U.S. presidential debate 2016 live: The first Clinton-Trump showdown

Our writers offer key context as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump make their case for the White House

It was hard to keep up with the claims, rebuttals, promises, accusations, appeals to ordinary Americans, appreciation of ordinary Americans, half-truths about ordinary Americans, and occasional statements of fact on the stage at Hofstra University. As Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump faced each other for the first of three presidential debates, our quick-witted team of writers told you why certain moments mattered and why the candidates were saying what they were saying. Check out our cheat sheet on the debate—and why it mattered to Canadian viewers. We also created a bingo game to help you endure the 90-minute debate.

(Jeff Swensen; Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

(Jeff Swensen; Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

Maclean’s writers Meagan Campbell, John Geddes, Charlie Gillis, Aaron Hutchins, Anne Kingston, Jason Markusoff, Shannon Proudfoot, Jaime Weinman, and Zane Schwartz—all of whom have watched this election closely—made sense of the onstage chaos. Our blog’s updates appear in reverse-chronological order below (i.e. the newest at the top).

11:30 p.m.


A online poll, with 149,000 responses, has a 50-50 split on the question of who won. Some 54 per cent saw Trump as best on the economy, to Clinton’s 46, while a similar share gave him the edge on national security (53-47). The question, “Who presented the clearest vision for America?” produced another saw-off. As for the impact of the debate, only 12 per cent said it changed their minds (80 per cent said not) while seven per cent said they remain undecided.

—Charlie Gillis

11:20 p.m.


Susan Bates, 66, of Culpeper, Va., told Maclean’s:

“I think Hillary won the debate, with a lot of pretty talk. I hope people will see through it, but I thought she played the game better. She comported herself better and was prepared to attack. I think he came intending to talk about policy, but she was in attack mode, and got under his skin, and that surprised me. I thought he would be better prepared for that. On the positive side, Trump was consistent, and I hope the undecideds break for him. And I was amazed that Clinton said, ‘we all have implicit bias.’ More race-baiting, by which I mean use of race to try to get black votes. So I’m nervous about the impact of this.”

—Charlie Gillis

10:58 p.m.


No matter how many times Clinton told the audience to fact-check Trump’s claims, it’s unlikely to change the mind of voters. After all, the media has been calling out Trump’s false claims since he launched the campaign. Why would this one debate change anything? But by constantly calling Trump out for his lies, Trump took the bait and changed from the calm, stoic candidate he presented at the onset to one that was quick to anger and shouting—dispelling any of his claims to a cool temperament.

With that, the Clinton camp will likely win the debate among undecided voters—or those favouring a third-party candidate. Trump tried to negotiate the release of his tax returns on the spot—against the will of his lawyer, he claimed—proving that there is, in fact, no legal basis for withholding them from the eyes of the American public.

Trump’s defence of police stop-and-frisk tactics—already ruled unconstitutional for disproportionately targeting African-Americans—and his years of suggesting Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., could motivate the turnout of black voters currently feeling ambivalent about Clinton.

Those Americans who could handle tonight’s shouting match until the very end witnessed Clinton level some strong charges of sexism aimed at several of Trump’s past comments about women. Trump tried to deflect the accusations with a joke about his disdain for comedian Rosie O’Donnell.

All told, both Trump and Clinton performed well enough to solidify their own base, but Clinton gave those leaning to vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein—who are polling around 10 and two per cent, respectively—reason to vote Democrat.

—Aaron Hutchins

11:08 p.m.


Trump did well tonight. Expectations for him were very low going into the debate, and he effectively batted off most of Clinton’s attacks. Trump cast himself as an anti-establishment candidate capable of ushering in sweeping change. Yes, he regularly lied—e.g. Trump said he didn’t support the Iraq war but he did; he said his tax plan would help all Americans but it would mostly benefit the 1 per cent. However, his lies haven’t hurt him so far and Clinton’s repeated references to media fact-checkers calling him out is unlikely to be effective. Trump has been fact-checked by the media for months (many claims he made tonight have previously been called out for being untrue). A big part of the problem is that public trust in news media sits at record lows, so journalists who call Trump out for his lies are not seen as fair arbiters.

—Zane Schwartz

11:04 p.m.


