The debate was unreal.
In a campaign season littered with falsehoods, Sunday night’s debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton marked the moment when the tether between rhetoric and reality snapped. From their policies and personal stories, to their foibles and basic facts about the nation, the candidates spent the majority of the debate trying to put the other on the defensive – regardless of the facts at hand.
Much of this falls on Trump, who combined the familiar falsehoods of his fact-challenged stump speech with a new set of unsubstantiated charges about Clinton’s past treatment of other women. And on the biggest question of the night — how Trump would answer for leaked audio in which he described his technique for making unwanted sexual advances on women — Trump largely got away without answering at all.
Asked about the 2005 tape, Trump repeatedly dismissed it as “locker room talk” by which he was “embarrassed” and for which he had “apologized.” And in the end, he largely dismissed it, saying: "Frankly, you hear these things."
Pressed repeatedly by moderator Anderson Cooper on whether he had ever actually done the things he described, things which, if carried out, could amount to unwanted advances or sexual assaults, Trump said he had done none of them.
But mostly, when asked about his comments, Trump talked ISIS, or trade policy, or the crimes of others and the need to respond with law and order. And he never had to reconcile his claim that he’s second to “nobody” when it comes to respecting women, even though he bragged to Billy Bush in 2005 that he could “grab'em by the pussy.”
Other of Trump’s dodges were more shameless. Asked about a still-public tweet in which he encouraged people to check out a sex tape, Trump said he had done something else entirely. Pressed on his role in spreading the birther conspiracy about President Barack Obama, Trump brushed aside a multi-year campaign of demanding the first black president’s birth certificate and then questioning its legitimacy. Instead, he again accused Clinton, falsely, of having started it herself.
Clinton, however, was not without her own transgressions. Less frequent and smaller in magnitude though they were, the Democratic nominee overstated some of her claims. Just days after Trump put out a video apologizing for his comments on the tape, Clinton said he “never apologizes to anyone for anything.”
And Clinton’s Achilles' heel throughout the 2016 campaign, her use of a private email server that bypassed normal government security measures, haunted her again Tuesday night. When Trump attacked her use of the email system, Clinton first apologized, before professing a deep dedication to protecting state secrets. "I take classified materials very seriously and always have,” she told viewers.
Clinton’s personal feelings about classified information are known only to her, but her self-assessment is starkly at odds with FBI Director James Comey, who famously called the handling of the classified material as “extremely careless.”
And that, for both Trump and Clinton, was only in the debate’s opening exchanges. And in the hour-plus that followed, the pile of falsehoods burying the truth only grew deeper. Here are the more significant transgressions.
1. “[Trump] never apologizes for anything to anyone.” — Clinton
Early on Saturday morning, after the publication of a 2005 tape where he’s heard making vulgar sexual comments about women, At one point , recounting that her client passed a polygraph test, Clinton chuckles while saying that it “forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs.”
3. "You owe the president an apology because as you know very well, your campaign [via] Sidney Blumenthal ... got this started with your campaign manager and they were on television two weeks ago saying exactly that.” — Trump
Trump has said this before, but it isn’t true: Hillary Clinton did not start the birther smear. In fact, the erroneous claim that Obama was not born in the United States first appeared in 2004, four years before Clinton ran against Obama for the Democratic nomination. POLITICO mapped the origins of the smear here, tracing it to Illinois politician Andy Martin’s attempts to cast then-Senate candidate Barack Obama as a closet Muslim.
There is no publicly known evidence, and Trump has never produced any evidence, that Clinton herself trafficked in the birther theory. Blumenthal’s name didn’t come out of nowhere: Former McClatchy Washington bureau chief James Asher said earlier this fall that Blumenthal, who was a Clinton surrogate in 2008, urged him to “investigate the exact place of President Obama’s birth, which he suggested was in Kenya.” Asher added that a reporter who traveled to Kenya “determined that the allegation was false."
4. “It has not been debunked. I was against the war in Iraq.” — Trump
Trump never publicly opposed the Iraq War before the 2003 invasion, and even offered lukewarm support for it in a September 2002 appearance on Howard Stern’s radio show. Trump only expressed opposition in an August 2004 interview with Esquire magazine some 15 months after the invasion, by which time, public support for the war was dropping precipitously.
5. “She is raising everybody's taxes massively.” – Trump
Hillary Clinton has promised not to raise taxes on Americans earning less than $250,000. She has also proposed a series of measures that increase taxes—but only on the rich. In fact, one score of her plan from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found that most Americans would receive a tax cut under her plan.
6. "They saw the bombs all over the apartment of the people that wounded many, many people. They will never be the same. Muslims have to report the problems when they see them.” — Trump
BuzzFeed debunked this claim about the neighbors of the San Bernardino shooters. The false allegation rocketed around conservative media based on a local-news interview with someone who said he heard it secondhand. The man only mentioned packages, never bombs or objects on the floor. In a separate local news interview, a second unnamed man said that he noticed unspecified “unusual activity.” There is no evidence that anyone saw bombs in the apartment.
7. “We have no growth in this country,” – Trump
The economy grew at an annualized rate of 1.4 percent in the second quarter of this year, and 2.4 percent during 2015.
