Trump-Biden debate descends into acrimony

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WASHINGTON — The first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden descended into chaotic acrimony as Trump hectored and interrupted Biden nearly every time he spoke.

After weeks of attacks, posturing and expectations-setting, Trump and Biden finally faced each other as they attempted to sway a diminishing pool of undecided voters. Election Day is Nov. 3, but many people are already casting their ballots.

Tuesday night’s debate, the first of three between the two men, could be a tipping point. There will be a vice presidential debate, between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, next Wednesday.

Six in 10 debate watchers (60%) said former Vice President Joe Biden did the best job in Tuesday’s debate, and just 28% say President Donald Trump did, according to a CNN poll of debate watchers conducted by SSRS. But market strategists say there was no clear winner, but Biden held his own in the often raucous debate.

Beyond widespread praise for his performance, voters who watched the debate broadly said that they trusted the former vice president over the current president on significant issues.

On racial inequality, 66% trust Biden more, against 29% for Trump. Health care (66% Biden to 32% Trump), the coronavirus outbreak (64% Biden to 34% Trump) and Supreme Court nominations (54% Biden to 43% Trump).

On the economy, though, voters who watched the debate split, with 50% saying they preferred Biden and 48% Trump. CNN pointed out that the survey is representative of those registered voters who watched Tuesday’s debate, it does not represent the views of all Americans.

The first debate deteriorated into bitter taunts and near chaos on Tuesday night as Trump repeatedly interrupted his opponent with angry — and personal — jabs that sometimes overshadowed the sharply different visions each man has for a nation facing historic crises.

In the most tumultuous presidential debate in recent memory, Trump refused to condemn white supremacists who have supported him, telling one such group known as Proud Boys to “stand back, stand by.”

There were also heated clashes over the president's handling of the pandemic, the integrity of the election results, deeply personal attacks about Biden's family and how the Supreme Court will shape the future of the nation’s health care.

But it was the belligerent tone that was persistent, somehow fitting for what has been an extraordinarily ugly campaign. The two men frequently talked over each other with Trump interrupting, nearly shouting, so often that Biden eventually snapped at him, “Will you shut up, man?”

“The fact is that everything he’s saying so far is simply a lie,” Biden said. “I’m not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he’s a liar.”

The presidential race has been remarkably stable for weeks, despite the historic crises that have battered the country this year, including a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans and a reckoning over race and police brutality, Euronews reported.

Over and over, Trump tried to control the conversation, interrupting Biden and repeatedly talking over the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News.

The president tried to deflect tough lines of questioning — whether on his taxes or the pandemic — to deliver broadsides against Biden. The president drew a lecture from Wallace, who pleaded with both men to stop talking over each other.

Biden tried to push back against Trump, sometimes looking right at the camera to directly address viewers rather than the president and snapping, “It’s hard to get a word in with this clown.”

Again refusing to commit to honoring the results of the election, Trump spread falsehoods about mail voting. Without evidence, he suggested that the process — surging in popularity during the pandemic — was ripe for fraud and incorrectly claimed impropriety at a Pennsylvania voting site.

But despite his efforts to dominate the discussion, Trump was frequently put on the defensive and tried to sidestep when he was asked if he was willing to condemn white supremacists and paramilitary groups.

Biden attacked Trump's handling of the pandemic, saying that the president “waited and waited" to act when the virus reached America's shores and “still doesn’t have a plan.” Biden told Trump to “get out of your bunker and get out of the sand trap” and go in his golf cart to the Oval Office to come up with a bipartisan plan to save people.

Trump snarled a response, declaring that “I'll tell you, Joe, you could never have done the job that we did. You don’t have it in your blood."

“I know how to do the job,” was the solemn response from Biden, who served eight years as Barack Obama's vice president.

Trump struggled to define his ideas for replacing the Affordable Care Act on health care in the debate’s early moments and defended his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, declaring that “I was not elected for three years, I’m elected for four years.”

“We won the election. Elections have consequences. We have the Senate. We have the White House and we have a phenomenal nominee, respected by all.”

Trump criticized Biden over the former vice president's refusal to comment on whether he would try to expand the Supreme Court in retaliation if Barrett is confirmed to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

That idea has gained momentum on the party's left flank but Biden tried to put distance between himself and the liberal wing, declining to endorse the Green New Deal and rejecting the assertion that he was under the control of radicals by declaring “I am the Democratic Party now.”

The scattershot debate bounced from topic to topic, with Trump again refusing to embrace the science of climate change while Biden accused Trump of walking away from the American promise of equity for all and making a race-based appeal.

“This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division,” Biden said.

The attacks turned deeply personal when Trump returned to a campaign attack line by declaring that Biden's son, Hunter, had inappropriately benefitted from his father's connections while working in Ukraine.

Biden rarely looked at Trump during the night but turned to face the president when he defended his sons, including his son Beau, an Army veteran who died of cancer in 2015, after the commander-in-chief's reported insults of those who served in the military.

The debate was arguably Trump's best chance to try to reframe the campaign as a choice between candidates and not a referendum over his handling of the virus that has killed more people in America than any other nation. Americans, according to polling, have soured on his leadership in the crisis, and the president has struggled to land consistent attacks on Biden.

In the hours before the debate, Biden released his 2019 tax returns just days after the blockbuster revelations about Trump’s long-hidden tax history, including that he paid only $750 a year in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 and nothing in many other years. The Bidens paid nearly $300,000 in taxes in 2019.

Trump, in the debate, insisted that he paid millions in taxes — but refused to say how much he paid in federal income taxes — and insisted that he had taken advantage of legal tax incentives, another angry exchange that led to Biden declaring that Trump was the “worst president” the nation has ever had.

Mitchell McKinney, director of the Political Communications Institute at the University of Missouri and an expert on US political debates, said Tuesday's event put both candidates' character on clear display: "In terms of the takeaways, there was some important learning — and that was learning something about the temperament, the character of our president, of Joe Biden...

“Coming out of this debate, voters are asking, what type of leader do we want? Do we want this again, this type of chaos, if you will, for four more years? So I think in that regard, if we ascribe a winner from this debate, it may be Joe Biden by default. Joe Biden as not being seen as the most aggressive bully on the stage." — Agencies


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