Hillary Clinton describes the moment she knew Trump was 'for real'

Like many Americans, Hillary Clinton initially treated Donald Trump's run for president as a joke.

But the former Democratic candidate remembers the exact moment she began to take Trump seriously.

"It wasn't until I saw him dominate a debate with a crowded field of talented Republican candidates — not with brilliant ideas or powerful arguments but with ugly attacks that drew gasps — that I realized he might be for real," Clinton wrote in her newly released campaign memoir "What Happened."

It was at the first Republican debate, in August 2015 in Cleveland, that Trump sought to back up the provocative, racially-charged rhetoric on which he launched his candidacy, and where he introduced himself to a national audience that largely viewed his campaign as a sideshow.

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Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump's final campaign days
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton acknowledges the crowd at a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. November 6, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Leesburg, Virginia, U.S. November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign event in Wilmington, Ohio, U.S. November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri 
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign rally in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Protest signs urging more civility in American politics flank a long row of signs supporting Republican President candidate Donald Trump in Hillsborough, North Carolina, U.S., November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake 
A child dressed up as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump waits at a campaign event in Hershey, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign event in Hershey, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri 
Jay Z and Beyonce share a kiss before Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a free campaign concert in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., November 4 , 2016. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk 
Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway speaks before Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign event in Hershey, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
A cardboard cutout of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is pictured on a the media charter plane with a countdown clock to the election while sitting on the tarmac at the airport in Tampa, Florida, U.S. November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
U.S. President Barack Obama takes the stage to deliver remarks at a Hillary for America campaign event in support of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
U.S. President Barack Obama puffs out his cheeks at a baby as he greets people in the crowd after his remarks at a Hillary for America campaign event at the Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S. November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and businessman/NBA Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban talk on her campaign plane in Moon, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
People listen as U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a Hillary for America campaign event at the Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S., November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign event in Atkinson, New Hampshire, U.S. November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Ground crew wait with a set of bunting wrapped stairs for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to attend a campaign event in Wilmington, Ohio, U.S. November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
U.S. President Barack Obama greets people before delivering remarks at a Hillary for America campaign event at the Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S., November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Supporters pose with a large effigy of U.S. Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, while waiting to attend a campaign event with U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A Donald Trump supporter disrupts remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama at a Hillary for America campaign event at the Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S., November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets audience members at a campaign rally at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder 
U.S. President Barack Obama takes the stage to deliver remarks at a Hillary for America campaign event at Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S., November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign event in Wilmington, Ohio, U.S. November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton walks through Heinz Field, home of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers, after a campaign rally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
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On stage with nine other leading GOP candidates, Trump blasted political correctness, famously squabbled with moderator Megyn Kelly, and refused to rule out an independent campaign should he not win the Republican nomination. Many of his comments drew a mixture of raucous applause and loud jeers from the audience. 

Two months earlier, Trump announced his bid for the presidency at Trump Tower in New York in a speech that cast Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers. 

"He reminded me of one of those old men ranting on about how the country was going to hell in a handbasket unless people started listening to him," Clinton recalled in her book.

"I thought it was important to call him out for his bigotry, which I did early and often," she added.

Clinton then fast-forwarded to a year and a half later, in January, as Trump was getting sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.

"Now here he was, with his hand on the Bible, promising to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution," Clinton wrote.

"The joke, it turned out, was on us."

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