It’s Wednesday, September 30, 2020. Election Day is 34 days away. The vice presidential debate is 7 days away. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.
With lies and interruptions, Trump plunges first debate into chaos
Presidential debates are rarely known for their sophisticated discussions of policy.
But, even by those standards, the first face-off between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday night was particularly personal and policy-free. The 90-minute debate quickly descended into chaos, as Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden and spread false or misleading claims.
For large sections of the night, Biden and moderator Chris Wallace barely got a word in edgewise without Trump interjecting — despite both campaigns having agreed to rules that allowed each candidates to give two-minute answers. “Will you shut up, man?” an exasperated Biden pleaded at one point. “This is so unpresidential.”
At various other points in the debate, he called Trump “a clown,” “a racist,” and “the worst president America has ever had.” The president responded in kind, telling his opponent, “there’s nothing smart about you,” and charging, “In 47 months, I’v done more than you’ve done in 47 years.”
For most of the night — with mixed success — Biden sought to stare straight into the camera when Trump interrupted him, addressing the TV viewers instead of his rival candidate. “This is not about my family or his family,” Biden said after Trump again brought up his son Hunter’s foreign business deals. “It’s about your family, the American people. He doesn’t want to talk about what you need.”
Even when Biden mentioned the military service of his late son Beau, Trump attempted to steer the conversation back to Biden’s living son: “I don’t know Beau,” he said. “I know Hunter.”
One of the policy areas that was discussed Tuesday night was racial justice and the recent spate of violence in American cities. Wallace asked Trump, who has been critical of Antifa and other left-wing groups, if he would condemn white supremacist organizations as well. “Sure, I’m willing to do that,” Trump said, before stopping well short of doing so.
“Proud Boys: stand back and stand by,” Trump declared instead, referring to the far-right group which later celebrated the president’s remarks.
The two candidates also sparred on the correct response to the coronavirus, with Biden blasting Trump’s handling of the pandemic and Trump insisting that his rival would have done worse.
“How many of you got up this morning and had an empty chair at the kitchen table because someone died of COVID?” Biden asked, again addressing the American public.
“You would have lost far more people,” Trump responded.
The president also mocked Biden’s penchant for mask-wearing and insisted that “we’re weeks away from the vaccine,” even though public health experts have stressed the importance of face masks and said a vaccine will likely not be widely available until summer or fall of 2021.
On several issues, Trump seemed focused on driving a wedge between Biden and left-wing Democrats, tying the former vice president to plans such as Medicare for All, defunding the police, and the Green New Deal, and then acting surprised when Biden reiterated his opposition to them.
“Oh, you don’t?” Trump said when Biden said that he didn’t support the Green New Deal, a costly plan to address climate change and economic inequality put forward by progressive lawmakers. “Oh, well, that’s a big statement. You just lost the radical left.”
But when Trump claimed that Biden’s party “wants to go socialist medicine and socialist health care,” the former vice president replied: “The party is me. Right now, I am the Democratic Party.”
The final phase of the debate focused on the integrity of the election itself, as a swarm of mail-in ballots are expected to delay the counting of the presidential vote. Although Biden said he would accept the results if he lost the election, Trump declined to make a similar promise — instead reeling off a number of false claims about mail voting.
“They’re being sold, they’re being dumped in rivers,” Trump said of mail-in ballots, although there is no evidence of such activity or any other forms of widespread voter fraud. “This is a horrible thing for our country. This is not going to end well.”
Those statements echoed how many commentators felt about Tuesday night’s debate: that it was something approaching “a horrible thing” for the nation. “That was the worst presidential debate I’ve ever seen in my life,” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos said. It “could have been a low point in American political discourse,” NBC’s Lester Holt added. “That was a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck,” CNN’s Jake Tapper declared.
Many pundits even wondered if Biden would return for a second debate, after Trump tried to steamroll him throughout the first. Biden’s campaign quickly clarified that he would, in fact, participate in the next debates — setting up rematches between the two candidates on October 15 and October 22.