Here’s what Trump supporter Arthur Robertson of Garrettsville, OH, says about the outcome:

“I think Trump won the debate. I thought Hillary did a little better than I thought she would on the offense. I thought she was a little nastier than he was. He was very respectful. I wish he’d hit the Benghazi thing harder. ‘She does have experience—bad experience.’ I thought that was a good line.”

—Meagan Campbell

11:03 p.m.


By far Clinton’s strongest moment was her brick-batting of him over his verbal abuse of women, with the Machado story as an exclamation point (the line about liking to “hang around” beauty contests was quite a dig—precisely what I felt she needed to do). She grew stronger as the debate finished, forcing him to talk fast and veer off message. But I’m not sure it was enough. Trump skated through the first hour, when the audience is typically largest, effectively setting himself up as an agent of change. —Charlie Gillis

—Charlie Gillis

11:02 p.m.


It was an odd question to end a debate: would the candidates accept the results of the election? It may as well have been asked directly to Trump, who has until his recent boost in the polls suggested that the election may somehow be rigged. In August, he told Fox News host Sean Hannity: “I’m telling you, Nov. 8, we better be careful because that election is going to be rigged and I hope the Republicans are watching closely, or it’s going to be taken away from us.” Prior to running for office, in 2013, he suggested dead voters were ticking a box for Obama.

When he launched his campaign for the Republican nomination last year, and all the candidates were first asked if they’d accept the result of the primaries—and not run an independent campaign—Trump was the only person who could not commit. (He did later, in a less public manner.) Of course he was going to say tonight that he’d accept the election results—how could he not?—but he skirted around the answer for a bit. Why? Because he can’t say the will of the people is wrong, but he also can’t say off-the-bat that he would accept another Clinton in the White House.

—Aaron Hutchins

10:58 p.m.


Clinton couldn’t have possibly let this finish without hammering Trump on sexism and misogyny.

—Jason Markusoff

10:57 p.m.


Trump is actually highlighting a dramatic foreign policy difference between himself and not only Clinton, but the entire post-war U.S. foreign policy establishment. Tonight, Trump said America is paying “billions and billions” to protect Japan. Here’s what I wrote about Trump’s foreign policy earlier this year:

“Trump is open to South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia getting nuclear weapons if it means the U.S. can spend less on protecting them. That policy shocks foreign policy experts on the right and the left but it plays well with many voters. Trump is pointing to the billions of dollars spent maintaining the United States’ nuclear arsenal and the 147 countries the U.S. sent special forces to in 2015 and asking the question—why are Americans paying for this?”

Clinton argues that Trump doesn’t have the judgement to have his finger on the nuclear trigger. Here’s that article on Trump’s foreign policy and the presidential finger on the nuclear trigger: Could Trump launch nuclear war?

—Zane Schwartz

10:51 p.m.


It’s also worth mentioning that Trump advocated for the Libya intervention that he’s been blasting Clinton about all night. Here’s what he said in 2011: “Now we should go in, we should stop this guy, which would be very easy and very quick.”

—Zane Schwartz

10:45 p.m.


Bishop Craig Jackson, an African American Trump supporter, thought the G.O.P. nominee bested Clinton on how to deal with racial violence in U.S. cities. “When you listen to the things Hillary Clinton was saying, it sounds nice and feels good, but it’s the normal stuff you hear from your politicians and then nothing happens,” he said. “We’re dealing with people who are acting off emotion and not facts. It’s okay to protest, but when you start to burn down buildings, vandalize the city and start hurting people, we have to draw the line and say, yes, you have the right to protest, but we have to have law and order.”

—Charlie Gillis

10:40 p.m.


Clinton’s confidence (that laugh!) is on display as much in this foreign affairs segment as Trump’s unease has been, carrying over somewhat from the birtherism section. The trade part was rougher for her, and more in Trump’s wheelhouse. Polls have generally shown that while Trump often fares better on terrorism, Clinton is viewed as stronger on foreign relations broadly.

—Jason Markusoff

10:33 p.m.


Here’s what Trump supporter Arthur Robertson of Garrettsville, OH, has to say about the debate so far:

“I think he looks strong and tough. When they ask Hillary questions, it’s rambling on. After a while you start to zone off. She just says words and words and words and none of them make sense.

