Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump face off in first presidential debate

  • A sign outside of Hofstra University is reflected in a TV camera ahead of the first presidential debates in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.
  • The stage is readied for the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.
  • The stage is readied for the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.
  • A reporter wears a wire ahead of the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.
  • Mark Cuban talks to reporters at the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.
  • Rev. Jesse Jackson is seen at the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.
  • Seats are reserved for the guests of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.
  • Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence and Gov. of New Jersey Chris Christie are seen ahead of the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.
  • Rudy Giuliani is seen ahead of the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.
  • Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton answer questions during the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.
  • Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton answer questions during the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.
  • Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.
  • Moderator Lester Holt is seen at NBC’s presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.
  • Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.
  • Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks at the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.
  • Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton shake hands after the first presidential debate at Hofstra University on Sept. 26; 2016 in Hempstead, N.Y.
  • Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump answers questions from the media after the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.
  • John Podesta speaks after the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.
  • The spin room after the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.
  • Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump answers questions from the media after the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016.

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In a battle of preparation versus instinct, preparation triumphed in a major way.

For weeks, Democrats worried that a newer, more disciplined, more effective Donald Trump might emerge during their first debate and benefit from low expectations to steal a win from the more experienced Hillary Clinton.

Instead, Clinton gained the upper hand early as Trump grew defensive over personal attacks, dissembled or contradicted himself on key issues, and reopened old wounds on gender and race along the way.

He sniffed and huffed his way through the debate, calling Clinton’s treatment of him “not nice” and insisting of her attacks, “I don’t deserve that.”

Other times he was hostile, speaking over Clinton in an attempt to dominate her the way he overpowered his male rivals in the Republican primary.

But the aggression that made him the big man on the primary debate stage did not seem to help him in the more sober general election format. And instead of trying to match Trump’s force head-on, Clinton incited, dodged, and countered from the flank with the flair of a matador.

These photographs were shot on assignment by Mark Peterson for MSNBC Photography as part of his on-going body of work, Political Theatre” which looks at the landscape of the American political system, published by Steidl 2016.

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography

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