WASHINGTON: Donald Trump has promised sharper, more personal attacks on Hillary Clinton in future debates, claiming he held back to spare her feelings and admitting, "she did well".
Mr Trump warned at one point during the combative first presidential debate that he had been prepared to say something "extremely rough to Hillary, to her family," but chose not to.
The Republican nominee appeared to reconsider yesterday (Wednesday), confirming that the attack he had prepared was about Bill Clinton's history of sex scandals and implying he would not show such "presidential restraint", to quote his campaign manager, in the future.
"I was going to hit her with her husband's women and I decided I shouldn't do it because her daughter was in the room," he told Fox News.
Mrs Clinton deployed a series of well-rehearsed attack lines which seemed to leave Mr Trump off balance. However, he claimed victory yesterday, but then made excuses for a performance that was widely derided in the media and got mixed reviews from the record 80 million people at home.
He claimed his microphone had been defective, and hinted at sabotage. His campaign also questioned why moderator Lester Holt had not raised issues such as the controversy surrounding the Clinton Foundation. Mrs Clinton's retort was biting: "Anybody who complains about the microphone is not having a good night."
Miss Universe a 'Miss Piggy'
Mr Trump's decision not to use the "rough" attack came after a striking exchange in which Mrs Clinton denounced him for apparently calling Alicia Machado, a former winner of his Miss Universe pageant, Miss Piggy.
Mrs Clinton said Miss Machado, a model from Venezuela, had recently become a US citizen and "you can bet she's going to vote in November". Mr Trump was taken aback, asking three times: "Where did you find this?"
He refused to back down yesterday, saying: "She was the winner and she gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem for us."
Trump on trade
Perhaps Mr Trump's strongest showing in the debate came in the first 15 minutes, when he attacked Mrs Clinton on trade issues. He told viewers companies like Ford were "all leaving" America, taking with them many thousands of jobs, and blamed the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, signed by Bill Clinton, which slashed taxes on goods traded between the US, Mexico and Canada.
The property mogul also labelled Mrs Clinton a "typical politician" for offering an economic platform that "sounds good, doesn't work".
One of Mr Trump's weaker moments came when he was asked to explain why he had questioned President Barack Obama's citizenship even after the president released his birth certificate in 2011. Mr Trump claimed he had done the US a "great service" by forcing Mr Obama to release the birth certificate and said he had "nothing" to say to black people who had been offended.
Mrs Clinton claimed Mr Trump had refused to rent apartments to black people in the 1970s, decades before spreading a "racist lie" about Mr Obama.
"Smart" not to pay taxes
Mrs Clinton attacked Mr Trump repeatedly over his taxes, claiming that he is hiding something by not disclosing his tax returns.
As the former secretary of state excoriated him over the fact that the few tax documents available showed he had paid no federal income tax for a time, Mr Trump interjected "that makes me smart".
He took a similar tack when Mrs Clinton surmised that he had not paid any income tax for many years, saying that his tax contribution would only be "squandered". Mr Trump offered to turn over his tax returns - but only if Mrs Clinton disclosed the 30,000 emails she deleted from her private server.
A question of temperament
The debate was framed by the Clinton campaign as a test of temperament and judgment. Mr Trump had vowed to "stay cool" but as the debate progressed his answers became increasingly erratic, he appeared irritated, repeatedly interrupted his opponent, and rolled his eyes.
At one point he said: "I have much better judgment than she does. I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament. I have a winning temperament," sparking laughter in the audience. Mrs Clinton retorted: "A man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his fingers anywhere near the nuclear codes."
Mr Trump criticised Mrs Clinton for eliminating the element of surprise by making public her plans to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. "She tells you how to fight Isis (Isil) on her website," he said. "I don't think General Douglas MacArthur would like that too much." Mrs Clinton countered: "At least I have a plan to fight Isis."
The debate concluded with Mr Trump and Mrs Clinton pledging to respect the results of the election. It is a sign of just how contentious this election has become that such a pledge is even necessary.