She doesn’t care about the inner-city. She calls Black people ‘super-predators.’ That’s a more racist term than anything he’s ever said. She keeps asking him to give his plan for ISIS. You don’t want to tell [ISIS] your plan [on national television]. It’s like, ‘we’re going to be here at two o’clock tomorrow.’”

—Meagan Campbell

10:33 p.m.


One clear loser from tonight’s debate was Lester Holt. He was repeatedly talked over by both candidates, his attempts to fact check were ineffective, when he bothered to even try and fact check at all. Mostly Holt allowed both candidates to dole out the pablum they’ve been pushing for months. Tonight was a chance to highlight the differences between the candidates. Holt could have helped that along with adversarial questions, intelligent follow-up, or real-time fact checking. He was weak on all fronts.

Holt kept saying he didn’t think he’d get to all the topics but there were a few glaring omissions. Most prominently, neither questions about climate change or immigration made the cut. Immigration is a particularly important issue as Trump has made building a wall with Mexico and blocking Muslims from entering the United States consistent talking points of his campaign. Clinton has tried to use Trump’s bombastic statements on immigration against him to increase her share of the Latino vote, one of the fastest growing demographic groups in the United States.

—Zane Schwartz

10:28 p.m. That’s the closest we’ve come to moderator Lester Holt challenging a candidate, and that was a pretty weak exchange. Trump claimed he didn’t support the Iraq war and Lester Holt pushed back, but didn’t point to a specific example or read off the quote of Trump supporting it. As you’ll see above when Howard Stern asked Trump if he supported invading Iraq in 2002, Trump said: “Yeah, I guess so,” and then added: “I wish the first time it was done correctly.” There was a lot of speculation pre-debate about whether Holt would fact check the candidates. Here he tried, but was so ineffective that Trump basically ignored his interjections.

—Zane Schwartz

10:20 p.m.


Donald Trump just said he didn’t support the war in Iraq. That is a lie. In 2002 Trump was being interviewed by Howard Stern. Stern asked: “Are you for invading Iraq?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Trump replied, adding: “I wish the first time it was done correctly.”

—Zane Schwartz

10:19 p.m.


We Canadians laugh, even shudder a little, when Trump refers to “Mooselems.” But consider how often you hear the Mideast country pronounced Eye-raq, and in other embarrassingly inaccurate ways, on American television. It’s often struck me that there is some smug fondness among the U.S. right wing of being ignorant of how to properly say foreign words.

—Jason Markusoff

10:18 p.m.


Trump is saying that Clinton and Obama have had a long and acrimonious history. It’s true. What’s also true is that both Obama and Clinton are currently publicly very supportive of each other. Here’s our story from July on how the relationship between the two has evolved over the years: The long, often ugly relationship between Clintons and Obamas.

—Zane Schwartz

10:15 p.m.


Trump says he finished the birther controversy in 2011 when Barack Obama produced his long-form birth certificate.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of times since then that Trump tweeted out skepticism about Obama’s birth certificate.

This one leads to link of a story claiming Obama was born in Kenya:

And then he moved onto Obama’s college applications:

—Aaron Hutchins

10:11 p.m.


The score thus far: Zero fact checks, barely any interjections by moderator Lester Holt. There was heavy speculation as to whether or not Holt would correct untruths. He hasn’t, which the Commission on Presidential Debates had telegraphed. He’s left it to Clinton to highlight her website’s fact-checking feature, and to Trump to blurt out “wrong” a few times. It would have been better if Holt used his objective credibility to verify the record; partisan snipings and claims of falsehoods aren’t as effective. Holt did lightly press Trump on the fact he kept harping on birtherism after Obama released his long-form birth certificate, but that’s been it so far.

—Jason Markusoff

10:10 p.m.


That’s obviously not the first time Donald Trump has trash-talked a judge, saying the jurist who called New York’s stop-and-frisk law a “very anti-police” judge. One of the most hotly criticized comments of Trump’s much-criticized campaign was his swipe against Justice Gonzalo Curiel, who is hearing a class-action lawsuit against Trump. The Republican called him biased because he was Mexican. (Curiel was born in the United States.) The judge in New York’s stop-and-frisk case was a woman: Shira Scheindlin, nominated to the bench by Bill Clinton.

