US ELECTIONS

Clinton assails Trump in blistering US presidential debate

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2016, 11:18pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2016, 11:30pm

Democrat Hillary Clinton accused Republican Donald Trump of racism, sexism and tax avoidance, putting him on the defensive during a 2016 US presidential debate rife with blistering insults and short on policy.

Trump, a real estate tycoon making his first run for public office, said Clinton’s long years of service represented “bad experience” with few results and said she lacked the stamina to serve as commander in chief. Clinton was under pressure to perform well after a recent bout of pneumonia and a drop in opinion polls, but her long days of preparation appeared to pay off in her highly anticipated first 90-minute showdown with Trump.

I may hit her [Clinton] harder in certain ways
Donald Trump

Trump, a former reality TV star who eschewed a lot of debate practice, was assertive and focused early on, interrupting Clinton repeatedly. As the night wore on, he became testy and less disciplined in front of the crowd at host Hofstra University and a televised audience that could have reached upwards of a record 100 million people.

A CNN/ORC snap poll said 62 per cent of respondents felt Clinton won and 27 per cent believed Trump was the winner. Afterwards, Trump called it “the debate of debates” and promised to be tougher at their next meeting on October 9.

“I may hit her harder in certain ways,” Trump said in a telephone interview on Fox & Friends. He made clear he pulled punches by not bringing up former President Bill Clinton’s sexual scandals out of deference to the couple’s daughter, Chelsea Clinton, who was in the audience.

Trump also said contentious issues involving Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state were not addressed, including her use of a private computer server for government emails, the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, or the Clinton Foundation charity.

In signs that investors awarded the debate to Clinton, Asian shares recovered after an early bout of nerves while the Mexican peso jumped on Tuesday. Her chances in the November 8 election also improved in online betting markets. Trump, 70, declared himself the winner to reporters.

The 68-year-old Clinton relentlessly sought to raise questions about her opponent’s temperament, business acumen and knowledge.

Trump used much of his time to argue the former first lady and US senator had achieved little in public life and wanted to pursue policies begun by President Barack Obama that have failed to repair a shattered middle class, with jobs lost to outsourcing and over-regulation.

Trump suggested her handling of a nuclear deal with Iran and Islamic State militancy were disasters. In one of their more heated exchanges, Clinton accused Trump of promulgating a “racist lie” by suggesting Obama was not born in the US.

The president, who was born in Hawaii, released a long-form birth certificate in 2011 to put the issue to rest. Only this month did Trump say publicly that he believed Obama was US-born.

“He has really started his political activity based on this racist lie that our first black president was not an American citizen. There was absolutely no evidence for it. But he persisted. He persisted year after year,” Clinton said.

Trump repeated his false accusation that Clinton’s failed 2008 presidential campaign against Obama started the so-called “birther” issue. “Nobody was pressing it, nobody was caring much about it ... I was the one that got him to produce the birth certificate and I think I did a good job,” Trump said.

Trying to get under Trump’s skin, Clinton suggested her opponent was refusing to release his tax returns to avoid showing Americans he paid next to nothing in federal taxes or that he is not as wealthy as he says he is.

“It must be something really important, even terrible, that he’s trying to hide,” she said. Trump fought back, saying that as a businessman, paying low taxes was important.

“That makes me smart,” Trump said. “I have a tremendous income,” he said, adding that it was about time that someone running the country knew something about money. He said he would release his tax documents after a government audit.

Clinton seemed to pique Trump when she accused him of insulting women. “He loves beauty contests, supporting them and hanging around them and he called this one ‘Miss Piggy’ and then he called her ‘Miss Housekeeping’,” she said.

During the debate, Trump darkly hinted at wanting to say something but stopped short. Afterwards, he told reporters he had held back from raising Bill Clinton’s sex scandals. “I was going to say something extremely tough to Hillary and her family and I said I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. It’s inappropriate. It’s not nice.”

There was much speculation about how much debate moderator Lester Holt would intervene to correct facts. The NBC News anchorman largely left the candidates to fight it out, interjecting a few times to correct falsehoods. Trump repeated his campaign assertion that he opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, despite having voiced support for it in a 2002 interview. “The record shows otherwise,” Holt challenged him.

Towards the end, Trump said Clinton did not have the endurance to be president. “She doesn’t have the look, she doesn’t have the stamina,” he said. Clinton retorted: “As soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a ceasefire, a release of dissidents ... spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina.”

Clinton called Trump’s tax policies “Trumped-up trickle-down” economics, and Trump accused Clinton of being “all talk, no action”.

“I have a feeling I’m going to be blamed for everything,” Clinton said during one tough exchange.

“Why not?” retorted Trump.

The Mexican peso, dubbed the “Trump thermometer” because of its sensitivity to the US presidential campaign, rose 1.6 per cent. Trump has pledged to build a wall at the Mexican border to prevent illegal immigration.