The first presidential debate was Tuesday night, and it was about as chaotic and ridiculous as anyone could expect. Despite the saintly patience of moderator Chris Wallace and the no-nonsense attitude of Joe Biden, Donald Trump insisted on interrupting, belittling, and brow-beating.
With a candidate as opposed to decorum and manners as Trump, it’s a small wonder Biden was able to say anything, let alone make points that the audience could hear.
Of course, the incumbent played to the peanut gallery through any of Biden’s talking points. Trump would often snipe Biden with a “wrong” or “not true,” blurting out to interrupt and heckle his opponent.
Many felt that Trump’s chaotic and disruptive energy belied a nervousness over the coming election. Polls show Trump trailing his opponent by a considerable margin nationally.
In key battleground states, Trump trails Biden.
The event wasn’t a debate in a proper sense. The lack of decorum made the event more a shouting match, with both the moderator and Biden trying to reestablish a sense of control that Trump was unwilling to give them.
Trump didn’t do much to win over voters to his side that aren’t already decided. Instead, he seemed intent on getting in Biden’s head and psyching out his opponent.
This isn’t what Trump needed, say some key Republican strategists. They argue that Trump needed a major win by pointing out his vision and goals for a second term. Instead, he allowed his arguments to devolve into petty squabbling that looked childish and ridiculous to moderate onlookers.
One of the most damning aspects of Trump’s turns to speak was his sidestepping of a direct call to rebuke white supremacists. Moreover, he wouldn’t agree to ask his supporters to stay calm during the vote tabulation period.
Many experts expect Trump’s base to turn to violence and unrest if Trump fails to amass enough votes to win reelection. Trump himself has sown the seeds of mistrust in the electoral process, tweeting at one point that he can only lose the presidency if it is stolen from him.
Meanwhile, Biden made a show of physically turning away from Trump to face the cameras and address the audience directly. He spoke emphatically and empathetically, driving home issues of the economic downturn from the pandemic.
He framed Trump as the president only of the wealthy, seizing on the moment that sees Trump’s taxes laid bare due to a New York Times expose. The bombshell that Trump paid only $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 has been a windfall for the Biden campaign.
Meanwhile, Biden was strong on issues that involved sidestepping Trump’s bait. At one point, Trump attacked Biden’s son, but the former vice president was quick to avoid getting into a shouting match with his opponent. “This is not about my family or his family. It’s about your family. The American people. He doesn’t want to talk about what you need.”