—Jason Markusoff

10:09 p.m.


Both candidates have complicated pasts when it comes to race relations and criminal justice reform. Hillary Clinton talks a very progressive game today but she was a major advocate of many of the laws that have lead to the sky-high incarceration rates among Black and Hispanic men. Bill Clinton’s tough-on-crime agenda helped him win the presidency. Donald Trump has been accused of not renting to Black people. In 1989 Trump took out a racially charged a full-page ad calling for a group of five Black men accused of raping a woman to be killed. The men were wrongfully convicted and later exonerated. As Trump mentioned in the debate Clinton described Black children as “superpredators”. She apologized for that remark in February.

—Zane Schwartz

10:07 p.m.


For the record, the number is 3,210 shootings in Chicago since January, according to the Chicago Tribune. Make no mistake, Trump’s talking point here is not aimed at black Americans. It’s aimed at a wide sweep of white, middle-class Americans who believe the solution to urban violence lies in law-and-order, rather than social reform.

—Charlie Gillis

10:04 p.m.


Trump proudly referenced the recent endorsement he received from the Fraternal Order of Police (a political judgment that reportedly divided black and white police officers). Up to now, the most prominent outside endorsement, of a sort, that Clinton has mentioned specifically was from Moody’s Analytics, which forecasts that her economic platform would create more than 10 million jobs, whereas Trump’s would cost more than three million. For many American voters, getting the nod from cops might mean more than that assessment of a private number-crunching company.

—John Geddes

9:53 p.m.


Trump is now promoting one of his real estate projects during the debate. Trump has an odd penchant for advertising his hotels and other business enterprises during campaign events. Ten days ago, he used a speech about birtherism to promote his new hotel. In June. Trump left the United States and spent two days in Scotland promoting his golf courses there.

—Zane Schwartz

9:53 p.m.


Prompted by moderator Lester Holt to explain her e-mail server issue, Hillary Clinton kept it concise: “I made a mistake using my emails. I’m not going to make any excuses.” In the past, she’s attempted to make excuses like past secretaries of State doing the same thing (false) or that the rules allowed it (not quite). The fact-checkers have, ultimately, kept her honest on this, or at least not verbose.

—Jason Markusoff

9:52 p.m.


In our Sept. 26 issue, our cover story featured everyday Americans explaining why they plan to vote for Trump. Here’s what one of them, Bishop Craig Jackson of Philadelphia, has to say about the debate so far:

“I like how he pushes through his beliefs. [Clinton] is a woman who’s been in politics for 30 years, and she really hasn’t done much. If you look at what she’s done, it’s a catastrophe. If you look at what she’s supported, it’s a catastrophe.

I do see a lot of stories through social media from companies who decided to get up and go. He is going to make it so, you want to leave? That’s fine. You’ll pay huge taxes. A lot of businesses are going to re-examine their plans.

At the rallies, he was getting the crowd warmed up. This is a lot more formal. He has got get to Nov. 8, and he’s got to win. I do believe he will get elected. The latest poll puts him past the magic number. A couple years ago, he was a laughing stock. Now, people are trembling at his name. This is his time for him to prove, ‘hey I’m Donald Trump.’ I mean business.”

—Meagan Campbell

9:49 p.m.


Watch Maclean’s Skittles Meter, live! We’re tracking the fact-checking and lies hurled at the first U.S. presidential debate, one candy at a time. Here’s how it works:

1. A team of Maclean’s editors will be closely following a group of fact-checkers on Twitter and elsewhere, and verify and flag when a lie has been noted and corrected. That list.
2. Every time a fact-checker notes a lie*, we’ll add a blue (Clinton) or red (Trump) Skittle to the appropriate jar, and write the offending lie—and the correct fact—on the whiteboard.
3. We’ll tweet a link to the fact-check from our Twitter account @SkittlesMeter. Follow us there!
4. After the debate, we’ll aggregate all the fact checks from the fact-checkers we’re following and find out whose jar had the most Skittles at
*Note: The Maclean’s Skittles Meter is not a complete fact-checking of the U.S. presidential debate, but we will work to aggregate as much of the fact-checking work being done by trusted sources.

