ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton spent Tuesday exchanging barbs over Trump’s business career, perhaps their most direct clash yet and a certain sign of things to come as the two turn towards an already fierce general election fight.
The Clinton campaign launched a broadside against Trump focused on his comments throughout the early 2000s talking about his plans to profit from the housing market crash, seeking to frame them as evidence of a “pattern of Trump seeking to cash in at the expense of families,” as one Clinton aide put it.
But Trump didn’t back down from his past statements and indeed fired back in a statement to NBC News, declaring that it was precisely that business mindset — his ability to “get a good result out of a very bad and sad situation” — that made him better-suited to the presidency than a politician.
It was an early preview of how a major theme of the coming general election campaign will play out — the debate over which candidate will be better for the economy and jobs.
An NBC News/WSJ poll out this week gave Trump an 11-percentage-point edge over Clinton when voters were asked who would better handle the economy, and he had a 2-to-1 advantage over Clinton on dealing with Wall Street.
So the Clinton campaign is getting out early, seeking to undercut that advantage by painting Trump as a greedy businessman who used questionable business practices for his own gain.
On Tuesday, Clinton herself targeted the Republican on the stump pointing to his 2006 remarks that “I sort of hope” the housing bubble burst because “you could make a lot of money.”
“He actually said he was hoping for the crash that caused hard working families in California and across America to lose their homes. All because he thought he could take advantage of it to make some money for himself,” Clinton said at a rally in Commerce, Calif.
She went on to declare that “you and I together, we’re not gonna let him bankrupt America.”
Her message was bolstered by a web ad featuring those 2006 remarks and an army of surrogates dispatched across eight swing states to drive the point home.
And that salvo followed days of negative press focused on Trump’s previous comments on the housing market crash, including an NBC News report highlighting his 2007 statement that he was “excited” for the housing market crash because “I’ve always made more money in bad markets than in good markets.”
But in a statement issued Tuesday, Trump defended his comments and said as a businessman he’d find the good in bad situations, something politicians “have no idea” how to do.
“I am a businessman and I have made a lot of money in down markets, in some cases as much as I’ve made when markets are good. Frankly, this is the kind of thinking our country needs - understanding how to get a good result out of a very bad and sad situation,” Trump said in the statement.
“Politicians have no idea how to do this - they don’t have a clue.”
Trump went on to pledge to “create jobs, bring back companies” and make it tough for companies to leave — and “if they do, they will fully understand that there will be consequences.”
“Our jobs market will flourish,” Trump promised.
The debate over who is better-equipped to handle the economy is sure to focus heavily on the candidates’ past experiences as much as their visions for the future, as both Clinton and Trump have an economic record to answer for: Clinton, as the wife of former President Bill Clinton, and Trump, as a real-estate mogul and one of the world’s best-known businessmen.
Democrats hope to raise questions about Trump’s business practices and intentions in order to undercut any advantage he may have among Americans on that issue.
On Monday night Clinton declared at a convention of union-members that Trump “could bankrupt America like he’s bankrupted his companies.”
But Trump’s comments suggest he won’t be backing down from even the controversial aspects of his business career, and indeed will continue to make that career — which has long been a centerpiece of his outsider appeal — a key selling point to Americans as he looks towards the White House.
This article first appeared on NBCNews.com.