Presidential debate: Rather than ideas, Trump and Biden serve American voters garbage during chaotic clash

There is nothing to be gained or learned if president and former VP debate again before election day, writes Washington bureau chief John T Bennett

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Wednesday 30 September 2020 12:36
Trump refuses to denounce white supremacism and instead tells Proud Boys to ‘stand back and stand by’

American voters were promised a debate between the two men seeking the highest office in the land. What they got was a national embarrassment that gave any remaining undecided voters little information to help them choose a candidate.

For over 90 minutes, Donald Trump picked fight after fight with Joe Biden and repeatedly went after a clearly flustered Chris Wallace, the Fox News Sunday host who drew the short stick as moderator of the duo’s first debate.

It very well might be their last before election day. Perhaps both candidates will spare us a second and third sequel. Maybe the television networks will band together and refuse to air them, opting instead to keep their evening line-ups intact – complete with their revenue-producing ads. 

There is nothing to be learned or gained from the two additional debates that are planned. 

Mr Biden appeared the winner, but victory needed only a few moments of him appearing presidential and empathetic to clear the night’s very low bar.

The president brought all of his greatest rally and Twitter hits to the event, snapping and shouting them over Mr Biden’s answers to Mr Wallace’s attempted questions.

Then the former vice president yelled over him and Mr Wallace tried yelling over them both.

The truth is there is not much to analyse from this national disgrace. Mr Trump needed to appeal to the white suburban women who voted for him in 2016 but supported Democratic congressional candidates two years later.

His red-faced and angry act likely did little to bring very many into his camp.

Mr Biden likely won over a few, when he could be heard clearly, which was not often, with his personal words about his son Beau Biden’s military service and death to cancer, as well as his defence of his other son, Hunter Biden. He looked directly into the camera and said he is “proud” that Hunter Biden has “fixed” his drug problem after the president went as low as any sitting president ever has during a live debate.

That is, if very many decided to subject their children to two septuagenarians bickering and arguing and shouting one another down. So the country is left to clean up all the garbage spilled on the stage at an Ohio university. There was no other clear theme than chaos, and neither landed much of a stinging blow on a policy matter.

Polls show Americans care most about the economy, healthcare and the coronavirus. That’s not what this debate was about, however.

“We are totally ill equipped to comment on something like this,” former Bill Clinton political strategist James Carville told MNSBC as pundits on each US cable news network struggled to find words when it was initially their turn to break down the event. “Nothing like this has ever happened in presidential politics.”

On CNN, Jake Tapper called the debate “garbage” and a “dumpster fire”. Across the same set, Dana Bash minced even fewer words: “That was a s***show.”

Behold, America, the state of your politics in 2020.

Gone is the “hope” of a new kind of politics that many so naively bought into when Barack Obama was elected as the first black American president.

Hope has been replaced by hopelessness, and it was centre stage on Tuesday night.

Mr Biden won the night, but the American people lost. Again.

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