Americans are the loser following name-calling, vicious debate
• Bottom line: No overall winner, but a decisive loser: Americans, many of whom likely turned off the debate after 30 minutes. Markets will likely reflect high uncertainty after the chaotic sparring between Donald Trump and Democratic hopeful Joe Biden during which the president suggested vote-by-mail could be rife with fraud. Trump brought his usual activist style, with some of his own supporters saying he overdid it. Biden won a technical victory by just surviving and being gaffe free. Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News had a good start during the night, but then became too much part of the debate himself, sometimes asking too complex questions and seeming to take sides on some of the topics, with Trump at one point saying he was debating with Wallace. The debate made one thing clear: the level of disdain the two men vying for the White House hold for each other.
• Each “presidential” candidate scored points on some topics: Trump on law and order and the judicial system while Biden scored debating points on tax policy (even though most viewers likely did not understand most of what he said) and on Trump's response to the pandemic. The president said the pandemic was “China’s fault” and his actions prevented more deaths. “We’ve done a great job,” he said. Biden scored points by simply looking into the camera and speaking directly to the public: “You have a choice; you can decide what happens to this country, not him,” he said.
• Tone of debate: Childish, non-presidential, rancorous, a 96-minute bout laced with insults, taunts and interruptions, and Biden's too-frequent derisive laughing at Trump or the president's comments. Biden at various times called Trump a “clown,” a “racist,” and used the term “dog whistle” several times, noting he did not trust the president and that he lies and at one point told Trump to “shut up, man.” Trump got personal with Biden's son, Hunter. Biden raised his voice to defend his son Hunter after the president criticized his military discharge over drug use.
• Substance: Some, but rarely did the debate go into the future into what either candidate has planned should they get the office for four years ahead.
Biden encouraged Trump to denounce the group the Proud Boys, which has been designated by the controversial Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. Trump said, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by… Somebody has got to do something about antifa and the left.” Antifa — short for “antifascist” — is a loose network of groups that coordinates antiracist activism on an ad hoc basis. Biden noted that Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI, had referred to antifa as “an idea, not an organization.”
Biden, asked why voters should trust him to deal with race issues facing the country, said: “We have never walked away from trying to require equity for everyone, equality for the whole of America. We have never accomplished it. We have never walked away from it like he has done.” Trump noted Biden’s support for the controversial crime bill in 1994, then suggested the former vice president wasn’t supportive enough of law enforcement. “You can’t even say the word law enforcement because if you say the words, you’re going to lose all of your radical left supporters,” Trump said.
Trade policy surfaced briefly during the debate. Biden took a swipe at Trump’s Phase 1 trade deal with China which he characterized as “the art of the steal.” Trump responded by saying China “ate [Biden’s] lunch.” Biden mistakenly said the trade deficit with China had increased under Trump when it has actually fallen — the overall trade deficit has increased this year and is on track to be higher than it was during Trump’s first year in office.
As for whether Trump would accept election results, Trump refused, without equivocation. “If it’s a fair election, I am 100% on board, but if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that,” he said.
Regarding Trump's nominee to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Trump said he had the right to move swiftly to replace her, while Biden said U.S. voters should weigh in first. “We won the election,” Trump said about his decision to pick nominee Amy Coney Barrett, with just over a month until the election. “Elections have consequences. We have the Senate, we have the White House and we have a phenomenal nominee.” Biden said that Trump and Barrett want to strike down the Affordable Care Act, costing 20 million people their health insurance.
Biden said he would have the U.S. rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change.
“I am the Democratic party,” Biden said after Trump pressed him on ties to the “radical left” in the Democratic Party. “The matter of the fact is that I beat Bernie Sanders,” Biden added, "by a whole hell of a lot." Trump accused Biden of backing Medicare-for-all, the universal health care program popularized by Sanders that calls for the elimination of private insurance. "Your party wants to go socialist medicine and socialist health care," Trump said. "And they're going to dominate you, Joe, you know that." Biden, who has laid out a plan to expand the Affordable Care Act/ObamaCare by adding a public option that's open to all Americans but preserves the option for individuals to keep their private insurance, rejected that assessment. "My party is me," he said. "I am the Democratic Party right now. The platform of the Democratic Party is what I approved of."
“The Green New Deal is not my plan,” Biden insisted during the debate. Biden had responded to an assertion from President Trump, referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) package of proposals for transforming energy production and consumption in the U.S. “No, I don’t support the Green New Deal,” Biden insisted. “I support the Biden plan I put forward, which is different than what [Trump] calls the Green New Deal.” Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) issued a toned-down reaction Tuesday night regarding Biden's comments about her signature legislative proposal. “Our differences are exactly why I joined Biden’s Climate Unity Task Force — so we could set aside our differences & figure out an aggressive climate plan to address the planetary crisis at our feet,” AOC said.
• Biden survived: Pre-debate commentary that the Democratic candidate would or could not last the 90-minutes of debate, or would appear incoherent at times, proved errant, and led to a very low bar, which Biden cleared. The vice president offered coherent comments on issues like voting rights and the president’s tax returns. Some observers think Trump's frequent interruptions kept Biden from rambling on any topic. Any truly independent voter who had not made up their mind and who was worried about the return of Biden's gaffes should feel more comfortable about Biden. This alone could help sustain Biden's lead in the polls, if not boost them a tad.
• What each debater wanted to get across: Trump kept repeating that Biden was being led by the radical far left in his party if not the socialists like Bernie Sanders. Biden said Trump was not smart and could not be trusted. Trump told his rival that for “47 years you’ve done nothing,” with Biden calling Trump “the worst president that America has ever had.”
• What each candidate failed to answer: Biden refused to say he would not support packing the Supreme Court or ending the Senate filibuster. “That will become the issue,” Biden said. “The issue is the American people should speak,” Biden added, signaling that should Biden win the presidency and the Democrats the Senate, that would give his party carte blanche to do what they want. The president deflected a question about whether he would condemn white supremacist groups, saying most violence stemming from civil unrest came from the “left wing.”
• Moderator Chris Wallace: He peaked at the beginning but became too much part of the debate himself, in part by his too complex questions and taking various sides on certain issues. At one point Trump said he was also debating Wallace.