Insults. Interruptions. Sniffling. An unruly crowd.
Here are five takeaways from the historic clash.
Clinton came prepared
The Democratic nominee spent weeks preparing for the first presidential debate of the cycle, poring over briefing books and holding mock debates with a close set of aides, including Philippe Reines, her longtime spokesman and senior adviser.
Trump, known for his spontaneity and trusting his instincts, took a different approach, reportedly preferring to study film of Clinton’s past debates.
Clinton’s preparations appeared to pay off. She was measured, if a little too rehearsed, had a better command of the stage and seemed able to get under Trump’s skin in the right moments.
In one moment, Trump attempted to ridicule Clinton for staying home in the days leading up to the debate to prepare.
Clinton, ever the student and note-taker, pushed back: “You criticize me for preparing for this debate,” she said. “And yes, I did. Do you know what else I prepared for? I also prepared to be president.”
Trade knocked Clinton off her game
The first 30 minutes of the debate count the most, and Trump put Clinton on the defensive very quickly when he talked about trade.
During one of the first fiery debate exchanges, the GOP nominee sought to pin down Clinton on support for trade deals and even brought up her husband, former President Bill Clinton, when attacking the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
“Your husband signed NAFTA, which is one of the worst things that happened to the manufacturing industry,” he said.
“Well, that’s your opinion. That is your opinion,” Clinton replied.
The attack put Clinton in the awkward position of defending her husband and, by extension, a trade deal that is unpopular in swaths of the Rust Belt. She said Bill Clinton “did a pretty good job” with trade deals.
“I think a lot about what worked and how we can make it work again,” she said.
Trump later name-checked swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, saying NAFTA led to “devastation where manufacturing is down 30, 40, sometimes50 percent. NAFTA is the worst trade deal maybe ever.”
Later, the former secretary of State added what appeared to be rehearsed line: “Donald, you may live in your own reality but that is not the facts.”
Trump pressed on, hitting Clinton for first supporting President Obama’s Pacific Rim trade deal. He said she only backed away, after calling it the “gold standard”, once she realized it was a winning issue for him.
The exchange fell firmly into Trump’s wheelhouse and could help him as he seeks to overtake Clinton in traditionally blue states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania in the final stretch of the campaign.
Birtherism will haunt Trump
Trump reignited the “birther” controversy of his own accord by recently declaring he now accepts that President Obama is an American citizen.
Debate moderator Lester Holt pressed Trump on why he came to that conclusion now, after questioning Obama’s birthplace as recently as last year. The businessman tried to pivot the discussion to Clinton, arguing her campaign aides started the controversy.
Clinton hammered Trump for the “racist birther lie” that she said was “hurtful” to Obama and the millions of African-Americans who had been elevated by his historic presidency.
The pundits mostly agreed Trump came off poorly in the exchange, which means it has the potential to be a vulnerability all the way to Election Day.
Trump’s closing argument is change
The most unconventional presidential nominee of modern times is betting on being the candidate of change.
On issue after issue at Monday’s debate, Trump flipped policy questions into an indictment on Clinton and her “political hacks” bringing more of the same.
On trade, Trump warned that Clinton would sign the same bad deals that he said had destroyed the working class.
On race, he declared that the inner cities had become war zones under Democratic control over the last 100 years.
On terror, Trump said Clinton created ISIS and had spent the last decade fruitlessly struggling to contain it.
“You’ve been doing this for 30 years, why are you just thinking of these solutions now?” an exasperated Trump said in the middle of his attack against Clinton on trade.
The presidential race is a toss-up and many Americans are indeed considering Trump’s change argument.
Clinton, meanwhile, sought to press the argument that the reality star is too erratic to bring about the kind of change the country needs.
“A man who can be baited by a tweet shouldn’t have his fingers anywhere near the nuclear codes,” she said.
They’re just getting warmed up
Conventional wisdom says the first debate should be the most important, but Trump and Clinton gave every indication the follow-ups — an Oct. 9 tilt in St. Louis and an Oct. 19 showdown in Las Vegas — could be where the real action is.
The candidates landed a few punches on Monday night, from Trump’s opening salvo on trade to Clinton’s condemnation of her opponent’s “birtherism,” but there didn’t appear to be any knockout blows.
Clinton was especially cautious, allowing Trump to rant and, in some cases, harm himself with long-winded responses. Trump was more aggressive, but most of his energy was spent furiously defending himself and interrupting Clinton and Holt.
If the race continues to be as close as polls released on Monday indicate, the candidates will only become more fierce and aggressive.
Trump is already indicating he’ll bring out the heavy artillery for the next battle.
Speaking on CNN following the debate, Trump was asked about Bill Clinton’s past marital “indiscretions.”
“I’ll tell you, maybe at the next debate.”