In the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, much of the 90-minute exchange was defined by interruptions. But, on the balance of things, who will come out of this stronger? We’re bringing you a summary of what happened.
Much of the build-up to Trump’s debate with Biden was defined by the Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, in the wake of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. However, the biggest revelation came over the weekend, with a report from The New York Times showing that Trump paid only $750 in taxes in 2016 and 2017.
Biden was entering the debate on the front foot, with a seven point lead in the polling, and with narrow leads in key battleground states, including Florida and North Carolina. Biden’s target would have been to outline the presidential race as a referendum on Trump’s disastrous first term, as well as to appeal to more progressive voters, along with more moderate Republicans. Trump was entering the debate on the back foot and his goal would be to heap praise on himself for his first term performance, as well as cast doubt on Biden’s cognitive ability – which he had already done by insisting that the former Vice President take a drug test before the debate. Trump also had to appeal to women who have all but abandoned him since his 2016 win.
Another critical talking point was over the moderator, Chris Wallace, a Fox News journalist who has challenged Trump in the past. Wallace decided that he’d be splitting the debate into six 15 minute segments, namely Trump’s and Biden’s Records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, The Economy, Race and Violence in US Cities and the Integrity of the Election.
Healthcare became the centre of attention, particularly with regards to Trump’s attempt to push through his candidate for the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett. Biden said that “she thinks that the Affordable Care Act is not constitutional.” AP fact checkers debunked this, with Calvin Woodward and Hope Yen arguing that Barrett may oppose ObamaCare (the Affordable Care Act), but that she’s never directly argued that it’s unconstitutional.
Trump accused Biden of adopting his main Democratic primary opponent, Bernie Sanders’, Medicare For All legislation, to which Biden responded “everybody here knows he’s a liar. … You picked the wrong guy on the wrong night at the wrong time… Folks, do you have any idea what this clown’s doing? I tell you what, he is not for anybody needing healthcare. He has no plan for healthcare. … The fact is this man has no idea what he’s talking about.”
Biden does not support Sanders’ Medicare For All program. His proposal would retain the ACA’s public option and individual mandate, which Trump attempted to remove in his failed healthcare proposal at the beginning of his term in 2017. However, Medicare For All is incredibly popular, with Sanders’ proposal for “socialised” medicine approved by 70% of Americans. Biden’s failure to adopt the policy or at least not disavow it could prove costly in his courtship of the progressive vote and Trump, himself said “you lost the left”, which he said a lot when Biden tried to defend himself as a more moderate candidate.
“You should get out of your bunker and get out of the sand trap and … the golf course and go in the Oval Office and (put) together Democrats and Republicans, and fund what needs to be done now to save lives,” Biden said to Trump.
The President responded by saying that Biden supported opening the country to China, while he placed a ban on travel from the region – a blatant lie.
“If you were here, it wouldn’t be 200,000 people, it would be 2 million people. You didn’t want me to ban China, which was heavily infected. … If we would have listened to you, the country would have been left wide open,” Trump said.
“The audacious claim that Biden as president would have seen 2 million deaths rests on a false accusation. Biden never came out against Trump’s decision to restrict travel from China,” write Woodward and Yen. “Biden was slow in staking a position on the matter but when he did, he supported the restrictions. Biden never counselled leaving the country ‘wide open’ in the face of the pandemic”.
“Trump repeatedly, and falsely, claims to have banned travel from China. He restricted it.
The U.S. restrictions that took effect Feb. 2 continued to allow travel to the U.S. from the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macao. The Associated Press reported that more than 8,000 Chinese and foreign nationals based in the two locales entered the U.S. in the first three months after the travel restrictions were imposed.
Additionally, more than 27,000 Americans returned from mainland China in the first month after the restrictions took effect. U.S. officials lost track of more than 1,600 of them who were supposed to be monitored for virus exposure.
Dozens of countries took similar steps to control travel from hot spots before or around the same time the U.S. did.”
On Trump’s leadership, Biden said “He panicked or he looked at the stock market. … A lot of people died, and a lot more (are) going to die unless he gets a lot smarter a lot quicker.”
“There’s nothing smart about you, Joe,” Trump responded.
Perhaps Biden’s best moment of the night came when he ridiculed Trump’s response by saying, “this is the same man that told you by Easter this would be gone away, by the warm weather it’d be gone, miraculously, like a miracle,” Biden said. “And by the way, maybe you can inject some bleach in your arm and that would take care of it.”
“This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division,” Biden said of Trump’s first term.
“You’ve treated the Black community about as bad as anybody in this country,” Trump responded, citing Biden’s support for the 1994 crime bill. However, Biden was the only one to agree that a two-tiered justice system exists in contemporary America.
“Yes, there’s a systemic injustice in this country in education and work and in law enforcement, and the way in which it is enforced.”
Trump went on to claim that “the (Portland, Oregon) sheriff just came out today and he said I support President Trump.” However, this is untrue. America’s most racially divisive, protest fuelled city has endured months of protests and the sheriff of Multnomah County, Oregon — where Portland is located — said he does not support Trump. The President also claimed that the worst violence in America is not caused by his policies, but the way that Democrat-run cities respond to racial division.
