President Trump and 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden sniped and snarled repeatedly during their first debate, a meeting that was supposed to offer voters a clear contrast in policy and temperament but more often provided a stage for the two candidates to vent personal grievances.
The 90-minute, commercial-free debate, moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, was supposed to be organized around six central topics: the candidates’ records, the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, race and civil unrest, and election integrity. But that neat, tidy structure was tested as the opponents niggled one another and leveled personal attacks, including Trump targeting Biden’s family and Biden going after the president’s finances.
A sober discussion of serious public policy topics was largely derailed by snide remarks and retorts between the two White House rivals.
“Will you shut up, man?” Biden asked Trump at one point during crosstalk. “That was really a productive segment, wasn’t it?”
At another moment, Trump mocked the two-term vice president’s intelligence.
“Last in your class, not first in your class,” Trump said of Biden’s academic credentials.
Biden, who originally promised to fact-check Trump and was warned by staff to keep his “Irish” in check, appeared visibly rankled in spots and bemused at others.
“I’m not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he’s a liar,” Biden said.
But about midway through the debate Biden added, exasperated, “You’re the worst president we’ve ever had.”
A key point came when Trump broached Hunter Biden’s appointment to Ukrainian gas company Burisma, and his business dealings in China and Russia, transactions pivotal to the president’s impeachment.
“My son did nothing wrong,” Biden said.
The first question focused on the forthcoming Supreme Court fight, and the pending case questioning the constitutionality of Obamacare. Trump claimed the Democratic Party was plotting to eliminate private health insurance coverage and introduce “socialized medicine” plans akin to that offered by Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts during the primary.
“I am the Democratic Party right now. The platform of the Democratic Party is what I, in fact approve of, what I approved of,” Biden said, inquiring whether Trump had a healthcare replacement proposal yet.
Defending his push to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Judge Amy Coney Barret before the election, Trump replied: “You just lost the Left.”
Trump repeated the line about Biden being controlled by the Left during the racial injustice and law and order portion of the debate.
Of the COVID-19 outbreak, Biden criticized Trump for not having a public health or economic plan. But the president touted his work on travel restrictions, personal protective equipment and ventilator procurement, vaccine development, as well as the economy’s faster than expected recovery.
“This is the same man who told you by Easter this would be gone away, by the warm weather, it’d be gone, miraculously,” he said, quibbling with Trump over mask wearing. “And by the way, maybe you can inject some bleach into your arm.”
“You would have lost far more people,” Trump snapped, citing the Obama administration’s response to swine flu and saying Biden was hosting smaller campaign events because nobody would “show up.”
As the election stands, Biden has an average national lead of mid-single digits. But both campaigns played the expectations game heading into the highly anticipated match-up.
After months of insinuating Biden was senile before peddling unfounded claims he was on performance enhancing drugs, Trump tried to raise expectations by pointing to Biden’s debating record established over a half-century in politics. But he quickly returned to his “Sleepy Joe” quips.
The competing campaigns then squabbled Tuesday over allegations the Biden camp wanted two breaks during the program and refused to consent to a third-party inspection to ensure he wasn’t wearing an earpiece. The Biden team accused Trump of pressuring Wallace not to raise how more than 206,000 Americans have succumbed to COVID-19.
With five weeks until Election Day, the debate was convened after officials in many states have begun accepting early in-person and mailed-in absentee ballots. Though millions of people were expected to tune in, a startingly number of voters have told pollsters in recent months they know for whom they would cast a ballot if they made the effort.
Trump’s task Tuesday was to excite his base, while Biden needed to embody empathy as people around the country grapple with virus-related hardship and define his relationship regarding the ascendant Democratic Left. He also needed to persuade his broader coalition he can physically and mentally handle the rigors of the office, echoing the 1980 race between President Jimmy Carter and then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. Both men are in their 70s, but Biden would be the oldest president ever, if sworn in next Inauguration Day after he turns 78 in November.
Like other traditions during the pandemic, the debate departed from precedent. There were no handshakes, and those in the room were capped to a handful of aides, guests, audience members, reporters, and TV crews.
Original Author: Naomi Lim