Comparing what Donald Trump said at the first presidential debate vs. what he’s said previously

Steadfast or stubborn?
Steadfast or stubborn?
Image: Reuters/Lucas Jackson
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Donald Trump is hardly known for being a man of his word.

The Republican nominee has flip-flopped on a number of major issues since he started his presidential campaign in June last year. He’s gone from being pro-choice to pro-life, proposed universal healthcare and then backtracked on it, and gone back and forth on whether or not minimum wage should be raised.

In July last year, Trump called Democratic contender Hillary Clinton “the worst secretary of state in the history of the United States.” In past years, he has praised her as being “above and beyond everybody else” in the role.  In fact, Trump has favored his opponent and gone as far as saying that “the economy does better under the Democrats than the Republicans” to CNN in 2004.

Monday night’s (Sept. 26) debate didn’t have Trump walking back any of his past comments; in true Trump form, he just ignored them and made new ones. Some of them were in line with his prior statements, while others could be seen as reversals or triangulations. Here’s a list of statements Trump has made in the past, contrasted with the way he addressed the issues in the first presidential debate:

Illegal immigration

Nov. 2015 Primary Debate: ”Frankly we have to stop illegal immigration. It’s hurting us economically it’s hurting us from every standpoint. Its causing tremendous difficulty with respect to drugs and what that does to many of our inner cities in particular. We are a country of laws we need borders we will have a wall.  The wall will be built. the wall will be successful and if you think walls don’t work, all you have to do is ask Israel. The wall works. Believe me. Properly done, believe me.”

Sept. 2016 Presidential Debate: “We have gangs roaming the street. And in many cases, they’re illegally here, illegal immigrants. And they have guns. And they shoot people. And we have to be very strong. And we have to be very vigilant.”

Gun laws

Jan. 2016 Primary Debate: “I am a Second Amendment person. If we had guns in California on the other side where the bullets went in the different direction, you wouldn’t have 14 or 15 people dead right now. If even in Paris, if they had guns on the other side, going in the opposite direction, you wouldn’t have 130 people plus dead.”

Sept. 2016 Presidential Debate: “I have the endorsement of the NRA, which I’m very proud of. These are very, very good people, and they’re protecting the Second Amendment. But I think we have to look very strongly at no-fly lists and watch lists. And when people are on there, even if they shouldn’t be on there, we’ll help them, we’ll help them legally, we’ll help them get off. But I tend to agree with that quite strongly…And when it comes to stop-and-frisk, you know, you’re talking about takes guns away. Well, I’m talking about taking guns away from gangs and people that use them.”


May 2016 interview with CNBC: “We’re lowering taxes very substantially and we’re going to be getting rid of a tremendous amount of regulations.”

Sept. 2016 Presidential Debate: “Under my plan, I’ll be reducing taxes tremendously, from 35% to 15% for companies, small and big businesses. That’s going to be a job creator like we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan. It’s going to be a beautiful thing to watch.”

On his tax returns

Feb. 2015 interview with Hugh Hewitt: ”I would release tax returns and I would also explain to people that as a person that’s looking to make money, I’m in the business of making money…and if I won, I’d make money for our country.”

Sept. 2016 Presidential Debate: “I will release my tax returns, against my lawyers wishes, when she releases her 33,000 emails that have been deleted.”


Jan. 2016 Primary Debate: “And I was always against going into Iraq….I said very meekly, long before we went in, I said very meekly, well, maybe, maybe, I don’t know. By the time it got to that point, I was always against Iraq.”

Sept. 2016 Presidential Debate: ”President Obama and Secretary Clinton created a vacuum the way they got out of Iraq, because they got out what they shouldn’t have been in. But once they got in, the way they got out was a disaster, and ISIS was formed. It wouldn’t have formed if they left 10,000 or more troops behind. Or as I’ve been saying for a long time, and I think you’ll agree because I said it to you once. Had we taken the oil – and we should have taken the oil–ISIS would not have been able to form either because the oil was their primary source of income. And now they have the oil all over the place including the oil, a lot of the oil in Libya, which was another one of her disasters.”


Jan. 2016 Primary Debate: “Let me just tell you, first of all, I’ve been hearing this man so long talking about Putin. Putin said about me–I didn’t say about Putin–Putin said very nice things about me. And I say very nicely, wouldn’t it be nice if actually we could get along with Russia, we could get along with foreign countries, instead of spending trillions and trillions of dollars”

Sept. 2016 Presidential Debate: “I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She’s saying ‘Russia, Russia, Russia’. But I don’t–maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, okay. You don’t know who broke into DNC.”

Global warming

Nov. 2012: 

Sept. 2016 Presidential Debate: “I did not, I do not say that. I do not say that.”

Trade deals

Mar. 2016 Primary Debate: ”Every country we lose money with. As far as I’m concerned, we’ve got to reduce–we have to redo our trade deals 100%. I have the greatest business people in the world lined up to do it. Specifically and quickly on the question, will you promise that you will — and how soon will you move your clothing collection, the clothes that are made in China and Mexico?”

Sept. 2016 Presidential Debate: “You look at what China is doing to our country in terms of making our product. They’re devaluing their currency and there’s nobody in our government to fight them.”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership

Nov. 2015 Primary Debate: ”The TPP is a horrible deal, it is a deal that is going to lead to nothing but trouble. Its’ a deal that was designed for China to come in as they always do through the backdoor and totally take advantage of everyone. Its 5,600 pages long. So complex that no one’s read it.”

Sept. 2016 Presidential Debate: “And now you want to approve Trans-Pacific Partnership. You were totally in favor of it. Then you heard what I was saying, how bad it is, and you said, I can’t win that debate. But you know that if you did win, you would approve that, and that will be almost as bad as NAFTA. Nothing will ever top NAFTA.”