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This debate was a disaster.
83% of respondents to a CBS poll of watchers said that the first 2020 presidential debate’s tone was negative. Just a few minutes in, both the moderator and former Vice President Joe Biden were imploring President Donald Trump to allow for actual debate.
Instead, Trump descended into chaos. Trump told white supremacists to "stand by" and refused to condemn them. Trump told his supporters that he was not asking them to refrain from violence if he does not win. Trump said Biden was dumb because of where he went to college. Trump attacked the Democratic nominee's family. Trump spewed conspiracies and lies from the podium for basically the entire time he was there.
For an incumbent, the president’s number of issues with the direction of the country was astounding. The moderator, Chris Wallace, struggled to control the debate because Trump did not abide by the rules that he and his campaign agreed to; he constantly talked over Biden, who, for whatever you want to say about his performance, showed up for an actual discussion of the issues facing the United States. Trump missed his chance to clear his record on COVID-19, rather sharing false claims about rampant voter fraud in order to sow division among Americans.
Biden tried to speak directly to the people who are struggling. Trump interrupted and seemed at best like a bully — at worst, totally unhinged.
While it was a below-the-belt attack, the president used the business deals of Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, to counter discussions he did not want to have (as I expected). What happened as a result, however, was Biden’s best remark of the night: after Trump accused Biden's son of being addicted to cocaine, the Democratic nominee stood by his son and said he was proud of his recovery, which is sure to hit close to home in much of the key counties Donald Trump won in 2016 that have been hit hard by the opioid crisis. Trump's comment came off as ignorant to the opioid issue and highlighted Biden's strength as a family man.
Biden had a few very good moments. He spoke directly into the camera multiple times and made clear that he was addressing the country. He asked how the people who had lost someone to the coronavirus felt, drawing a parallel to an empty seat at the kitchen table. And he asked the people in his home town of Scranton, Pa., along with other smaller communities, “how are you doing?” These points highlighted his down-to-earth approach that has been a key tenant of his campaign.
With that said, I think Biden also had some weaker moments that caused him to miss key points. Instead of stressing that he wanted to open the economy up the right way, he said he would not reopen because of COVID-19. He did not lay out his national coronavirus strategy. It took him quite a few minutes to get acquainted with the rampant interruption, forcing him to miss the mark on explaining why he should be the one to pick the next Supreme Court nominee, especially when it comes to women’s rights.
But the Trump campaign needed a knockout here in order to win. When someone slugs at you for 12 rounds and you come out unscathed, usually the Marquess of Queensberry rules declare you the victor. That is how Biden won.
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