SIDNEY — Millions and millions of people tuned in Monday night as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump faced off in the first 2016 Presidential Debate.
Some of those people were locals gathered for watch parties as the candidates sparred over trade, taxes and how to bring good-paying jobs back to the United States.
“The debate was very engaging. We had a good crowd of people at Lev’s (Brewhouse), and all their eyes were pretty glued to the TV,” said Julie Ehemann, chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party.
Trump aggressively tried to pin the nation’s economic and national security problems on Clinton in the first presidential debate, belittling the former senator and secretary of state as a “typical politician” incapable of delivering the change many Americans crave.
But Trump found himself on the defensive for much of Monday’s 90-minute showdown, and the next morning, he spread the blame. He accused moderator Lester Holt of a left-leaning performance and going harder on him than Clinton, even floating the theory that organizers had intentionally given him a faulty microphone to set him up.
“I know Trump is not a debater, and that kind of showed. Hillary was poised and articulate. But some fact checking has been done and the truth has come out,” Ehemann said.
The televised face-off was the most anticipated moment in an election campaign that has been historic, convulsive and unpredictable. The candidates entered the debate locked in an exceedingly close race to become America’s 45th president, and while both had moments sure to enliven their core constituencies, it was unclear whether the event would dramatically change the trajectory of the race.
Local Democrats gathered at the local Democratic campaign headquarters to watch. Shelby County Democratic Party Committee Chairman Tom Kerrigan said he thought Hillary won hands down, adding she started off slow, but ended strong.
“Trump did about as good as he could do, but that’s not even half of what she can do,” Kerrigan said.
The debate was confrontational from the start, with Trump frequently trying to interrupt Clinton and speaking over her answers. Clinton was more measured and restrained, often smiling through his answers, well-aware of the television cameras capturing her reaction.
Clinton also blasted Trump for his refusal to release his tax returns, breaking with decades of presidential campaign tradition. She declared, “There’s something he’s hiding.”
Trump said he will release them when he is done being audited, though tax experts have said an audit is no barrier to making the information public. When Clinton suggested Trump’s refusal may be because he paid nothing in federal taxes, he interrupted to say, “That makes me smart.”
Kerrigan agreed with Hillary, “He’s hiding something substantial. And his answer was very interesting. He is not presidential material. He appeals to people who are angry just to be angry.”
The centerpiece of Trump’s case against Clinton was that the former senator and secretary of state is little more than a career politician who has squandered opportunities to address the domestic and international problems she’s now pledging to tackle as president.
“She’s got experience,” Trump said, “but it’s bad experience.”
Clinton, who hunkered down for days of intensive debate preparation, came armed with a wealth of detailed attack lines. She named an architect she said built a clubhouse for Trump who says he was not fully paid and quoted comments Trump had made about Iraq and about nuclear weapons.
When Trump made a crack about Clinton taking time off the campaign trail to prepare for the debate, she turned it into a validation of her readiness for the White House.
“I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate,” Clinton said. “And, yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that’s a good thing.”
Some frequently hot-button issues were barely mentioned during the intense debate. Illegal immigration and Trump’s promises of a border wall were not part of the conversation. And while Clinton took some questions on her private email server, she was not grilled about her family’s foundation, Bill Clinton’s past infidelities or voter doubts about her trustworthiness.