Live Blog: The First Clinton-Trump Presidential Debate

By Mark Joyella 

And here we are. Tonight, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump finally get a chance to stare each other down, take their best shot, and try and take the momentum in–according to several polls today–an exceptionally tight race.

If you’re not sure where to watch, we’ve got it all laid out for you. If you’d like a personal recommendation of where to watch, the only one we’ve seen comes from Patton Oswalt, who tweeted “if you can, watch tonight’s debate on your PBS affiliate. Don’t wanna give ratings to the cable and broadcast networks who’ve enabled Trump.”

We’ll just put aside the concept of how Nielsen ratings work, and get on with the show–though there’s this from PBS NewsHour co-anchor Gwen Ifill:


And so it goes. Speaking of how it goes–look, it’s been a long campaign and our segues are rusty–audience members GOING INTO the debate hall at Hofstra University have noticed their tickets have Secretary Clinton’s first name misspelled as “Hilary,” which is short an “l.”

Journalists, meanwhile, are fired up and ready for the big face-off. Check out CBS’ Bob Schieffer, who was having NONE of a Trump surrogate’s arguments on CBSN just a short while ago:

8:37 p.m.: REVERSED COLORS. On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow notes that Hillary Clinton has arrived wearing red, while Trump is wearing blue. “That’s just to scramble with our partisan expectations,” Maddow said. “Already they’re messing with us.”

8:44 p.m.: IT’S HAPPY HOUR. A quick glance at social media confirms many viewers are approaching this as a political Super Bowl: with snacks, groups gathered around the TV, and plenty of booze. What’s happening where you are? Let us know in comments. [Here in the TVNewser Live Blog Bunker (the location is strictly undisclosed) we have pizza and beer. We’re not original, but we’re happy)]

8:53 p.m.: TRIGGER WARNING. Seen at the debate location on the campus of Hofstra University:

8:56 p.m.: HERE’S HOLT. Taking the stage and briefly addressing the audience, Lester Holt noted that every seat was filled, and the expectations are for a historic viewing audience. “That thud you heard was my knees buckling backstage as you heard an audience of maybe 100 million.”

Holt has taken his seat and the debate is about to begin.

9:00 p.m. ET: SILENCE The drama comes to a point as we all wait for it to begin.

9:03 p.m. ET: AND, IT’S ON.

9:14 p.m. ET: SNIFFLES. Trump is speaking, and sniffing. Or sniffling, depending on who’s talking:

9:30 p.m. ET: IS HOLT HOLDING BACK? Viewers are debating whether Lester Holt is sitting back and missing chances to reign in an out-of-control debate, or not:

9:40 p.m. ET: WHO WON THE TAX FIGHT? Pollster Frank Luntz says even Trump leaners were unswayed by Trump’s response to Clinton’s attack on Trump taxes.

10:30 p.m. ET: DID HOLT DO ENOUGH? NBC has released a clip of Lester Holt fact-checking Trump on his support of the Iraq War, but many are questioning his decision not to let step in more often. Did Holt do enough? How will his performance be evaluated?

10:39 p.m. ET: NOW, THE ANALYSIS. On CNN, Jake Tapper says Trump “took the bait every time. He went into the weeds. He was talking about private conversations he had with a cable news host on another channel.”

On MSNBC, Chris Matthews was blunt. “Hillary won big time. It was a shut out.”

On Fox News, Trump told Sean Hannity, “You know, I used your name today,” referring to conversations he mentioned in the debate where Trump says he argued forcefully against the war in Iraq.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said the split-screen showed Trump’s behavior to be “bizarre.” That’s a person, she says, “you would ask if they’re on their medication.”

11:00 p.m. ET: THE HOLT VERDICT. From John Donvan, an observation that may play into tomorrow’s discussion of how Lester Holt did tonight: