"Will you shut up, man!" - Trump and Biden scolded as first presidential debate turns ugly
"Will you shut up, man! This is so unpresidential."
US President Donald Trump and Joe Biden clashed early and often during the first debate, of three planned, ahead of the 2020 presidential elections, at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.
The American public, and the wider world, watched on in their millions in the hopes of getting clear answers on the economy, tackling Covid-19 and fighting racial injustice. Instead, what they got was a grim slanging match, several incoherent moments, a slew of untruths and, in Chris Wallace, a moderator struggling to keep a lid on events.
With social distancing measures being observed, Trump and Biden, who served as vice president during Barack Obama's eight-year presidential term, did not meet in the middle of the stage and there were no handshakes.
The night got off to a cordial start as Trump greeted his opponent to the stage by saying, "How're ya doing, man?"
The debate officially began, soon after, and the gloves were straight off.
The first of the six sections covered in the 90-minute debate was the Supreme Court and Trump's decision to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the seat vacated by the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
Asked why he was not willing to wait until after the election, Trump said a president is elected for a four-year term and 'not three, or three and a half'. Stating that the Democrats would try to push their own candidate through, were they in power, Trump added, "We won the election, so we won the right."
In the opening exchanges, Trump made a habit of interrupting Biden and talking over his answers. The practice rattled Biden, who implored Wallace to keep the President in check, but it was easier asked than done.
Trump veered off topic, during that Supreme Court section, to fire an early broadside about how he feels the Covid-19 pandemic would have been handled under a Biden presidency. He declared:
"If you were in charge there would be two million people dead. You were too late on the draw, Joe. You didn't want to ban China."
"I'm not here to call him a liar," Biden responded. "Everyone knows he's a liar."
Over the next 10 minutes, the debate got testy and Biden fired off a stream of exasperated remarks. "Folks," he asked aloud, "do you have any idea what this clown is doing?"
That was followed, moments later with Biden proclaiming, "Will you shut up, man! This is so unpresidential."
— JOE.ie (@JOEdotie) September 30, 2020
The debate moved on to the Covid-19 pandemic and Biden pointed out that over 204,000 Americans have lost their lives due to the virus and that between 750 to 1,000 more are being added to that tally on a daily basis. He added:
"When he was presented with those facts, he said, 'It is what it is'. Well, it is what is is because you are who you are."
Biden stated his belief that Trump 'panicked or just looked at the stock market' when making big decisions on how to tackle Covid-19. He reminded those watching about how Trump spoke about the virus being 'gone by Easter, and then when the warm weather arrived'.
He then brought up a comment Trump made at The White House in April, saying, "By the way, maybe you can inject some bleach into your arm, that would take care of it."
That sparked an irate response from Trump, who claimed those comments were him being sarcastic.
Trump complained about the media giving him bad press and giving Biden good press before trying to paint the Obama administration as failing badly during the Swine Flu outbreak of 2009 (when an estimated 12,000 Americans lost their lives after contracting the H1N1 virus).
Not for the first time, since the Covid-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic, Trump hinted at a vaccine coming online and readily available. He declared that the US military was primed and ready to make vaccine drops to 200,000 people a day when it was available. He said:
"I spoke to the scientists in charge. They will have the vaccine very soon."
Trump went on to portray Biden and the Democratic Party as hell-bent on keeping wide tracts of the country locked down at the cost of the economy, and livelihoods. "He will shut it down again," Trump proclaimed. "He's going to destroy the economy."
Wallace moved on to the matter of Trump's tax returns, following a New York Times exposé on his returns which claimed he had paid only $750 in federal income tax during his first year as president.
Trump countered by saying he has paid millions in federal income tax. When he refused to give a clear answer on making his tax returns available for the public to view, Biden chimed, "You're the worst president in the history of America, man."
Then came the first of three attacks, from Trump, on Hunter Biden, son of the presidential nominee. Trump claimed Hunter Biden's son took a $3.5m payment from Moscow, which Joe Biden said had been thoroughly discredited.
The debate descended from there and, at one point, Biden looked at Wallace and said, "It's hard to get in anything with this clown. I'm sorry! This president."
All of this and we were only at the halfway mark.
Wallace lectured both men about interrupting each other before turning to the topic of racial injustice. When Trump attempted to take the stance of being for the common voter of America, Biden jumped in:
"He wouldn't know a suburb unless he took a wrong turn. I was raised in the suburbs. All these dog whistles towards racism are not helping... what people care about in the suburbs is people dying from Covid and losing their jobs."
It was a strong parry from Biden but he looked drained at times during the debate.
Asked to criticise white supremacists and militia groups, by Wallace, Trump said he would be open to it before quickly turning on Biden and saying he must be careful on Antifa 'before they overthrow you too'. He declared:
"Proud Boys, stand back and stand by! But I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about Antifa and the left."
Donald Trump asked if he is 'willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down'
TRUMP: "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by! But I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about ANTIFA and the left"pic.twitter.com/QRXLlR60m2
— JOE.ie (@JOEdotie) September 30, 2020
Both men were asked by Wallace how they would go about kick-starting the American economy over the next couple of years, Trump focused on his record in office while Biden dropped in a biting sound-bite.
TRUMP: "There has never been a President who has done more in three and a half years than me and my administration."
BIDEN: "Under this President, we've become weaker, sicker, poorer, more divided and more violent."
A back-and-forth about the military brought out an unexpected counter from Trump.
When Biden started to talk about his son Beau Biden, who served in the military and died from a brain tumour in 2015, being a patriot, and Trump describing those who served as "losers", the president again switched the attack to Hunter Biden.
The section on the green economy was overrun by back-and-forth sniping from both sides before Wallace moved on to the hotly-contested topic of election integrity and mail-in ballots. Trump said the election process might take months to sort out due to postal votes before adding:
"This is going to be a fraud like you've never seen... It's a rigged election!"
The president went on to talk about military ballots, voting for Trump, being found in waste-paper baskets and other pro-Trump ballots being discovered in Florida swamps. He even shared a tale about West Virginian postmen selling ballots.
Wallace put it to Trump that 31 million of Americans that voted in the Mid-Term elections, two years ago, did so by mailed in ballots. He then asked both men if they would vow to not declare victory prematurely, after the election votes, and wait for independent adjudication on the matter.
Trump said he would, if it was fair, but he suspects it will be rigged and tens of thousands of ballots are interfered with. Biden stated that he believes there will be a peaceful transfer of power, no matter who gets elected as president.
With that, Wallace called an end to the debate by remarking, "To be continued."