Trump bulldozes his way through the debate with attacks and falsehoods. Biden proves his stamina and discipline are acceptable.
1. It was the worst debate in history.
The first Presidential debate was worse than anyone could have imagined. The President largely sought to derail the debate with interjections, and was antagonistic, shrill, and puerile throughout. There were moments that were deeply dispiriting, when moderator Chris Wallace had to raise his voice to quell the President, and even instances when Wallace had to talk loudly to nullify the President’s interjections. There were several moments when it was like a parent trying to quell an unruly adolescent. It was truly unprecedented to see a President rattling off accusations in a haphazard way, trotting out partisan tropes in bellicose disregard for the remonstrations of the moderator.
2. Nothing especially substantive was discussed.
With all the cross-chatter and disruption, neither candidate was able to articulate policy, or even a broad vision, with any consistency or particular coherence. It was impossible to develop ideas and show links to policy or priorities. American voters had to try and interpret what society might look like in the years ahead in snatches and fragments, attempting to glean meaning through the interjections and counters. Immigration and the wall was not discussed at all. Infrastructure was almost entirely overlooked, and discussed almost entirely in the abstract. Plans to resurrect the economy were also only discussed in bland generalities.
Watch: Highlights from the first Presidential Debate
3. Joe Biden was adequate.
In the lead up to the first Presidential debate, DKODING stated the following: “The chief talking point hanging over the debate seems to be Biden’s propensity for Gaffes, and whether this could confirm the Republican’s narrative that the former Vice President’s mental faculties are slipping. Trump has an opportunity to use his caustic and belligerent instincts effectively against Joe Biden. Although not always accurate, and often crass and repetitive, Trump can nonetheless devote his energy, strategically, to wearing the 77 year old former Vice President down by interrupting, contesting, and incessantly being contentious and provoking, techniques that, cumulatively, might sap his opponent’s focus and energy, and create the circumstances for a lapse or spell of fatigue…But the standards of discourse and etiquette have been so degraded in recent years, a couple of stumbles might not have such impact among all the cross-chatter, aggravated interjections, boasts and real-time fact checking from the moderator, Chris Wallace.” This is exactly the scenario that played out – except the intensity of Trump’s approach, dispensing with even the basic rules of the debate, was more extraordinary than anyone would have predicted. At times, it bordered on gratuitous. In terms of mental stamina and acuity, it is likely many voters would conclude that it was no mean feat for a 77 year old man to perform for 90 minutes in the public eye under a non-stop barrage of criticisms, sniping and accusations, and not wilt.
4. Biden won the debate.
No one would suggest Biden was stellar. He missed multiple opportunities to lay out systematically the timeline of the administration’s efforts to deal with the Covid crisis. There were few memorable lines. At times the former Vice President got a little heated and candid, calling the President a ‘clown.’ There were no ripostes. He was able to get a rhythm going on enough occasions to look sensible and viable, especially when talking about voting, the environment and some economic matters. Essentially, it was Trump’s debate to lose. He has been trailing consistently in the polls, most of the electorate have made up their minds, and he didn’t dominate. Many voters who lean toward Trump make the argument that they like his policies but are put off by his persona. The debate will have only pushed those people further away.
5. Should Biden even attend the ensuing debates?
Many TV hosts raised the notion that Biden should call off the up-coming debates because the President was so vulgar and volatile that there would be little to gain. The counter argument is that the format for the second debate is a townhall, where voters will be able to ask questions. In this context, Biden would have a chance to shine, as his interactions with everyday voters tend to be natural and full of empathy. It would also be a context where the President would be less inclined to interrupt, as the dialogue between an opponent and a voter is different in tone to that with a moderator, who can be sparred with. The Biden camp might discuss the notion, but will likely go ahead.