The first presidential debate demonstrated escalated political tensions, with President Donald Trump resorting to name-calling and interrupting Democratic nominee Joe Biden. In the 90-minute debate, moderated by Fox News’Chris Wallace, the candidates sparred tooth and nail — often leaving little time to answer Wallace’s actual questions.
“The country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions,” Wallace said at one point, directly addressing Trump. “I’m appealing to you, sir, to do it.”
“And him, too?” the president responded, referring to Biden.
“Well, frankly, you’ve been doing more interrupting,” Wallace answered.
“It’s hard to get a word in with this clown,” Biden chimed in.
Despite the chaos, the two candidates did manage to talk about current issues, such as the economy, pandemic and electoral security.
“This is the same man that told you by Easter this would be gone away,” Biden said. “By the warm weather it would be gone, like a miracle. And maybe you could inject bleach in your arm, and that would take care of it.”
Trump interjected that his bleach remark had been “sarcastic.”
The president echoed his previous comments early on in the pandemic, placing the blame largely on China and adding that they were additionally responsible for the US economy tanking, though unemployment is no longer at its highest.
He called COVID-19 the “China plague” and celebrated the travel ban he imposed against the country, saying without it, millions of Americans would have died. However, his order did not ban all travel from China, and studies have shown that the earliest cases of COVID-19 in New York largely came from Europe, not China.
“It’s China’s fault,” he said. “It should have never happened.”
On the topic of election integrity, both candidates urged their supporters to go out and vote — Trump in-person and absentee, and Biden anyway possible.
The president has mounted a sweeping campaign against mail-in ballots, claiming “this is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen.” Experts say mail-in and absentee voting are largely the same thing, and reports of fraud from voting by mail are statistically irrelevant.
“We might not know for months because these ballots are going to be all over,” Trump said Tuesday, noting that he was fully prepared for a Supreme Court battle — where is positioned to appoint another justice, handing him a sure conservative majority.
Biden told voters not to listen to Trump’s remarks, because he “cannot stop you from being able to determine the outcome of this election.”
“He’s just afraid of counting the votes,” he added.
Wallace also addressed a New York Times report published Sunday which found that Trump did not pay income tax for 10 of 15 years before the election, and only paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017.
Trump denounced the report, claiming he paid “millions” in tax but also hinted that he should not be punished for taking advantage of tax benefits and loopholes.
“Chris, let me tell you something, I don’t want to pay tax,” Trump said. “Like every other private business person, unless they’re stupid, they go through the laws.”
He also said he would release his tax returns “as soon as it’s finished,” after Biden interrupted to say “show us your tax returns.”
Trump has promised to release his tax returns since his 2016 campaign but has yet to do so, and several contentious legal battles to gain that information have mounted, namely in New York.
“He says he’s smart because he can take advantage of the tax code,” Biden responded. “I’m going to eliminate the Trump taxes and we’re going to invest in the people who need help.”
Two other moments during the debate struck viewers as particularly ugly moments.
In one, Trump went for a personal attack, calling out Biden’s son’s alleged former drug habit after the former Vice President appealed to the US military.
“Speaking of my son, the way you talk about the military — the way you talk about them being losers and being, and just being suckers — my son was in Iraq and he spent a year there,” Biden said, referring to his son Beau, who served in the Iraq war and passed away in 2015 of brain cancer. “He got the Bronze Star. He got the Conspicuous Service Medal. He was not a loser. He was a patriot. And the people left behind there were heroes.”
“Are you talking about Hunter?” Trump interrupted.
“I’m talking about my son Beau Biden,” Biden replied.
“I don’t know Beau, I know Hunter,” Trump interjected again. “Hunter got thrown out of the military. He was thrown out, dishonorably discharged for cocaine use. And he didn’t have a job until you became vice president.”
“That’s not true,” Biden said. “None of that is true.”
“My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people we know at home, had a drug problem,” Biden continued. “He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him.”
Trump has attacked Hunter Biden since the impeachment inquiry, criticizing his business interests in Ukraine and China, though he has reportedly stepped down from both roles.
“China ate your lunch, Joe,” Trump said. “And no wonder, your son goes in and he takes out, he takes out billions of dollars. He takes out billions of dollars to manage. He makes millions of dollars.”
Two more presidential debates are scheduled, and Biden has promised to show up at each. It is unclear if Trump will decide not to debate again.
The next debate, the 2020 Vice Presidential debate, is scheduled for Oct. 7 at 9 p.m. EST.