In what was perhaps a perfect depiction of the immense divide between the two major political parties in America, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden fervently feuded over an almost incomprehensible 90 minutes at the first general election debate of 2020.
“That was a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a trainwreck,” CNN correspondent Jake Tapper said immediately after the conclusion of the debate in the channel’s post-event coverage.
Throughout the night, moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News struggled to maintain control when combating an especially tenacious Trump, who continuously ignored previously agreed upon debate rules.
For months, both the Trump and the Biden campaigns had been in communication with The Commission on Presidential Debates to iron out plans and procedures that would be followed at all three debates. Both campaigns had consented to providing each candidate with two minutes of uninterrupted time to answer a question on a given topic before transitioning to a more general and open conversation. Unfortunately, these rules were readily disregarded, primarily by the President.
Though Wallace attempted to chastise Trump multiple times during the debate, he only explicitly reminded him of these rules around the 85-minute mark.
“Two minutes is two minutes,” Wallace said, as Trump continued to flaunt conspiracy theories about a potentially fraudulent election.
In a night with such contention and chaos, it was hard for either candidate to properly lay out the policies they had planned for their presidential administrations, and as such, neither Biden nor Trump was able to make any new pitches to undecided voters to earn their support.
Attempting to brush off the President’s attacks, Biden often turned to the camera throughout the evening and directly spoke to the American people about the President’s smears and shortcomings, especially in regard to the coronavirus crisis.
On the topic of healthcare, Biden said, “Folks, do you have any idea what this clown is 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 did certainly stumble at one point throughout the debate when dodging a question from Wallace about “packing the Supreme Court” (a question that his running mate Kamala Harris similarly avoided in a post-debate interview with CNN), but he ended strong with an impassioned plea for all Americans to exercise their civic duty and vote this November.
“You will determine the outcome of this election,” Biden said. “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 is the best way for you. Because he cannot stop you from being able to determine the outcome of this election.”
As has been his campaign’s strategy for weeks now, President Trump often hammered Biden for not being harsh enough on the rioting that has erupted across the nation in response to strained relations between the Black community and police after several high-profile shootings.
“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,” Trump said. “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.”
Later, when still discussing race relations in America, Trump further soured his already poor standing with African American voters by refusing to denounce his white supremacist supporters after being encouraged to do so by Wallace.
“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?” Wallace asked.
Instead of offering a clear answer, Trump waffled for a bit before stating, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” in reference to a radical right-wing group. Immediately after this statement, the Proud Boys expressed enthusiasm for the President’s re-election campaign across social media, and some members even made “Stand back. Stand by.” part of their new logo.
In a post-debate poll at CNN, 60% of debate watchers said Biden won Tuesday’s debate, compared to 28% of watchers who felt that Trump prevailed. Regardless, the general consensus across the news and social media seemed to be that neither candidate did a great job at making a case for their candidacy during the debate.
In fact, many believed that while there were no real winners at Tuesday’s debate, there was one clear loser: America.