President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland. (Olivier Douliery/Pool vi AP)

U.S. Presidential Debate Takeaways: An acrid tone from the opening minute

Here are key takeaways from the first of three scheduled presidential debates before Election Day on Nov. 3

After more than a year of circling each other, Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden met on the debate stage Tuesday night in Ohio.

The 74-year-old president and the 77-year-old former vice-president are similar in age, and they share a mutual dislike. But they differ starkly in style and substance. All of that was evident from the outset on the Cleveland stage.

Here are key takeaways from the first of three scheduled presidential debates before Election Day on Nov. 3:

Trump’s serial interruptions

Trump is no stranger to going on offence, but his aggressive posture on stage left his Democratic opponent fighting to complete a sentence. Trump frequently interrupted Biden mid-sentence, sometimes in intensely personal ways.

“There’s nothing smart about you,” Trump said of Biden. “47 years you’ve done nothing.”

While Trump played into his reputation as a bully, it may have been effective at breaking up the worst of Biden’s attacks — simply by talking over them.

Trump aides believed before the debate that Biden would be unable to withstand the withering offensive on style and substance from Trump, but Biden came with a few retorts of his own, calling Trump a “clown” and mocking Trump’s style by asking, “Will you shut up, man?”

Trump’s supporters may have been cheered by his frontal assault. Whether undecided voters, who watched the debate to try to learn about the two candidates, were impressed is another matter.

Moderator Chris Wallace was none too amused, delivering a pointed reproach to Trump for his interruptions. “Frankly, you’ve been doing more interrupting,” Wallace said, appealing to Trump to let his opponent speak.

Trump can’t escape the virus

Trump has wanted the election to be about anything but the coronavirus pandemic, but he couldn’t outrun reality on the debate stage.

“It is what it is because you are who you are,” Biden told the president, referring to Trump’s months of downplaying COVID-19 while he said privately he understood how deadly it is.

But Trump didn’t take it quietly. He proceeded to blitz Biden with a mix of self-defence and counter-offensives. 200,000 dead? Biden’s death toll would have been “millions,” Trump said. A rocky economy? Biden would’ve been worse. Biden wouldn’t have manufactured enough masks or ventilators.

The kicker: “There will be a vaccine very soon.”

Biden fell back on his bottom line: “A lot of people died, and a lot more are going to unless he gets a lot smarter.”

For voters still undecided about who’d better handle the pandemic, the exchange may not have offered anything new.

Racial reckoning

Trump said Biden was the politician who helped put millions of Black Americans in prison with the 1994 crime law. Biden called Trump “the racist” in the Oval Office.

For a nation confronting a summer of racial unrest — and centuries of injustice — the debate was the latest cultural flashpoint.

Biden was quiet as Trump blitzed him as a tool of the “radical left” and a weak figure who opposes “law and order.” He pressed Biden repeatedly to name any police union that’s endorsed him. He falsely accused Biden of wanting to “defund the police.”

Biden didn’t capitalize when Trump refused to condemn armed militias and insisted, against the guidance of his own FBI director: “This is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem.”

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said when pressed on the far-right group. “But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”

The former vice-president tried to push back, but not until after Trump had made his arguments, including the misrepresentations.

Biden regained some footing mocking the president’s warnings about suburbs, saying, “He wouldn’t know a suburb unless he took a wrong turn.” And perhaps revealing the thinking about allowing Trump the rhetorical upper hand, Biden said, “All these dog whistles and racism doesn’t work anymore.”

Question about court, answer about health care

Trump defended his decision to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court just weeks before Election Day, saying “elections have consequences.”

Biden said he was “not opposed to the justice,” but said the “American people have a right to have a say in who the Supreme Court nominee is.”

But rather than litigate Republicans’ 2016 blocking of Merrick Garland to the high court, Biden quickly pivoted to the issues that will potentially come before the court: healthcare and abortion. It’s an effort by the Democrat to refocus the all-but-certain confirmation fight for Trump’s third justice to the Supreme Court into an assault on Trump and his record.

Biden said Barrett, who would be the sixth justice on the nine-member court to be appointed by a Republican, would endanger the Affordable Care Act and tens of millions of Americans with preexisting conditions, and would imperil legalized abortion. It was a reframing of the political debate to terms far more favourable to the Democrat, and one Trump played into. Trump said of the conservative Barrett, “You don’t know her view on Roe vs. Wade” and he defended his efforts to try to chip away at the popular Obama-era health law.

Biden has tried to press Democrats to use the court confirmation fight as a rallying cry against Trump, and the debate discussion largely played out on his turf.

‘Invisible’ Wallace struggles to contain Trump

Debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News tried mightily to hold his ground Tuesday after saying beforehand that it was not his job to fact-check the candidates, especially Trump, in real time.

But Wallace struggled to stop Trump from interrupting and at times seemed to lose control of the debate.

“Mr. President, as the moderator, we are going to talk about COVID in the next segment,” Wallace said.

Soon after: “I’m the moderator, and I’d like you to let me ask my question.”

Minutes later: “I have to give you roughly equal time. Please let the vice-president talk.”

And when Wallace noted that Trump hasn’t come up with his health care plan in nearly four years, Trump turned the question back on Wallace.

“First of all, I’m debating you and not him. That’s okay. I’m not surprised.”

Wallace said he wanted to be “invisible.”

Well, that was impossible.

Family business

As expected, Trump found a way to bring up Hunter Biden, the former vice-president’s son, and recycle allegations about the younger Biden’s international business practices. Biden called Trump’s litany “discredited” and fired back, “I mean, his family we can talk about all night.”

But Biden sidestepped any of the specifics of Trump’s international business dealings and instead turned straight to the camera. “This is not about my family or his family,” Biden said as Trump tried to talk over him. “This is about your family.”

In a later exchange, Trump interrupted Biden when he was talking about his late son, Beau Biden, who died of cancer in 2015 after having served in Iraq.

“I don’t know Beau, I know Hunter,” Trump said.

Bill Barrow And Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

PoliticsUSA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Voters in Saanich North and the Islands, here lining up outside Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre on the first day of advanced voting, are among the provincial leaders in getting in their votes early, with some 20 per cent (10,174) of eligible voters have already cast their ballots. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
The polls are now closed

B.C.’s snap election is over, now it’s time to count the ballots

Simon Gibson watching the vote count at the Best Western Hotel in Mission. With 98 polls reporting, Gibson leads NDP challenger Alexis by 188 votes. / Kevin Mills photo.
Abbotsford-Mission riding too close to call, mail-in ballots will decide

98 polls reporting: BC Liberal incumbent Simon Gibson leads NDP challenger Pam Alexis by 188 votes

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

Simon Gibson watching the vote count come in at the Best Western Hotel in Mission. Kevin Mills photo.
Abbotsford-Mission riding one of the closest races in the province

BC Liberal incumbent Simon Gibson leading by under 100 votes

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

BC Hydro map showing where power has been knocked out is dotted with over a dozen outages. (BC Hydro map screenshot)
Thousands without power in Lower Mainland on election day

One outage in Langley and Surrey is affecting over 4,000 customers

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Most Read