Donald Trump has told a crowd of 7,500 that he was holding back during the first presidential debate with Hillary Clinton because he did not want to embarrass her.
He insisted that every poll showed him winning the debates but cited only internet surveys to prove this; every scientific poll taken in the aftermath of the debate showed a majority of viewers believing the Democratic nominee had won.
The Republican nominee’s unhappiness with coverage of his widely panned performance showed. Three times in the course of a rally in Florida, Trump called out “the corrupt corporate media” and gestured towards his supporters to turn towards the press pen to boo, hiss and even, in one instance, shout “go to hell”.
Trump constantly revisited different moments in the debate and told of how, before taking the stage, “I took a deep breath and pretended I was talking to my family.” He recounted what he felt were his best lines during the debate – like, “You are experienced but it’s bad experience” – and touted how he had done well on the issue of trade and exposed Clinton’s “real positions” on Nafta, which he described as “the single worst deal you’ll ever see”.
He even criticised Lester Holt, the debate moderator, whom Trump described as “the emcee”, for challenging him when he praised stop and frisk, a controversial police tactic that involved New York police officers stopping pedestrians without a warrant, asking them questions and checking them for weapons. A federal judge ruled in 2013 that the practice was unconstitutional as it disproportionately targeted African Americans and Latinos. Trump insisted: “I also explained last night stop and frisk was constitutional. The emcee argued with me, taking up the time. Law enforcement does stop and frisk every day.”
Trump also re-litigated his false claim that he had opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, asking the crowd for approval. “And does everybody believe me, I was against going into Iraq?” he asked the crowd.
In contrast, Clinton took a far more jubilant tone on Tuesday, mocking Trump’s complaints about his microphone. “Anybody who complained about the microphone is not having a good night,” she told reporters on her plane.
Though Trump supporters in Florida responded with loud cheers when asked by state party chair Blaise Ingoglia who they thought won the debate, they were far more equivocal in one-on-one interviews.
Standing outside the rally, Monty and Cat Alger, an ex-husband and ex-wife, thought Trump had room for improvement. Monty Alger thought Trump “could have done better”, but said he despised Clinton: “If it were up to me, I’d put her ass in jail.”
Cat Alger echoed a famous country music song: “Like Tammy [Wynette], stand by your man.” She supported the Republican nominee because “he tells it like it is, whether you want to hear it or not”.
Matty Hall, from Palm Bay, Florida, said she felt that “for it being [Trump’s] first debate and no experience, he did better than I thought”. However, she was disappointed by the lack of discussion of issues she thought were important in the debate like “security, keeping our border safe and work”.
Even Jeff Bellinger, from Melbourne, Florida, thought “it could have been better”. He thought that “it wasn’t [Trump]’s worst debate but it wasn’t his best”. Bellinger added that he saw “a few different times Trump could have capitalized but it didn’t make any difference to me”.
Grace Owens of Brunswick, Georgia, wearing a hat that read “deplorable” in cursive script and a T-shirt that proclaimed America First, thought neither candidate won the debate. In her analysis, Trump “needed to come out and hit her harder than he did.” She added: “He did OK but Trump can do better”.
Owens took issue at those who might take offense at her shirt. Before Trump, the slogan America First had been associated with those wanting to keep the United States out of the second world war, many of whom were sympathetic to Nazi Germany. In her opinion, “they are just looking to attack Trump. Screw them.”