the United States alone.


It’s also worth noting that climate change is going to have an impact on trade, one of Trump’s key issues. The World Trade Organization and the UN expect climate change to affect roads (because of permafrost melting) and ports (because of rising sea levels). Droughts could make rivers like the Rhine unnavigable. And all of that is going to raise the cost of international (and national) trade.

Leah Libresco 10:54 PM

Trump and Clinton argued about temperament. He said she didn’t act like a winner, and she said he was too easily baited. The latter claim is easier to settle tonight than the former.


Trump kept up a running commentary while Clinton was speaking, although he seldom wrested the floor from her. He was much more likely to jump in when he was being discussed (whether it was his position on Iraq or the exact size of his fortune) than he was during discussion of racial tensions.

Ben Casselman 10:48 PM

During a discussion of nuclear defense, Trump says the U.S. is “losing” to Japan. It’s not clear what that means. On the economic front, Japan has been struggling for 20 years — the U.S. would almost certainly benefit if Japan’s economy picked up. And on trade, the U.S. has only a modest trade deficit with Japan.

David Wasserman 10:47 PM The Verdict: How It Played in Peoria

PEORIA, Illinois — The most jarring thing about leaving D.C. to watch this debate in central Illinois was the lack of venom and anger in a room populated by voters of opposite stripes. Here at the Michel Student Center at Bradley University, the College Republicans and College Democrats managed to organize a joint pizza party that attracted plenty of unaffiliated students as well. Generally, the students spent more time laughing together at the candidates than pointing fingers at each other.

Shortly after the debate concluded, I convened a totally unscientific focus group of five undecided Bradley students, including one who came in leaning toward Trump, one who was leaning toward Johnson, two who were inclined toward Clinton, and one who wasn’t sure whether he would vote at all. There seemed to be a big disconnect between their impressions and pundits’ obsession with winners and losers. In short, they were galled by what struck them as a lack of substance.

All five nodded in agreement when Valerie, a 19-year-old Clinton leaner, complained that the candidates spent too much time litigating the past (business records, emails) rather than addressing health care, education and the environment in detail. The Johnson leaner and the maybe-voter also disliked Trump’s interruptions and lack of policy specifics, and four of the five agreed that the way Trump handled the race question just didn’t bear any resemblance to their own experiences.

The students were split on Lester Holt’s performance as moderator. The Trump leaner complained that Holt scrutinized Trump far more than Clinton. Two who had supported Bernie Sanders in the primary found the one-moderator format troublesome, arguing that Trump overpowered Holt at times and that Holt could have used backup. But all five of these students badly want Clinton and Trump to focus more on the future and less on each other’s baggage.

Seth Masket 10:46 PM

It’s not obvious to me what the 10-second takeaway moment is from this debate. But there was one rather telling exchange on the subject of nuclear weapons that stood out to me. Holt asked Trump a question about changes to the no-first-use policy on nuclear weapons. Trump’s answer would generously be described as rambling, going from China to Yemen to payments to Iran to Israel.

Clinton responded with this:

Words matter when you run for president, and they really matter when you are president. And I want to reassure our allies in Japan and South Korea and elsewhere, that we have mutual defense treaties and we will honor them. It is essential that America’s word be good. And so I know that this campaign has caused some questioning and some worries on the part of many leaders across the globe. I’ve talked with a number of them. But I want to — on behalf of myself, and I think on behalf of a majority of the American people — say that our word is good.

In this, she was essentially apologizing to America’s allies for Trump’s words. That’s a bit longer than a classic soundbite, but it could be worked into an effective ad and some devastating news coverage.

10:45 PM

The very vague pre-announced topics made it hard to know what to expect tonight, substance-wise. In the end, we essentially got two debates: one on the economy and one on foreign policy, with a fairly extended discussion of crime in the middle. That left some surprising gaps: almost no discussion of immigration (Trump’s signature issue), health care (a huge topic during the last election) or energy (apart from Trump’s claim that the U.S. should have “taken the oil” from Iraq and Libya). Maybe they’ll come up more in the next debate.

Carl Bialik 10:44 PM

Pressed by Holt to answer the final question about whether he’d respect the outcome of the election if he loses, Trump ended the debate by saying, “If she wins, I will absolutely support her.” That might feel like an unremarkable answer, and it would be in most U.S. presidential elections. But it’s notable because of Trump’s repeated claims this summer that the election would be “rigged” against him.

Julia Azari 10:44 PM Returning To The Audience Question

As the debate winds down, I’d like to go back to the question from earlier — who’s the audience for this debate?

Given the unfavorable ratings for both candidates, it seems like one important audience is the type of voter who would like to vote for a major-party candidate but who doesn’t like Trump or Clinton. My sense is that this probably matters more for Trump than for Clinton. She’s a more conventional candidate, and we all know that there are a bunch of ways in which Trump is not — support from some party leaders has been hesitant (or nonexistent), and his policy positions, his history and his path to nomination have all been unusual.

By this measure, Trump did pretty well. He interrupted a lot and made lots of statements that his opponents won’t like, but he didn’t do anything outrageous or different from what he’s done in the past. His statements were fluid. There was no steak salesmanship. It’s probably too early to say, but for a voter who doesn’t want to stay home or vote for a party they don’t normally support, this seems like the kind of performance that would allow you to pull the “R” lever.

