Debate Takeaways: Pugilist Trump Runs Rings Around Debate Opponents Biden and Wallace

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by Bill Barrow and Zeke Miller

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — 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.

And in This Corner

Trump is no stranger to going on offense, but his pugilistic approach on stage left his Democratic opponent fighting to complete a sentence.

Trailing in public and private polling, Trump advisers have pushed him to reframe the election away from a referendum on his presidency to a choice between him and Biden. Trump, instead, commandeered the debate, trying to trip up Biden by interrupting, insulting, and challenging him at every turn.

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.

The line of the night went to the president who said, “I’ve done more in 47 months that you have done in 47 years.”

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 is fond of superlatives, but in the case of the debate there is little doubt that it was the most acrimonious of since the forums have been televised.

Trump Versus the Virus

Pundits have declared the President Trump has wanted the election to be about anything but the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is what it is because you are who you are,” Biden told the president, referring to the left’s assertion that – despite Trump closing the borders in early 2020 – he downplayed 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-defense 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.”

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 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. The former Vice President did not answer.

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, stating that “ANTIFA is an idea, not an organization;” to which Trump replied, “When they bash you over the head with a bat, that’s not an idea.”

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 an attempt to reframe of the political debate to terms far more favorable to the Democrat, which Trump played into.

Trump said of the conservative Barrett, “You don’t know her view on Roe vs. Wade” and added that there is no case in the court system that addresses Roe v Wade. Then he went on to defended his efforts to chip away at Obama-era health law.

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

“Invisible” Wallace Struggles to Contain Trump

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 could not stop Trump from interrupting and at times lost 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; adding that that the younger son was dishonorably discharged from the military over cocaine use.

Watch the full debate:

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Bill Barrow and Zeke Miller are reporters for The Associated Press. Christina Botteri contributed to this report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Thought to “Debate Takeaways: Pugilist Trump Runs Rings Around Debate Opponents Biden and Wallace”

  1. Lance Persson

    In future debates, I hope President Trump will learn to listen better, not react to negative comments made about him and instead project the brilliant, confident, and competent leader that he is. I fully support President Trump but he has to learn not to let Biden. and the other Democrats. push his buttons that activate his temper and demeanor. Trump is and has been a fantastical president. He has accomplished more than any president I know of under the worse conditions. Our country needs him to serve 4 more years and it doesn’t gain him votes when he continually interrupts other speakers just to satisfy his ego. Our country needs him to be elected if our nation is to continue to stand strong.

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