CLEVELAND – Tuesday’s first presidential debate turned into slurs, shouts and slurs as President Donald Trump derailed the discussion with constant interruptions, released by a moderator who struggled to keep his composure.
Trump kept speaking during the 90-minute debate, sometimes inconsistently and sometimes unleashing unfounded and groundless attacks on Democrat Joe Biden while refusing to let the moderator ask questions.
Pressed repeatedly, Trump has refused to condemn extremist supporters or urge them to remain peaceful in contested elections while once again suggesting, without evidence, that it could be “rigged.”
“Proud Boys, take a step back and stay away,” Trump said, a statement the extremist group linked to white nationalism took as a rallying cry. “But I’ll tell you what, someone has to do something for the antifa and the left.”
Biden called Trump a “racist,” “clown,” and “worst president we’ve ever had,” saying at one point, “Do you want to shut up, man?”
Biden has always had a comfortable lead in most national polls, and only a tiny fraction of voters remain undecided, leaving the pressure on Trump to shake things up in the weeks leading up to election day.
Trump needs to broaden his appeal beyond his base of supporters, but he has looked into the kind of behavior that has discouraged suburban women and other voters he needs, even if it rocks his base.
The tone of the debate was different from any presidential match televised before, a change commentators described as “embarrassing” and a “trash fire” fueled by Trump’s contempt for the rules negotiated by his own campaign. .
Fox News moderator Chris Wallace tried to pack down the antagonistic president, but his efforts to keep his calm were quickly hampered as Trump refused to let his opponent speak and challenged Wallace directly. “I guess I’m debating you, not him. But it’s okay, ”he told Wallace.
Wallace has repeatedly tried to regain control, but Trump called it “fake news”, eager to jump into the familiar role of a victim of a Democratic and media tag team.
When Biden said Trump needed to be smarter in his response to the coronavirus, the president interrupted to argue that Biden was not smart. He pointed to Biden’s position in his college promotion as proof.
“Never use the word ‘smart’ with me. You are not smart, Joe,” Trump said.
Biden has often tried to portray Trump as dishonest, including in the way he has presented the coronavirus in the United States.
“The point is, everything he said tonight is a lie. Everyone knows he’s a liar,” Biden said.
Candidates clashed over reopening schools and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, with Trump claiming Democratic governors and mayors are keeping things closed until after the election to hurt his chances of re-election.
“They think they’re hurting us by keeping it closed. They’re hurting people,” Trump said. “And this guy will shut down the whole country – he will destroy our country.”
Trump bet his re-election on convincing the American public that he has successfully dealt with the coronavirus crisis, believing that swing voters are increasingly tired of social distancing and Covid-19 concerns and more concerned with bringing back their children at school.
“It was I who brought football back,” Trump said, welcoming the Big Ten’s decision to reopen their season.
He mocked Biden for always wearing a mask – “he could speak 200 feet away, and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve seen” – and he defended his large campaign rallies.
“People want to hear what I have to say,” he said.
Biden said reopening too soon would hurt workers, and he said the Trump administration had failed to provide enough resources to help schools reopen safely. “You can’t fix the US economy until you fix the Covid crisis,” Biden said.
Trump defended himself against Biden’s attacks that he paid less in taxes than many middle-class families, as an explosive New York Times investigation recently reported.
“Like any other private person, unless they’re stupid, they go through the laws, and that’s what it is,” Trump said.
Even the suburbs were not spared. Suburban women put off by Trump fueled Democrats’ victories in the recent election. Trump tried to push them back by warning that Biden would let inner-city issues like crime take over their lives.
“Our suburb would be gone,” he said. “I know the suburbs so much better than you do.”
Biden responded by saying that the suburbs have changed and become diverse communities. “It’s not 1950. All those dog whistles about racism just don’t work anymore,” he said.
Presidential debates are usually held in front of thousands of people in crowded theaters. But the small crowd made the event unusually small and intimate inside the hall, where members of Congress and other personalities invited by the campaigns spoke in low voices.
Just a few months ago, the ward served as a back-up room for Covid-19, with 1,000 hospital beds ready to handle an expected increase in Ohio cases, which thankfully never came.
Trump and his allies spent the hours leading up to the debate making baseless accusations against Biden. First, Trump attacked him for refusing to take a drug test; then he accused Biden of trying to avoid detection of a secret earpiece. Biden’s campaign dismissed the claims as ridiculous and said he would of course not wear a headset.
The listener theory – Donald Trump Jr. made the same baseless claim in 2016 about Hillary Clinton – began in viral memes on Facebook and other social media sites before being repeated by the Trump campaign.