9:42 p.m. Moments before the debate started tonight, the Democratic Party released the list of donors to the party nominating convention in Philadelphia. The party has been under pressure to release the donors for weeks now. Some of the major donors are: telecommunications giant AT&T with $1,500,000; and Independence Blue Cross with $1,525,000. Barack Obama strictly limited donations to the Democratic National Committee, but Hillary Clinton encourages the practice. Clinton has generally made the Democratic Party much more open to lobbyists than Barack Obama. Some critics on the left and the right accuse Clinton of being too cozy with big-money interests.

—Zane Schwartz

9:42 p.m.


Clinton can’t afford to lose any of the “Bernie Sanders or bust” voters, those younger Americans so inspired by Clinton’s former opponent for the Democratic Party nomination. Her early pledge to help those with student debt and also raise taxes on the wealthy is her move to entice those voters away from a third-party candidate. Clinton recently promised to increase the top tax rate—65 per cent on the richest estates, compared to her former pitch of 45 per cent—which would affect singles with assets exceeding $500 million, or married couples with more than $1 billion. If Trump is indeed a billionaire, as he claims, that’s even more reason for him to fear a Clinton presidency.

—Aaron Hutchins

9:40 p.m.


Suggested question for Clinton: “Gee, Donald, why don’t your lawyers think you should release your tax records?” I’m going to sound like a broken record, but Clinton has to get off the ropes and start fighting Trump tooth and nail. Angry, shouting Trump projects as more authentic than smiling Clinton standing there taking insults.

—Charlie Gillis

9:39 p.m.


The class writer’s credo: Show, don’t tell. Clinton didn’t need to call Trump’s debating “crazy” — she could have just let his words stand on their own. He had already made himself look that by replying, “Why not?” to her quip that Trump may as well blame Clinton for everything.

—Jason Markusoff

9:31 p.m.


Hillary Clinton has changed her position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership several times. When she was Secretary of State, she was a major champion of the plan—but now she says she opposes it. Clinton has flip-flopped on free trade issues in the past, both opposing and promoting NAFTA at various times. Here’s a summary of her changing position on the TPP. Clinton changing positions on free trade has contributed to her perceived untrustworthiness.

—Zane Schwartz

9:30 p.m.


So Clinton is calling him “Donald,” and he very patronizingly asks her if it’s okay to call her “Secretary Clinton”—speaking to her as if she’s a child. Trump finds his disruptive instincts are very hard to shake. We can see that when Lester Holt presses him for specifics on what he’s going to do to bring back jobs, how he’s going to build. On the trade question, his shouting has her on the defensive. We’ll talk to some declared Trump supporters in this space tonight to see whether his approach works in this context. Stay tuned.

—Charlie Gillis

9:29 p.m.


The first candidate fact-check of the debate! Clinton charged that Donald Trump believes climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. “I did not say that,” Trump interrupted. Here’s his tweet from 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
The written record: it can be a beautiful thing.

—Jason Markusoff

9:26 p.m.


Clinton’s first answer to the question of “achieving prosperity” through jobs zoned in on gender in a big way—played the grandmother card (referring to the fact that her granddaughter just turned two), referenced pay equity, the work-family balance. It’s an answer that referenced Mexico, playing to out-of-country negatives, jobs leaving the U.S. Plays the Ronald Reagan card. The Clinton rejoinder, “Trumped-up trickle down,” feels rehearsed; getting it in precluded her from taking a jab at Trump companies sourcing from offshore labour. Based on the frequency of Trump’s early referencing of Mexico, it’s going to be a theme.

—Anne Kingston

9:25 p.m.


Trump did root for the eventual housing crisis in 2006. Here’s more of the quote Hillary Clinton referenced: “I sort of hope that happens because then people like me would go in and buy.” Clinton has come under fire throughout the campaign for her perceived coziness with Wall Street. After leaving her position as Secretary of State, she made millions of dollars giving speeches to some of the Wall Street companies that played a major role in the 2008 financial crisis.

—Zane Schwartz

9:23 p.m.


We’ve grown used to hearing a yelling Donald Trump at his rallies. This is the more sober-toned Trump, but his first answer delivers pretty much the same rhetoric he always delivers. Meanwhile, Clinton is trying to personalize her speeches with her own family’s history. Trump almost never talks about his family, for all his children’s role in it. And lo, just as I was saying that, Trump refers to the “very small loan” his father Fred Trump gave him. That small loan: $1 million. In 1991, Fred Trump bought $3.4 million in chips from his son’s casino, without ever playing a hand.

