Biden seen as winner of chaotic presidential debate as Trump comes out ‘too hot’
President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden clashed bitterly in a chaotic presidential debate on Tuesday with sharp, testy exchanges and name-calling as they sought to sway undecided voters just five weeks from the close of polling on November 3.
The acrimonious showdown exasperated several analysts, with several media outlets calling Biden the winner of the duel.
Trump was expected to try and dominate the first face-to-face meeting of the two nominees in Cleveland, Ohio and turn the race, but he may have ended up overplaying his hand, by repeatedly interrupting and talking over Biden, flouting debate rules agreed upon by both campaigns and arguing with the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News.
They debated issues such as the president’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, the way to deal with it going forward and on who to trust on vaccines when they become available, as well as taxes, economy, healthcare and climate change. But the 90-minute debate was overshadowed by President Trump’s unbridled aggression.
“Did you use the word smart?” Trump asked Biden at one point. “You graduated either the lowest or almost the lowest in your class. Don’t ever use the word smart with me, Joe.”
“Will you shut up, man?” an exasperated Biden said to Trump at another stage. He went on to call the president a “clown” and the “worst president America has had”. But he also took the opportunity to turn away from these exchanges to address voters by looking directly at the cameras.
Many experts and longtime observers came away frustrated at the debate, which was soon awash in descriptions such as “messy” . Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian, wrote on twitter, “Democracy was trashed tonight by a President who ran roughshod over the rules.”
Trump’s own allies seemed disturbed. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who helped the president prepare for the debate, conceded on ABC News Trump had come out “too hot”. Former Republican senator Rick Santorum said on CNN, “Donald Trump’s personality ran wild tonight.”
In one of the exchanges in the segment on racism, President Trump ended up with the night’s most controversial remarks. “Proud Boys — Stand back, stand by,” he said, referring to a right-wing extremist group, when repeatedly pressed by the moderator if he will condemn white supremacists. President Trump has been accused of dog-whistling support for white supremacists by refusing to condemn then.
Trump claimed he had paid millions in taxes when asked if he had parted with only $750 for each of his first two years in office, as reported by The New York Times. But he refused to go into specifics.
As expected, the president levelled unfounded corruption allegations against Hunter Biden, the former vice-president’s younger son, and repeated them when Biden was talking about his elder son, Beau Biden, a veteran who died of brain cancer.
In one of the most poignant moments of the debate, Biden said his younger son was a recovering drug addict and he was proud of him.
Though most experts shook their heads and declared American people the loser in the tumultuous debate, some polls done immediately after it had a clear winner and a loser. Biden beat Trump 60%-28% in CNN’s poll of those who watched the debate, and by 48%-41% in a CBS News poll.
The 90-minute debate was held at Cleveland Clinic under strict social distancing guidelines. Only about 80 people were allowed in the audience, mostly family members of the two nominees, campaign staff, hosts, health and security officials and journalists.
The former vice-president leads the president in all major polls, just five weeks from the end of polling on November 3 (early polling in person and by mail is under way in many states) Biden is ahead of Trump by 7.1 points in the FiveThirtyEight weighted average of national polls — 50.2% to 43.1%; and by 6.1% in the RealClearPolitics national average of polls — 49.3% to 43.2%.
Trump needed to do something dramatic to turn the race around, start rolling back Biden’s lead which has held steadfastly for weeks defying the president’s attempts to weaken the former vice-president by questioning his mental acuity, age and qualification for the job using a range of nicknames.
The two candidates will meet next in two weeks, on October 15, for the second debate in Salt Lake City, Utah. There was some talk of canceling the next two after the chaotic debate in Cleveland, but the Biden campaign said they were on.