The most memorable moments from the first presidential debate

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump shakes hands with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton after the presidential debate at Hofstra University.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump shakes hands with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton after the presidential debate at Hofstra University.
(David Goldman / Associated Press)

The first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was one of the most anticipated skirmishes in presidential history. It didn’t disappoint.

Monday’s feisty showdown took on a sprawling range of topics, from free trade to Islamic State to the controversial policing tactic stop-and-frisk. But the face-off was — of course — colored more by personality than policy. Trump, the unapologetically grandiose political novice versus Clinton, the career politician making history as the first woman on a presidential debate stage. Here are the things that we’ll all be talking about:

Pardon the many interruptions

Clamoring for airtime is common in presidential debates. But Trump took a notably aggressive approach in talking over Clinton during her answers.

His interjections led to some of his more memorable lines. When Clinton accused Trump of rooting for the pre-recession housing market collapse for his own personal gain, the Republican nominee cut in: “That’s called business.”

Clinton also suggested that one reason Trump has not released his tax returns is that he had in effect paid zero taxes in years.

“That makes me smart,” Trump chimed in.

Points for prep work

Clinton’s policy wonkery and sometimes stiff demeanor have earned her comparisons to Tracy Flick, the high school overachiever in the movie “Election.” But Clinton’s preparedness gave her fodder for one of the night’s most effective zingers.

Trump made a dig at Clinton not having many events on the campaign trail last week in anticipation of the Monday debate.

“I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate,” Clinton responded. “And, yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president.”

The sniffles and a poker face

It’s not just words that can make an impression. Viewers were quick to note that Trump seemed to be afflicted by a sniffle he couldn’t shake. 

Some posited that Trump was suffering from a head cold. But Howard Dean, former Democratic Party chairman, suggested the sniffle was caused by illegal drug use. “Notice Trump sniffling all the time. Coke user?” Dean tweeted.

Meanwhile, Clinton maintained a studiously neutral — yet ever-so-slightly exasperated — expression during some of Trump’s answers, prompting some observers to equate it to Jim Halpert, the notoriously deadpan character from “The Office.”

This is not the first time Clinton has notably maintained an aloof expression: During the 11-hour hearing on the Benghazi attacks led by congressional Republicans last year, Clinton's face was decidedly bland for the duration. Remember this

A return to Rosie

Who would’ve predicted Rosie O’Donnell would make a cameo in not one but two debates this election season?

At the first GOP presidential debate in August 2015, Trump was asked to explain why he had called women “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs” and “disgusting animals.”

“Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Trump responded, grinning as he jabbed at the comedian with whom he’s had a long-standing feud.

On Monday, with the first female presidential nominee of a major party standing on the debate stage, it was inevitable that gender would again be a central topic. Clinton took the opportunity to rehash Trump’s derogatory statements about women, including insults at a former beauty pageant contestant.

Trump didn’t directly address the incident with Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe. He said some of those comments were said “in entertainment,” and then he returned to his frequent foil.

“Somebody who’s been very vicious to me, Rosie O’Donnell, I said very tough things to her and I think everyone would agree that she deserves it and nobody feels sorry for her,” Trump said.

Shout-outs for the fact checkers

In the run-up to the debate, the biggest question was how moderator Lester Holt of NBC would handle the tall task of managing the flood of facts and misstatements from both candidates.

Although members of the Commission on Presidential Debates played down the role of real-time fact-checking, Holt ended up doing just that at times, challenging Trump on his repeated false assertion that he never supported the invasion of Iraq, for example.

The fact checkers even got shout-outs from the debate stage. When Trump told Clinton, "No wonder you've been fighting ISIS your entire adult life," she appealed to outside arbiters.

“Fact checkers, get to work,” she said.

The volume of statements to analyze and judge will be enough to keep news outlets busy for days. One prominent independent fact checker,, ran into technical difficulties just as interest was at its peak.

Follow @melmason for the latest on national politics.


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