Patrick Semansky / AP
It was perhaps the worst presidential debate in American history.
If this was meant to be a boxing match, it instead turned into President Trump jumping on the ropes, refusing to come down, the referee trying to coax him and Joe Biden standing in the middle of the ring with his gloves and a confused look on his face.
Trump doesn’t play by anyone’s rules, even those he agreed to beforehand. He is proud of it. But even by his standards, what Trump did on Tuesday night crossed many lines.
More than 200,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus pandemic. And instead of a serious debate about the country’s direction, Trump has derailed it.
More charitably, former Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum and former New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who helped Trump prepare for the debate, said he was “too hot.”
“I think the president has exaggerated his hand tonight,” Santorum told CNN.
Here are six takeaways from the first Trump-Biden debate.
1. Even for Trump, he went too far
During part of the debate, Trump appeared to be in control. He was constantly interrupting and trying to distract, deflect, and interfere. This is pretty typical Trump behavior, but some things in particular were glaring.
When Biden, for example, was talking about the military service of his late son Beau, Trump went on Biden’s other son, Hunter, and spoke about his past use of cocaine. It backfired on him.
Biden, looking straight at the camera, turned something he rarely talks about into a positive, sympathetic moment.
“My son, like a lot of people you know back home, had a drug problem,” Biden said. “He passed it. He fixed it. He worked on it. And I’m proud of him.”
Later, when Trump was asked to denounce white supremacists and militias – and in particular the far-right group Proud Boys – he said instead: “Proud Boys, step back and get ready. “And then he denounced the left groups. (Proud Boys now uses Trump’s words as part of a new logo.)
Moreover, Trump would not urge his supporters to remain peaceful while the votes are being counted, including if there are delays in communicating results.
“I urge my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully because this is what has to happen,” Trump said, adding, “If this is a fair election, I’m 100% on board. If I see tens of thousands of the ballots being manipulated, I cannot accept that. “
2. Trump probably did nothing to expand beyond his base
Trump’s base will likely like his performance. But entering the debate, Trump was behind in the polls. It’s not a secret.
He had to try to reclaim the suburbs and independent voters, which he both won in 2016 and have largely dropped out of this cycle.
So who exactly was this performance aimed at?
Trump repeated his call for “public order” to white suburban voters and tried to force Biden to repeat the words. But Biden didn’t take the hook and swiveled, calling for “law and order with justice where people are treated fairly.”
And Biden said that about Trump and the nature of his appeal.
“He wouldn’t know a suburb unless he took a wrong turn,” Biden said. “I grew up in the suburbs. It’s not 1950. All that dog whistle and racism no longer works. The suburbs are largely integrated.”
3. Biden missed opportunities
It wasn’t Biden’s cleanest debate. He was not focused, was often baffled – like Fox News moderator Chris Wallace – by Trump’s antics.
“Are you going to shut up, man?” ” says Biden while trying to make a point. He has also called Trump a “clown” more than once.
Biden missed a few opportunities. For example, when Trump was talking about the role of masks by preventing the spread of the coronavirus, Biden could have intervened more forcefully to talk about the largely maskless gatherings of Trump. When Trump claimed his rallies had caused no harm, Biden could have pointed to the peak in coronavirus cases after Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The former vice president had a few stumbles and times that weren’t great for him, like not responding if he would add Supreme Court justices – “wrap the yard“- if Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s candidate to succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is confirmed.
This has likely been overshadowed by Trump’s behavior, but for the next debate – if there is one – Biden’s team will have to try to sharpen it.
4. Trump tried to tie Biden to the far left, but it didn’t work
Trump has done his best to portray Biden as a socialist, or at least indebted to the “radical left.” But problem after problem – “Health insurance for all“, by financing the police, the Green New Deal – Biden has disowned the policies the Trump campaign tried to lasso him.
Biden has just reaffirmed his positions, and they all align with the middle of the electorate, far more than Trump’s political positions.
It could have hurt Biden with the progressive left, especially with regard to the Green New Deal, if Trump had not become Trump altogether.
5. Trump’s response to his handling of COVID-19 was more or less the same
More than 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and coronavirus cases are on the rise again in parts of the country.
And yet Trump’s tactic in defending himself over his handling of the pandemic was to insult Biden’s intelligence.
“He freaked out or just looked at the stock market, one of the two, because guess what?” Biden said. “A lot of people are dead and a lot more are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter and a lot faster.”
“Did you use the word ‘smart? “Trump asked rhetorically, adding,” You got the lowest or almost the lowest in your class. Never use the word “smart” with me. “
Trump said he disagree with his own experts on an immunization schedule, insisting that it would soon be widely available. But making nice statements to the public is exactly what got him in trouble after Bob Woodward’s last book, Rage, revealed that Trump privately knew the virus was worse than he had said publicly.
He tried to claim that Biden would have made the pandemic worse. “Two million would be dead by now,” he said.
But Trump is president and, on average, a the majority of Americans say they frown on the work he is doing to deal with the coronavirus.
6. Good luck to the next moderator
Ahead of the debate, Wallace said its objective was to be “invisible”.
In the end, he might have wished he was. The role was no easy task, and the next presidential debate on October 15 is expected to be moderated by C-SPAN’s Steve Scully, much gentler.
After the first presidential debate in the 2004 election, Internet conspiracies escalated over a mysterious bulge in the back of President George W. Bush’s jacket. Some believed, without merit, that there was a communications system rigged by White House advisers to coach him.
Bush dismissed this, cracking down wisely.
“I guess the assumption was that if I got lost they would… kind of like a hunting dog, they would hit a buzzer and I would get back in my place,” he said. noted after.
Maybe something to consider.