The first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden quickly morphed into a messy wrestling match in Cleveland, as the President repeatedly interrupted Biden from the start, and the former Vice President returned the favor, presenting Americans with a less than presidential debate.
From the first question, President Trump made clear his game plan, as he repeatedly injected himself into the middle of Biden’s answers, as the President sparred with both Biden and the moderator, as Chris Wallace of Fox News at one point laid the blame on Mr. Trump.
Here are some of the high points from this first debate:
1. Trump tries to keep Biden off balance. From the start, President Trump repeatedly badgered Biden and interrupted Biden during his responses, and even tangled with moderator Chris Wallace, as the President’s game plan seemed to be to interrupt Biden as often as possible. Biden was left frustrated at times, telling the President at one point to ‘shut up.’ “Keep yapping, man,” Biden added. If the President’s strategy was to cause Biden to commit some kind of verbal error, the plan did not seem to bear fruit on the stage in Cleveland.
2. Trump also clashes with Fox News Sunday moderator. It was not a quiet night for Chris Wallace, the moderator of the first debate. The host of Fox News Sunday tried his best to first quiet President Trump, and then rein in former Vice President Biden, imploring them to stop interrupting each other. At one point, Wallace laid much of the blame on the President for the disjointed debate.
3. At times it turned into schoolyard taunts. With the frequent interruptions, the first 35 minutes of the debate was a brutally choppy and disjointed debate that probably pleased very few viewers. Biden chuckled out loud and sighed at the President’s interruptions and catcalls, calling him a ‘clown’ at one point. Mr. Trump returned fire repeatedly as well.
4. What does this portend for the next debate? Much of Tuesday night’s debate was unwatchable, so much cross talk that it was hard for people to listen or follow. Some long time political experts quickly declared that unless the President changed his ways, the next two debates shouldn’t even go forward.
5. Trump makes fun of Biden for wearing a mask. During a discussion about the Coronavirus outbreak, President Trump mocked Biden for wearing a mask at his campaign events, saying there weren’t enough people there to cause any problems. The President has been holding large gatherings - mainly outside - during the virus outbreak in recent weeks. He’ll have a campaign stop in Wisconsin later this week during a time when that state is seeing some of the highest new virus case numbers around the nation.
6. There were some unanswered questions. There were probably two notable points in the debate where each candidate skirted a direct question. Biden wouldn’t answer whether he would support doing away with the filibuster or enlarging the Supreme Court, amid questions over the President’s push to quickly confirm a new Supreme Court nominee. And President Trump wouldn’t explicitly condemn the threat posed by white supremacist groups, arguing left-wing violence was the problem in America.
7. Trump draws moderator rebuke over Hunter Biden attacks. Veering off subject again and again, the President tried his best to raise questions about Joe Biden’s son, Hunter - as his campaign had foreshadowed. Biden rejected the President’s claims of huge foreign payments to Hunter, as the constant efforts by Mr. Trump drew a rebuke from the moderator.
8. Trump supporters waste no time attacking the moderator. The debate hadn’t even ended and already Chris Wallace was under attack from some Trump backers, who said the Fox News Sunday host had sided with Joe Biden. “Chris Wallace did everything possible to help Biden,” said Candace Owens. “Chris Wallace and Joe Biden lost,” tweeted Curt Schilling. You should expect to hear a lot more of that in coming days, especially on talk radio.
9. Democrats call the debate a ‘disgrace.’ While Republicans cried foul about Chris Wallace, Democrats on Capitol Hill said the debate was a hot mess because of President Trump’s interruptions. “This debate was a disgrace,” said Rep. Jesus Garcia (D-IL). “That wasn’t a debate, it was a disaster,” said Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO). “I have a headache,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN).
10. Did anyone win? The President’s choice to come out of the starting gate and interrupt Biden as much as possible didn’t lead to a good debate. Biden didn’t exactly distinguish himself by joining in the schoolyard taunts. There was a poll out on Tuesday before the debate from the state of Georgia, which showed 97 percent of those surveyed said they would not change their mind about their vote over the next five weeks. This debate probably didn’t change many votes.
11. What did the voters think? GOP pollster Frank Luntz was doing his usual work during the debate, holding a focus group of voters who watched the Trump-Biden tussle. The results might not be what the President’s team was looking for.
The Vice Presidential debate is October 7 in Salt Lake City, Utah.