WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden talked over each other, called each other names, and insulted each other in deeply personal ways during a 90-minute debate that was more of a food fight than policy debate.
When they did talk policy during the forum at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, the candidates disagreed on the Supreme Court, the economy, how to govern during the coronavirus, health care, race relations, green energy and law and order .
Moderator Chris Wallace acted more as a referee than a questioner. During the second half of the debate, the “Fox News Sunday” anchor pleaded with the president to allow Biden to answer a question and later scolded Trump for not complying with rules agreed to by his own campaign.
“It’s hard to get any word in with this clown,” Biden said at one point.
“That was insulting to the voters in general,” said Ken Khachigian, former chief speechwriter to President Ronald Reagan. Biden “called the president of the United States a clown” and both candidates demeaned each other. “It’s hard to accept when you think about the debates we’ve seen in the past.”
“I’m sad for our country. I am so embarrassed,” said Moe Vela, a Biden friend and former adviser. Noting he was about to do a Sky News segment in London, he added, “The world, I’m sure, they think we’ve lost our minds.”
Speech coach and communications specialist Ruth Sherman described Trump’s manner as “interrupting, even heckling” – or in a word, “disrespectful.”
Other than when Biden told Trump, “Will you shut up, man?” Sherman said, Biden’s voice was measured and moderate.
At the end of the debate, Wallace asked the candidates if they would pledge not to declare victory until the outcome had been “independently verified.”
Trump questioned the integrity of the Nov. 3 election, urged his supporters to serve as poll watchers and said of the process, “They cheat.”
Biden, however, responded, “The fact is, I will accept it, and he will too.” When the ballots are counted, whoever the winner is, Biden said, “That will be the end of it.”
Pitching to voters
Biden’s pitch to voters: America is “weaker, sicker, poorer, more divided and more violent” under Trump. The Democratic nominee slammed Trump’s handling of the coronavirus epidemic – with 200,000 Americans “dying on his watch” as Trump downplayed the virus.
Trump stuck to his game plan which entailed asking Biden why he had not passed the proposals he touts today during his 47 years of public service. “In 47 months, I’ve done more than you have in 47 years, Joe,” Trump said to the former vice president.
Trump tried to tie left-wing proposals like Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan around Biden’s neck – Biden responded that such planks belong to other Democrats and were not his plan.
At one point, Biden brought up Trump’s exclusive interview with the Review-Journal at a recent rally in Las Vegas, but mangled the details.
“And a reporter came up to him to ask him a question, and he said, ‘No no no’ stand back. Put on a mask. Have you been tested?… ‘I’m way far away from those other people.’ That’s what he said, ‘I’m going to be OK.’”
In fact, Trump said he didn’t think he could get the virus because he was far away on stage, but he was joking about the reporter’s social distancing.
Biden explicitly refused to answer Wallace’s questions as to whether he would support ending the Senate filibuster or adding additional justices to the Supreme Court to change its ideological balance.
Asked to denounce white supremacists, Trump countered that America’s bigger problem is Antifa.
Ahead of the debate, Trump and his campaign had been trolling Biden with a challenge that the Democratic nominee take a test to see if he took performance-enhancing drugs for the debate. Biden has refused.
For his part, Trump took the stage as the New York Times is reporting that he is personally liable for more than $400 million and did not pay federal income taxes in 11 out of 18 recent years. Trump blamed Biden and other Democrats for writing tax laws which he as a real estate developer was able to use to avoid paying high taxes.
The RealClearPolitics average of national polls shows Biden leading Trump by 6.1 percent, with neither candidate exceeding 50 percent.
Khachigian told the Review-Journal, “I don’t think any minds were changed. So if no minds were changed, that goes in favor of Biden in the long run.”