8. “A lot has to do with the fact that our taxes are so high. About the highest in the world.” — Trump
While the U.S. corporate tax rate is one of the highest in the world, that’s not the case for U.S. taxes overall. Americans don’t pay that much in taxes relative to the total size of the economy. According to the OECD, U.S. tax revenue as a percentage of GDP in 2014 was 26 percent, one of the lowest rates among developed countries. The average among OECD countries was 34.4 percent, with Denmark collecting the most in taxes—a whopping 50.9 percent of GDP. U.S. taxes are nowhere near that.
9. “We have the slowest growth since 1929.” – Trump
Given that the economy is growing, this is completely false. The economy grew at an annualized rate of 1.4 percent in the second quarter and 2.4 percent last year. In comparison, the economy shrank by nearly 3 percent in 2009 during the financial crisis.
10. “But she wants to go to single payer, which means the government basically rules everything. Hillary Clinton has been after this for years.” — Trump
It has been widely documented that Clinton isn’t a champion for single-payer health care, a government-run system which was embraced by her more liberal Democratic primary opponent, Bernie Sanders. Instead of single-payer, Clinton supports the “public option,” where a government plan competes with private health insurance companies already in the market.
11. “Look at what she did in Libya with Qaddafi. Qaddafi is out. It's a mess. And by the way, ISIS has a good chunk of their oil.” – Trump
The Islamic State has taken control of oil fields in Syria and Iraq, but has not done so in Libya. After the fall of Qaddafi in 2011, oil production in Libya cratered from more than 1 million barrels per day to around 200,000 barrels per day. Recently, Libya has begun to increase production out of an oil terminal in Zuwetina. But that oil is under the control of a Libyan militia, not the Islamic State.
12. "It’s Iran who she made strong and Kerry and Obama made into a powerful nation and a very rich nation, very quickly, very, very quickly,” – Trump
While the nuclear agreement with Iran did free up to $150 billion in frozen funds and eliminated some sanctions, allowing Tehran greater access to global capital markets, those measures are not enough to make Iran a rich nation. According to the World Bank, Iran’s GDP per capita was just $5,500 in 2014, similar to that of Namibia, Angola and Jamaica. In comparison, U.S. GDP per capita was more than $50,000 that year. The nuclear deal did not suddenly make Iran rich.
13. “ICE just endorsed me.” — Trump
No, Donald Trump was not endorsed by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. He was endorsed in September by a union of ICE employees, but that’s not the same as an entire federal agency backing a candidate.
Trump's misleading claims
1. “Russia is killing ISIS and Iran is killing ISIS and they have lined up because of weak foreign policy.” – Trump
“Russia hasn't paid any attention to ISIS. They are interested in keeping Assad in power.” – Clinton
ISIS members have likely died due to Russian air strikes, but there is no evidence to support the claim that Russia’s air campaign in Syria is intended to attack the group as a whole. According to multiple public sources, only a small percentage of Russian air strikes have struck the terrorist group. The vast majority have been against armed groups trying to topple Bashar Assad. The Institute for the Study of War, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, has compiled dozens of maps — updated in June — that “show the world that Russia's claims of striking 'terrorists' were clearly not accurate as they repeatedly attacked mainstream opposition groups, particularly those working with the West.”
2. “[Clinton] and Obama whether you like it or not, the way they got out of Iraq, the vacuum they left, that's why ISIS formed in the first place. [ISIS] started from the little area and now they are in 32 different nations. Congratulations. Great job.” — Trump
The Islamic State has attracted sympathizers across the globe, mostly through social media. But a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service in late June concluded that in addition to Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State only has “affiliates in several other countries,” citing armed groups in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Yemen that have sworn allegiance to the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.
3. “These are radical Islamic terrorists and [Hillary Clinton] won't even mention the word.” — Trump
In an interview on NBC in June, Hillary Clinton broke with President Obama by using the term “radical Islamism.” She said, "And to me, radical jihadism, radical Islamism, I think they mean the same thing. I'm happy to say either, but that's not the point."
4. “Last year, we had an almost $800 billion trade deficit” — Trump
Trump is referring here to the U.S. trade deficit in goods. But the U.S. also imports and exports services. Combined, the U.S. trade deficit was $500 billion in 2015.
5. “[Obamacare is] very bad, very bad health insurance, far too expensive, and not only expensive for the person that has it, unbelievably expensive for our country. It’s going to be one of the biggest line items very shortly.” -- Trump, referring to Obamacare
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected that the parts of Obamacare that expand health coverage will cost the federal government more than $1 trillion over the next decade. But that’s not the whole story because other pieces of the law offset the costs of insuring people. CBO has estimated that repealing the health law would actually be more costly to the federal government than keeping it. Scrapping the law would add $137 billion to the deficit over 10 years.
6. “I’ll have more than $100 million invested [in my campaign]. [I’m] Pretty much self-funding mine.” — Trump
That’s wrong. As FEC filings show, self-funding accounts for a mere 33 percent of Trump’s overall campaign funds. Further, his campaign has spent at least $8.2 million with Trump-owned companies, as a September 22 piece published by POLITICO revealed.
Ben Oreskes, Zachary Warmbrodt, Josh Gerstein, Alex Byers, Ian Kullgren and Zack Stanton contributed to this report.