The U.S. president who, when asked to condemn white supremacists, tells a racist group, “Stand back and stand by.” And his opponent, who says about the president, “It’s hard to get any word in with this clown.” Those are the memorable moments from a 90-minute debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
On Tuesday night, Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s expressions when they arrived foretold the story of their debate. Trump looked gloomy and menacing, and Biden was smiling.
The meeting between the incumbent president of the United States and his Democratic opponent was a verbal tug of war from the very start, and it was nearly impossible to stop Trump from interrupting. Toward the end of the debate, Fox News debate moderator Chris Wallace had to talk to him like a school child about his behavior and ordered him to follow the rules which the candidates had agreed to.
Before the debate, Democratic advisers and Biden supporters were concerned that Biden would be no match for his opponent’s domineering style. They worried he might take the bait and make awkward remarks. Even faltering or mistakenly using the wrong word was something Trump could use to show that Biden was too old for the job.
But Biden remained standing for 90 minutes.
He was emotional at times when contradicting Trump, particularly when he spoke about his son, Hunter, the corrupt activities Hunter was alleged to have engaged in in China and Ukraine, and his dismissal from the military. “My son, like a lot of people at home, had a drug problem. He’s overtaking it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I am proud of him!”
But more often, he smiled, shaking his head. At one point, Biden said sharply upon being interrupted again, “Keep yapping, man.” At other times he simply rejected criticism. “Not true, not true.”
Biden Frequently Addressed the Audience Directly.
While Trump mainly watched Biden, Biden regularly addressed the viewers directly during the moments he could speak uninterrupted. “He doesn’t have a plan,” he said, for example, about health care, one of the topics that voters care about the most. Trump argued that he had just signed a number of policies that would make drugs cheaper. “Insulin … I’m getting it for so cheap it’s like water.”
Of course, the coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed nearly 206,000 Americans, was an important subject. It was obvious that Trump had been answering critical questions from journalists for months.
Biden cited the reassuring statements that Trump made at the start of the pandemic and his admission to Bob Woodward that he had downplayed the danger of the virus “because he didn’t want to panic the American people … He panicked!” Biden said.
Trump countered that he restricted travel from China at the very beginning of the outbreak, and that Biden had opposed doing so. According to Trump, the Democrats don’t want the economy to close again before the election purely for political reasons. And Trump denounced how the Barack Obama administration handled the 2009-2010 swine flu while Biden was vice president. “We didn’t shut down the economy,” Biden retorted.
As If They Lived in 2 Different Countries
On the subject of racism, the two candidates spoke as if they lived in two different countries. Biden spoke almost apologetically about the deprivation particularly suffered by African Americans in the U.S. “We have never walked away from trying to require equity for everyone, equality for the whole of America, but we’ve never accomplished it.” Trump referred to Biden’s leading role in passing the Violent Crime Control and Enforcement Act of 1994, which led to a boom in the number of U.S. prisoners, especially Black prisoners. “You call them super-predators. I am letting people out of jail now,” Trump said. Then he pivoted to law enforcement, saying “The people of this country want and demand law and order!” He defended his recent ban on racial sensitivity training. “They were teaching people that our country is a horrible place. It’s a racist place,” Trump said.
Both candidates were asked to condemn violence from the left and the right. Biden did, and said that Trump likes to add fuel to the fire. When moderator Wallace insisted that Trump answer, Trump asked for names of groups that he should condemn. When the Proud Boys were suggested, Trump simply said, “Proud Boys: stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left wing.” The president’s “stand by” comment came under the some of the harshest criticism by the media after the debate.
According to a CNN Instant Poll, 60% of debate viewers thought Biden performed better, but 28% said Trump was the winner.
More important is what the voters thought and what they will say on Nov. 3. In the final exchange of the debate, Biden promised to respect the outcome of the election, and called on voters to vote. The sooner the better – it is already possible to vote in some states – by mail or in person.
Trump appeared to anticipate that he would lose the election because of widespread mail-in ballot fraud, claiming that mail-in ballots would be made to disappear for political reasons. “They found them in creeks. They found some, just happened to have the name Trump, just the other day in a wastepaper basket … They are being sold. They’re being dumped in rivers. This is a horrible thing for our country,” Trump said.