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 with 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.
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 percent of respondents felt Clinton won and 27 percent believed Trump was the winner.
On Tuesday morning, Trump called it “the debate of debates” and promised to be tougher on Clinton at their next meeting on Oct. 9.
“I may hit her harder in certain ways,” Trump said in a telephone interview with “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 on Monday night, 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 Nov. 8 election also improved in online betting markets.
“You feel good tonight?” Clinton asked supporters afterward. “I sure do. We had a great debate.”
Trump, 70, declared himself the winner to reporters at the debate site.
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 U.S. 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 overregulation.
Trump suggested her disavowal of a trade deal with Asian countries was insincere. Her handling of a nuclear deal with Iran and Islamic State militancy were disasters, he argued.
In one of their more heated exchanges, Clinton accused Trump of promulgating a “racist lie” by suggesting Obama, the first African-American president, was not born in the United States.
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 U.S.-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.
Trump sniffed loudly at times – a campaign aide said the candidate did not have a cold.
‘HANGING AROUND’ BEAUTY CONTESTS
Clinton, the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party, seemed to pique Trump when she brought up how Trump has insulted 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,” he said.
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 set the record straight.
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. “The record does not show that,” Trump shot back.
At other times, the candidates corrected each other.
Toward the end, Trump said Clinton did not have the endurance to be president but avoided mentioning her recent bout with pneumonia.
“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 … or even 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 U.S. presidential campaign, rose 1.6 percent. Trump has pledged to build a wall at the Mexican border to prevent illegal immigration.