But the next candidates to meet on the debate stage will be the two running mates, Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris, who are set to face off in Salt Lake City, Utah, one week from today.
“This is bizarre”: Students respond to debate in Harvard focus group
As Donald Trump and Joe Biden met on the debate stage Tuesday night, a group of students from colleges across the country gathered over Zoom to share their perspectives on how the showdown was going in real time.
The virtual focus group was hosted by the Harvard Public Opinion Project, the premier polling outfit regularly surveying young Americans. Wake Up To Politics gained exclusive access to the focus group and the student responses.
Students used the chat function on Zoom to share their opinions on the statements offered by both candidates — but for many throughout the night, it became a rolling forum for students to vent their frustrations about the quality of the debate itself.
“This is devolving faster than expected,” University of Delaware student Victoria Calvin said, five minutes in.
“This is bizarre,” echoed Benjamin Barberie of the University of Louisville.
“Staying on topic? Couldn’t be here,” Hannah DeWalt, a student at Washington & Jefferson College, chimed in.
Many students commented on Trump’s near-constant interjections; several speculated that the strategy would backfire and fall short of providing the boost in support Trump needed to gain from the debate. “He’s combative to the point of stepping on his own toes,” DeWalt said. “It seems he’s so eager to get a word in that it doesn't matter what he says, and to derail the debate.”
“It won’t win over undecided voters,” Harvard student Rajvir Batra predicted, hastening to add: “His base is going to stick with him regardless.”
The students also noted the two candidates’ conflicting presentation styles: “It is interesting how Biden is looking directly at the camera,” Batra said, “while Trump is looking at Biden.”
“Biden is speaking to the people and Trump is combating what Biden is saying,” Patrice Cranston of Dutchess Community College responded — although others felt that the former vice president’s approach made him seem less authentic. “Biden seems polished but disingenuous to say the least,” said Aditya Sehgal of Georgetown University.
When the 90 minutes came to a close, the students were quick to celebrate, perhaps echoing many other viewers. “Oh thank God it’s over,” Batra said.
“This debate has taken years off my life,” Calvin declared.
Afterwards, participants were to offer a single word to describe how they felt about the debate. Each of the responses took on a similarly despairing tone: “Scared.” “Dizzy.” “Concerned.” “Frustrated.” “Stressed.” “Irritated.” “Exhausted.” “Worried.” “Overwhelmed.” “Tired.”
Still, though, when asked if they felt that the candidates should move forward with participating in another debate, the students unanimously responded that they should. “I think that there are some issues that fundamentally were left out of the debate,” Andrew Maguire, a student at Dutchess Community College, said. “I think, for one, foreign policy should have been a bit more discussed.”
“Candidates could use more time to describe their plans centered around all of the issues they discussed,” DeWalt agreed — “although interrupting will be an issue,” she acknowledged.
All times Eastern.
President Donald Trump will travel to Minnesota. He will attend a fundraiser at 6:30 p.m. in Shorewood and a campaign rally at 9 p.m. in Duluth.
Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Atlanta, Georgia. He will deliver remarks at a conference hosted by the Faith & Freedom Coalition.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden will embark on a “Build Back Better Express” train tour, making stops in Cleveland, Ohio (9:45 a.m.); Alliance, Ohio (11:45 a.m.); Pittsburg, Pennsylvania (2:20 p.m.); Greensburg, Pennsylvania (3:45 p.m.); New Alexandria, Pennsylvania (4:30 p.m.); Latrobe, Pennsylvania (5:20 p.m.); and Johnstown, Pennsylvania (7:30 p.m.).
The Senate will convene at 12 p.m. and resume consideration of H.R. 8337, the House-passed continuing resolution to extend government funding through December 11. The chamber is expected to vote on the measure sometime this afternoon.
The House will convene at 12 p.m. and vote on 11 pieces of legislation.
The Supreme Court is on its summer recess.
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