When Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump walked onto the debate stage at Hofstra University, the battle lines were immediately drawn.
From the outset, the Democratic nominee and her Republican counterpart made it clear they were two very different candidates.
The first presidential debate of 2016 was the battle of the politician from a “middle-class” family and the businessman with a self-professed $694 million income, images neither side was willing to stray from.
Beginning the 90-minute exchange, Clinton raised a series of economic policy points, including corporate profit-sharing, clean energy, affordable child care and tax increases for the wealthy.
Trump’s follow-up was short on policy specifics but rife with examples of what he says are jobs “fleeing the country” to go to Mexico and China. When he did bring up a policy point it was about a 20 per cent reduction of small and big business tax.
Clinton, presenting herself as both the seasoned politician and the daughter of a small business owner, responded by saying: “We … need to have a tax system that rewards work and not just financial transactions.”
The former Secretary of State then went on to deliver what may have been the most well-prepared soundbite of the evening, when she referred to her opponent’s tax policy as “trumped-up trickle-down” economics.
The statement was, of course, a reference to the colloquialism used to define Ronald Reagan’s controversial supply-side economic policy. It was based on a belief that financial incentives to the wealthy and businesses would lead to more jobs and opportunities for blue collar workers.
Ok Hillary isn't actually saying anything on race that every 14-year-old doesn't already know.
— Naheed Mustafa (@NaheedMustafa) September 27, 2016
To further drive her point home, Clinton said Trump “really believes the more you help wealthy people, the better off we’ll be.”
But it was more than a meme-worthy diss. Calling her rival’s proposed policy “trumped-up trickle-down” was another way for Clinton to show that she possesses a knowledge of political history and the implications of high-level decision making.
When Trump tried to say Clinton lacked the temperament to be president, she once again returned to her decades of experience — as a First Lady, then junior senator from New York and finally Secretary of State — to say she had the "stamina" required for the presidency.
“As soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a ceasefire, a release of dissidents, an opening of new opportunities in nations around the world or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina," Clinton said.
Trump, for his part, returned to an image he has honed since first becoming part of the national conversation in the 1980s - the successful New York businessman.
He made no effort to hide his distance, both physically and professionally, from Capitol Hill and Foggy Bottom.
In a bid to go straight for the jugular, Trump classified his Democratic rival as a “typical politician” who is “all talk, no action.”
Throughout much of the hour-and-a-half meet up, Trump used his many businesses and investments as evidence of his ability to both lead and make money, two characteristics he believes are sorely missing in the current political establishment.
He loves Charlotte where he has investments. It's terrible what's happening in Chicago, where he has property. Get him a house in Aleppo.
— Michael Weiss (@michaeldweiss) September 27, 2016
Even when moderator Lester Holt asked the Republican nominee for details about a promise to create 25 million jobs, Trump responded by saying he built a company “worth many, many billions of dollars, with some of the greatest assets in the world.”
He would return to this rhetoric several times throughout the discussion.
“I have a great company, I have tremendous income … It is about time that this country has somebody running it that knows about money.”
Though he was noticeably short on policy details, he did take several chances to attack his opponent for her track record.
“She's telling us how to fight ISIS. Just go to her website. She tells you how to fight ISIS on her website. I don't think General Douglas MacArthur would like that too much,” Trump said.
The #debatenight so far, in the worlds most powerful country:
"Go to my website"
"No, go to mine"
"My plan is bigger"
"No mine is"
— Muhammad Lila (@MuhammadLila) September 27, 2016
Clinton fired back by saying Trump’s claims that his “secret” plan to defeat DAESH may not actually exist, saying: “The only secret is he has no plan.”
There was, of course, also controversy.
For Clinton, the controversy came in the form of her highly debated use of a private email server — located in her Brooklyn home — during her four-year tenure as Secretary of State.
“You know, I made a mistake using a private e-mail … if I had to do it over again, I would, obviously, do it differently. But I'm not going to make any excuses. It was a mistake, and I take responsibility for that,” she said when questioned about the issue.
Trump, however, took a different tactic when asked about his years-long perpetuation of the false theory that President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, was not born in the United States.
Though he admitted earlier this month that Obama was indeed born in the US, Trump had spent much of the last five years propagating the claim that he was born outside the country.
Who are these great police officers who want reform, Hillary?
— Gerard Di Trolio (@GerardDiTrolio) September 27, 2016
When asked by Holt about his repeated championing of the so-called ‘Birther’ movement, Trump tried to play the entire thing up as a win for him.
“I was the one that got him to produce the birth certificate, and I think I did a good job,” Trump responded.
By the end of the 90-minute exchange, one thing had become clear, this was no longer politics as usual.
From Trump’s many interruptions — more than 20 by one count — to Clinton’s claim that her opponent criticised her “for preparing for this debate,” nothing about the highly anticipated showdown was average.
Instead, what viewers got was the unbelievable sight of a politcian and a strategist who had built her reputation in the halls of power battling a man who had mostly recently become famous for very nasty public feuds and firing people on national television. Somehow, though, it was fitting.
The United States is still enamoured with celebrity and the ability of social media to create a new breed of fame. At the same time, the unlikely success of Trump and Clinton's former rival turned supporter, Bernie Sanders, have shown the cracks within the nation's badly ageing two-party system.
"I think we need two new candidates. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both untrustworthy," Kevin Baloca, a non-partisan voter from Pleasanton, California, said after watching the debate.
There are 42 more days to look forward to. Stay tuned.
Author: Ali M Latifi