—Jason Markusoff

9:14 p.m.


The Clinton-Trump face-off isn’t the only debate happening at Hofstra University tonight. Green party candidate Jill Stein will be appearing at an alternative debate. Stein was arrested in 2012 for trying to appear at a presidential debate that year but, according to the Hofstra Chronicle, she isn’t planning on gate-crashing tonight. Green party nominee Jill Stein and Libertarian party nominee Gary Johnson are both polling relatively high at this point. Johnson is at 7.4 per cent according to an average of national polls and Stein is at 2.4 per cent. With all eyes on Clinton and Trump tonight, both Johnson and Stein’s supporters are up for grabs.

—Zane Schwartz

9:11 p.m.


In the year of the fact-evaders and the fact-checkers, some cable news networks have taken to doing their own real-time debunking in the chyrons (the text at the bottom of the screen). In June, CNN ran the following chyron during a speech: TRUMP: I NEVER SAID JAPAN SHOULD HAVE NUKES (HE DID).

Networks won’t be doing anything like that tonight, Politico has reported. The action moves too fast for them to try to dwell on one fact when so many more would have since flown by. So it’s up to moderator Lester Holt or candidates to bring attention to the fibs or outright lies being emitted. (Or, there are various second-screen checker websites, from PolitiFact to the Washington Post’s excellent Fact Checker. But then you’d miss out on this fine running commentary.)

—Jason Markusoff

9:10 p.m.


Students at Hofstra University held a demonstration on campus for Black Lives Matter earlier today. According to the student newspaper, the Hofstra Chronicle, the protest was led by a number of groups including the Black Student Union and the Collegiate Women of Color group. Here’s a video of the demonstration:

Black Lives Matter has been a force in this election, affecting policy change on both the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaigns. Tonight, protestors are still in the streets of Charlotte, N.C., demanding that police release the full video of Keith Scott’s death. The killing of Black men by police officers has become a major political issue throughout this campaign.

—Zane Schwartz

9:01 p.m.


Debates are too often compared to boxing fights: Which candidate came out swinging? Who got the knockout punch? It’s a tired analogy. And yet, as the audience piles into Hofstra University’s debate hall, there’s the feel of an actual boxing match based on those in crowd. Don King, boxing promoter for legendary fights like Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s “Rumble in the Jungle”, is in smiling at every person he sees, likely stumping for his good friend Donald Trump. Mark Cuban, the outspoken billionaire owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, tweeted out how he has front-row seats for the debate. Considering how critical Cuban has been of Trump—even offering a $10-million donation to any charity should Trump let him have his own four-hour Q&A session on policy alone—it’s no wonder the Clinton camp reportedly gave him the invite (and the kickass seats). Then there’s Bobby Knight, one of college basketball’s all-time best coaches—and also one of the NCAA’s most fined coaches for outbursts like throwing a chair at a referee—sitting quietly, almost studious in his approach.

None of them will affect what happens on stage—unless Trump somehow gets into a staredown with Cuban front row—but what it offers in the lead-up is that this is, in fact, a main event. Like a PPV boxing showdown or a UFC fight, sports celebrities (and not big name politicians) being scattered throughout the crowd almost tells a lay audience that this is, in fact, the place to be.

Trump once said he didn’t want any debate schedule to conflict with any NFL football games—for fear that the average American would rather watch Monday Night Football than politicians talking policy. He didn’t get his wish, but that won’t matter. Trump vs. Clinton has been built up enough to earn the designation of “Debate of the Century.” America will watch.

—Aaron Hutchins

8:57 p.m.


No shortage of warnings tonight that any expression of emotion on Clinton’s part is a risk, because it will feed negative female stereotypes among voters (i.e. the “fragile temperament” or “nagging shrew” or the “angry bitch”). I’ll leave the rationale underlying this theory to the experts. But me? I want the blood and fire. If Clinton believes—as we’re frequently told—that Trump is a threat to the security and well-being of America, I want to see it in her face, and hear it in her words. If we see sweat on her brow, so much the better. A dead heat in the polls means time to stop playing defence, that the moment has come to thump the lectern and show she cares. Because careful, calibrated Hillary Clinton saying she cares isn’t getting the job done.

