President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden met each other on the debate stage on Tuesday night in Ohio. The 74-year-old president and the 77-year-old former vice president are similar in age and share a mutual dislike. But they differ starkly in style and substances. All of that was quite evident from the outset on the Cleveland stage.
Here are some key takeaways from the first of three scheduled presidential debates before Election Day on 3rd November.
Trump’s serial Interruptions:
Trump is no stranger going on offence, but his aggressive posture on stage left his Democratic opponent fighting to complete a sentence. Trump frequently interrupted Biden mid-sentence, sometimes in intensely personal ways.
“There is nothing smart about you,” Trump said to Biden. “47 years you have done nothing.”
While Trump played into his reputation as a bully it may have been effective at breaking up the worst of Biden’s attacks simply taking over them.
Trump aides believed before the debate that Biden would be unable to withstand the withering offensive on style and substance from Trump, but Biden came with a few retorts of his own, calling Trump a “clown” and mocking Trump’s style by asking, “Will you shut up, man?”
His supporters may have been cheered by Trump’s frontal assault. Whether undecided voters, who watched the debate to try to learn about these two candidates, were impressed is another matter.
Moderator Chris Wallace was none too amused, delivering a pointed reproach to Trump for his interruptions. Wallace said, appealing to Trump to let his opponent speak “Frankly, you have been doing more interrupting.”
Trump can’t escape the virus:Debat
Trump has wanted the election to be about anything but the corona virus pandemic, but he couldn’t outrun reality on the debate stage.
Biden told the president, referring to Trump’s months of downplaying COVID-19 while he said privately he understood how deadly it is, “It is what it is because you are who you are.”
But Trump didn’t take it quietly. He proceeded to blitz Biden with a mix of self-defence and counter-offensives. 200,000 dead? Biden’s death toll would have been “millions”, Trump said. A rocky economy? Biden would have been worse. Biden wouldn’t have manufactured enough masks or ventilators.
He quoted, “There will be a vaccine very soon.” Biden fell back on his bottom line: “A lot of people died, and a lot more are going to unless he gets a lot smarter.”
For voters still undecided about who would better handle the pandemic, the exchange in the debate may not have offered them anything new.
Questions about Court, Answer About Health Care:
Trump defended his decision to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court just weeks before Election Day, saying “elections have consequences”.
Biden said he was “not opposed to the justice,” but said the “American people have a right to have a say in who the Supreme Court nominee is.”
But rather than litigate Republicans’ 2016 blocking of Merrick Garland to the high court, Biden quickly pivoted to the issues that will potentially come before the court: healthcare and abortion. It’s an effort by the Democrat to refocus the all-but-certain confirmation fight for Trump’s third justice to the Supreme Court into an assault on Trump and his records.
Biden said Barrett, who would be the sixth justice on the nine-member court to be appointed by a Republican; would endanger the Affordable Care Act and tens of millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions and would imperil legalized abortion. It was a reframing of the political debate to terms far more favourable to the Democrat, and one Trump played into.
Trump said of the conservative Barrett, “you don’t know her views in Roe VS Wade”; and he defended his efforts to try to chip away; at the popular Obama-era health law.
Trump said Biden was the politician who helped put millions of Black Americans in prison with the 1994 crime law. Biden called Trump “the racist” in the race.
Biden was quiet as Trump blitzed him as a tool of the “radical left”; and a weak figure who opposes “law and order”. He pressed Biden repeatedly to name any police union that has endorsed him. He falsely accused Biden of wanting to “defund the police”.
Biden didn’t capitalize when Trump refused to condemn armed militias, insisting: “This is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem.”
The former vice president tried to push back, but not until after Trump had made his arguments, including the misrepresentations. Biden regained some footing mocking the president’s warnings about suburbs; saying, “He wouldn’t know a suburb unless he took a wrong turn.” And perhaps revealing the thinking about allowing Trump; the rhetorical upper hand, Biden said, “All these dogs’ whistles; and racism doesn’t work anymore.”