Harry Enten 10:42 PM

When looking at the instant post-debate polls, keep in mind that they can change. Back in 2000, Gore won the instant polls. It was Bush who gained in the polls, however, as the post-debate spin took place.

Nate Silver 10:42 PM

My editor tells me that readers want my subjective impressions of the debate, knowing full well that they’re subjective. And my impressions are that Clinton became a more plausible president tonight and Trump became a less plausible one.

Ben Casselman 10:39 PM

Clinton brings up a Latina contestant in a beauty pageant who has now become an American citizen. Immigration has come up surprisingly little in this debate, considering how central the issue has been to the campaign overall. I haven’t heard Trump mention “the wall” even once.

Clare Malone 10:38 PM

I would say that we are witnessing a debate “moment” right now. Trump’s weakest part of the night might well be the “woman portion” of the debate.

Farai Chideya 10:37 PM

Here’s the backstory to the Miss Piggy/Miss Housekeeping knife-fight between Clinton and Trump concerning his comments about women.

There is not actually a big, red, “nuclear war” button that Clinton or Trump would have their finger poised over. But there is a black bag. It weighs about 45 pounds and contains mostly documents detailing the options for different kinds of strikes in different situations — imagine Dungeons and Dragons guides for total nuclear annihilation.

David Firestone 10:37 PM

It’s kind of surprising that Clinton isn’t reacting with a little disbelief to these long rambling not-quite-coherent answers from Trump, which seem designed to persuade listeners that he has something to say about a subject without quite saying anything. As in, “Donald, I have no idea what you just said.”

It looks like there will not be a single mention of health care during this debate. During the first presidential debate in 2012, Obamacare was mentioned by name 22 times. The shift in the conversation could be because the rate of uninsured is down in every congressional district in the country, and 20 million people gained insurance since the law was passed (29 million people are still uninsured). Or it could be because public perception of the law is as partisan as ever; the subject is a little tired.

Twitter 10:35 PM

10:33 PM

Trump said that Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is not “a happy camper.” Neither are some Jewish voters who support Israeli policy and question Obama’s policies on Israel — but Trump isn’t benefiting from that unhappiness, at least not financially. He’s getting a far smaller share of Jewish campaign donations to the two major-party nominees than Mitt Romney got in 2012.

Leah Libresco 10:32 PM

Trump complains that our military is falling behind, saying: “Russia has been expanding — they have a much newer capability than we do. … I looked the other night — I was seeing B52’s. They’re old enough that your father, your grandfather could be flying them. We are not keeping up with other countries.”

Unfortunately, our old planes may be more reliable than our new ones. An F-16 from the 1970s recently beat a shiny new F-35 in a dogfight.

Farai Chideya 10:31 PM The ’F Word’

One thing that strikes me is that much of tonight’s debate was fought on territory traditionally considered masculine, like international relations and policing. Clinton did begin her debate night — and the entire debate — with a focus on gender issues beyond those that just affect women, like paid family leave. Clinton’s paid-leave plan includes time off for men, while Trump’s doesn’t.

Gender is a bit of a scylla and charybdis for Clinton, as she navigates the traditionally masculine commander-in-chief role with the sometimes vicious anti-woman political memes saying she is not feminine enough. An analysis by Jason McDaniel and Sean McElwee for the Western Political Science Association found that “feminists” were among several groups toward which Trump supporters had less positive feelings compared to other Republicans and to the public at large.


Clinton is a self-described feminist, but has also come under attack by both the left and the right regarding that claim.

Clare Malone 10:30 PM

Trump’s awkward syntax on this nuclear weapons answer reminds me of Sarah’s Palin’s verbal acrobatics. People called Palin stupid; no one’s really saying that about Trump. Hmmm. Could that be a double standard???

Twitter 10:29 PM

10:26 PM

A 5 point swing isn’t really that much — equivalent to the polls moving by a net of half a percentage point or perhaps a point in Clinton’s direction. So bettor groupthink is very, very possible — and it’s also possible that we’re seeing the conventional wisdom become a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. But it’s also not all that large a move.

Carl Bialik 10:26 PM

Do you think those Betfair movements are a plausible representation of the real change in Clinton’s chances, or are bettors chasing each other? Could her win probability really have increased by 5 percentage points based on the debate so far?

Seth Masket 10:26 PM

So Lester Holt has actually jumped in to do some fact-checking on Trump’s Iraq War claim:

TRUMP: Would you like to hear — I was against the war — wait a minute. I was against the war in Iraq, just so you put it out.

HOLT: The record shows otherwise, but —

TRUMP: The record does not show — the record shows that I am right.

So Trump has been called on his inconsistency and basically said, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” He’s gambling that enough voters will take his word over Holt’s. It’s a reminder that fact-checking is no panacea.

10:25 PM

That’s at least the second time tonight that Trump has said something like “let me just tell you,” one of his most repeated unique phrases in speeches since the start of 2015, according to Milo Beckman’s post on our live blog earlier tonight.


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