—Charlie Gillis

8:38 p.m.


In a head-to-head race, Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by an average of 2.3 per cent according to an average of the latest national polls. When looking at a four-way race between Clinton, Trump, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green party candidate Jill Stein, Clinton’s lead narrows to 1.6 per cent. 7.4 per cent of people polled say they’ll support Johnson and 2.4 per cent say they’ll vote for Stein. Johnson fought hard to get into the debates, but he won’t be on stage tonight (you need to poll at 15 per cent nationally to qualify). Johnson’s absence presents an opportunity for Trump in particular as historically, many libertarians end up voting for the Republican nominee. It’s also worth noting that Libertarian support is at a record high. Gary Johnson scored 0.99 per cent of the popular vote in 2012 when he also carried the Libertarian banner. If Trump can sway some of those people tonight, that gap with Clinton could disappear pretty quickly.

—Zane Schwartz

8:24 p.m.


The better behaved Donald Trump of the last few weeks has been playing it remarkably safe, for Trump at least. While Hillary Clinton has begun leaving her shell and doing press conferences, the Republican candidate has avoided any interviewers or reporters but the friendly Fox News sort. He’s had his routine chances to wax on at great, great length at his rallies, but there, only his own meandering mind threatens to take him off-message.

Tonight is different. He’ll be talking for a solid 30-40 minutes, likely, pushed and pulled by questions and prompts not of his choosing. The best example thus far of him performing in a situation like that? Go back to March 21, when he was still in the primary race against Ted Cruz and John Kasich, and he spent more than an hour with the Washington Post editorial board. The transcript is an instructive and entertaining read.

—Jason Markusoff

8:20 p.m.


You expect a bit of pre-debate hokum from the candidates’ surrogates. But Mike Pence was spinning at record speed during a CNN appearance that just wound up. The Republican veep candidate described Trump as a “truth-teller” (hear that, fact-checkers?), adding that in person the G.O.P. nominee is “simply one of the most kind and gracious people I’ve met in my life.”

This, it goes without saying, runs against universal understanding of the man, and may be a hint of what’s to come. Trump’s already won Angry America. To win, he needs a swath of ambivalent, undecided middle America—voters much less receptive to name calling and race-baiting. They’re looking for a man with temperament and heart to be president, which, natch, is how Pence just described his running mate.

—Charlie Gillis

7:30 p.m.

Maclean’s asked Google for the most Googled questions about the debate. Jaime Weinman answered those questions. Here are the two most popular questions, with responses:

What does Hillary Clinton plan on doing as president?
Fix everything and make America great. But don’t you dare say “great again,” because things are already great. She’ll just make them greater.

How did Donald Trump make his money?
He had the guts and initiative and drive to get a rich father. Anything else is known only to people who have seen his tax returns.

—Nick Taylor-Vaisey

7:25 p.m.


How Trump approaches the debate is seen as an X-factor in the debate. The Associated Press offers a hint about how to determine which form of Donald makes an appearance.

Just who will show up to debate Clinton? Will it be the say-anything Trump who roiled the primary debates by dishing out a stream of insults and provocations? Or the rein-it-in Trump who’s been trying to demonstrate of late that he has the maturity and measured temperament to be president? One possible clue: Watch to see whether Trump trots out the “crooked Hillary” nickname or puts it on ice for 90 minutes.

—Nick Taylor-Vaisey

7:20 p.m.


Why is this debate happening at Hofstra University? Meagan Campbell wondered why a small liberal arts college would host possibly the most-watched presidential debate ever.

On July 10, Melissa Connolly, vice-president of external relations at Hofstra University, was filming a group of exchange students at the Roman Coliseum. Her phone buzzed, with a text message reading, “Come home. We’re hosting the debate.” The original host university had resigned, and Hofstra was summoned to step in—for a debate just 10 weeks away. Normally such events take 18 months to plan, meaning this debate might not just be the most-watched presidential debate in history, but also the most impromptu. “I got a cab and changed my flights,” says Connolly. “I started working on it in the cab.”

Read the rest of Campbell’s story.

—Nick Taylor-Vaisey

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