“The top 10 cities and just about the top 40 cities are run by Democrats in many cases, radical left, and they’ve got you wrapped around their finger, Joe, to a point where you don’t want to say anything about law and order. And I’ll tell you what the people of this country want and demand law and order, and you’re afraid to even say it.”
“He just pours gasoline on the fire,” said Biden, before responding to Trump attacking him on the suburbs.”He wouldn’t know a suburb unless he took a wrong turn. I know suburbs.
“Under this president, we’ve become weaker, sicker, more divided and more violent.”
Trump also failed to condemn white supremacists, after Chris Wallace asked, “are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence or the number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha, and as we’ve seen in Portland?”
“I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right. … I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.”
Wallace replied, “then do that, sir.”
“Do it, do it. Say it,” Biden interjected.
“You want to call them. What do you want to call them? Give me a name,” Trump responded.
Biden, referring to a right-wing group: “Proud Boys.”
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” said Trump.
Another hot topic, as it has been for several election cycles, is that of climate change.
“I believe that we have to do everything we can to have immaculate air, immaculate water, and do whatever else we can that’s good,” Trump said of his own policies on climate change, which reflect a bad record on rolling back regulations that he believes are bad for businesses.
Biden said “The first thing I will do, I will rejoin the Paris Climate Accord.” However, he refused to condone the rolling out of the Sanders-touted Green New Deal – a radical program that would rebuild America’s infrastructure with renewable and sustainable developments in everything from energy to housing. Trump attacked Biden on the cost of the policy he doesn’t support, with Biden indicating that his “Biden plan” would be far more affordable.
“Trump will be the “first (president) in American history” to lose jobs during his presidency,” Biden claimed. This was fact-checked by AP and it found that, although official job records only date back to 1939, Herbert Hoover, the president who lost the 1932 election to Franklin Roosevelt as the Great Depression caused massive job losses, ended his term with more job losses.
However, while Trump’s main argument for the success of his presidency is the economic gains the country made through the stock market, as a result of his tax cuts, it could also prove to be his downfall, with the COVID-19 outbreak severely affecting Trump’s top-down economy, which resulted in Wall Street receiving bailouts to the tun of trillions of dollars. The Obama administration, however, will be held to similar scrutiny, in light of the bailouts in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
Trump continued to refuse to commit to a peaceful transference of power if he loses the election.
“Don’t tell me about a free transition. This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen,” he said. “This is not going to end well.”
“It’s a rigged election.”
“He is exaggerating threats,” the AP fact-checkers continue. “Trump’s claim is part of a months-long effort to sow doubt about the integrity of the election before it’s even arrived and to preemptively call into question the results.
“Experts have repeatedly said there are no signs of widespread fraud in mail balloting, as have the five states that relied exclusively on that system for voting even before the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump’s own FBI director, Chris Wray, said at a congressional hearing just last week that the bureau has not historically seen “any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise.”
Biden, however, responded that he will accept the result and that Trump will have to accept it as well.
“You will determine the outcome of this election. Vote, vote, vote. If you’re able to vote early in your state, vote early. If you’re able to vote in person, vote in person – whatever way is the best way for you. Because he cannot stop you from being able to determine the outcome of this election,” Biden said.
“He cannot stop you from being able to determine the outcome of that election. … If I win, that will be accepted. If I lose, that will be accepted.
“If we get the votes, he’s going to go. He can’t stay in power.”
“If I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with it. They cheat,” Trump concluded.
If you were expecting decorum, you clearly haven’t been following the events since Trump burst onto the political scene, but Biden eventually took the bait, saying “Will you shut up, man? This is so unpresidential.”
While several issues were covered, the coherence of the entire debate was almost non-existent. It was all but impossible for the candidates to make their points uninterrupted, mostly Trump’s interrupting Biden. And there was even a moment where Wallace confronted the president.
“I think the country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions,” he said. “I’m appealing to you, sir, to do that.”
“And him too,” Trump said, referring to Biden.
“Well, frankly you’ve been doing more interrupting,” Wallace said.
As we may have expected, the debate was fractured and disjointed by interruptions, falsehoods and a few insults, including Biden referring to Trump as a “clown” and “the worst president in the history of the United States”.
Biden was the relative adult in the room who on occasion made strong points. However, perhaps the best part of his tactics on the night was his tendency to allow the president to make his points.
Trump accusing Biden of being a puppet for the radical left or as some kind of revolutionary progressive politician is laughable in its own way, but Biden would do better in future debates to allow him to copy-paste the criticisms that were prepared for a contest with Bernie Sanders as a characterisation of his own campaign. Sanders proved in his two primary campaigns in 2015/16 and 2019/20 that those ideas are incredibly popular among the younger generation. And in the midst of a pandemic and the beginnings of the climate crisis in earnest, Biden would do well to support those policies.
The people that are so vehemently opposed to the idea of a Biden presidency, which Trump is trying to make out will be one defined by socialist policies, are too-far-gone Trump supporters who won’t be voting for him under any circumstances anyways.
Fox News’ David Bossie can write stories about how “Biden failed to accomplish in 47 years what Trump has delivered for the American people in 47 months” all he likes, but the material results of Trump’s first term speak for themselves. Biden merely has to prove that he isn’t as bad. With the polls in his favour and an American public desperate to recover from COVID-19 and growing racial division, Biden appears to be walking out of the first debate with a distinct advantage.