It was all awful, but these were the most awful bits.
Well, that was … something. All those who made it through the first Donald Trump/Joe Biden debate are now bonded by the horror of the experience, one which veteran commentators are variously calling “a disgrace”, “a train wreck” and “the worst debate I have ever seen”. Let’s remind ourselves of the lowest moments. And then never speak of it again.
‘Will you just shut up, man?’
In terms of pure cortisol-spiking stress, the worst parts of the debate for viewers were Trump’s persistent interruptions. Rarely could Biden get more than a few sentences out – and it’s worth mentioning that Biden has been open about his lifelong stutter, and the challenges he faces during debates as a result – before Trump would begin aggressively heckling him. He even repeatedly interrupted the moderator, Chris Wallace, who all but lost control of proceedings before the opening statements had even finished.
No doubt largely due to the incessant pummeling, Biden’s delivery was often shaky. As he was cut off, over and over, he began to lose his cool. “Will you just shut up, man?” he said at one point, later adding that “it’s hard to get any word in with this clown.”
— TIME (@TIME) September 30, 2020
‘Stand back and stand by’
During the segment on “Race and Violence in our Cities”, Trump was asked by Wallace to condemn right-wing violence.
Trump: “Sure, I’m willing to do that, but I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not the right wing.”
Wallace: “Then do it, sir.”
Trump: “What do you want to call them, give me a name, give me a name, who would you like me to condemn?”
Both Wallace and Biden said “white supremacists” and “Proud Boys”, referring to the far-right extremist group. “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump responded. “But I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. Somebody has to do something about Antifa and the left. This is not a right-wing problem. This is left-wing.”
He did not condemn right-wing violence.
— Alex Kaplan (@AlKapDC) September 30, 2020
‘I don’t know Beau. I know Hunter’
Responding to reports that Trump had called US soldiers “suckers” and “losers”, Biden spoke about his son Beau, who served in Iraq and died of brain cancer in 2015. Trump interrupted him to score points on Hunter Biden, Beau’s brother, leaving the vice president visibly shaken.
Biden: “My son was in Iraq. He spent a year there … He was not a loser. He was a patriot. And the people left behind there were heroes.”
Trump: “Really? Are you talking about Hunter?”
Biden: “I’m talking about my son Beau Biden.”
Trump: “I don’t know Beau. I know Hunter. 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.”
Biden: “That’s not true. 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. He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him.”
President Trump interrupted Joe Biden during their debate when Biden was talking about his late son’s military career, shifting the subject to the business ties of Biden’s other son https://t.co/o2s21y0yNX pic.twitter.com/QhA4ZLmcaV
— POLITICO (@politico) September 30, 2020
‘Fraud like you’ve never seen’
The debate ended with a section on election integrity, giving Trump an opportunity to repeat his baseless claims about voter fraud to an estimated audience of up to 80 million Americans.
“This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen,” Trump said. “We might not know for months because these ballots are all over. It’s a fraud and it’s a shame.”
Addressing the camera directly, Biden made an appeal to voters. “Show up and vote. You will determine the outcome of this election. Vote, vote, vote.”
The response to the chaotic debate was swift and damning. “That was a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck,” said CNN’s Jake Tapper. “That was the worst debate I have ever seen. It wasn’t even a debate. It was a disgrace.” His colleague Dana Bash was more succinct:
“That was a shitshow.”
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