Democratic candidate for the White House, Joe Biden, on Tuesday accused U.S. President Donald Trump of “panicking” during the pandemic and questioned the deadlines the Republican has set for the start of a vaccination process, during the first dialectic between the two in the run-up to the November 3 presidential election.
The first debate between candidates for the U.S. presidency, held this Tuesday night, in which only the moderator was saved. Chris Wallace, a respected Fox News journalist, was the only one who shone between the constant interruptions of Donald Trump and the mediocre performance of Joe Biden.
The president arrived ready to impose his game. Already in the first question of the night, the replacement on the Supreme Court after the death of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, appeared with a crooked gesture and got into Biden’s turn to answer, who defended that “the American people have the right to decide” the replacement, so one must wait until there is a winner of the election.
Trump’s interruptions of his Democratic rival were constant, even though the campaigns, as Wallace reminded him, had agreed to let the rival speak in two-minute shifts. The moderator repeatedly urged him to respect Biden’s turn, but Trump was deaf and even accused Biden of interrupting him. “Frankly, you’ve interrupted more,” Wallace replied.
The moderator was incisive with both candidates, corrected Trump on some of his misrepresentations and insisted on repeating the questions when either of them, especially Trump, tried not to answer. “It seems that I am debating with you, not against him,” the president said to Wallace as soon as the debate began.
The debate tried to touch on the core issues of concern to Americans – coronavirus epidemic, health care, the economy, Supreme Court renewal, abortion, racial tensions, legitimacy of the electoral process – but it was muddied with a harsh tone. It was a constant barrage, provoked by Trump and one that Biden was unable to avoid.
The former vice president with Barack Obama came out willing to show a contrast in tone with Trump. At first, he simply smiled at Trump’s more exaggerated claims and on several occasions tried to change course and address “those of you at home,” looking for the camera. “I’m not here to point out your lies. Everyone knows he’s a liar,” he said in the opening bars. But the president ended up unhinging him. He got into every shift of Biden, shouted more than he did, covered his voice with “that’s not true” or “it’s a lie. The Democrat fell into his game: “Do you have any idea what this clown is saying,” “this is not presidential, keep barking man,” he told him. Solivianted, he ended up saying a “Why don’t you shut up”, which became the phrase of the night.
Biden’s plan was to focus on holding Trump accountable for the 200,000 deaths and the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus epidemic and to show himself as a moderate figure who would restore decency to the U.S. He did not do so effectively, except when he noted that “millionaires and billionaires like the president have gotten rich” during the pandemic while most of the country has suffered.
Amidst all the ruckus, Trump placed his dubious messages about the epidemic – “we saved millions of lives,” “the vaccine will be here soon” – and there was little time left to discuss the week’s controversy: The New York Times’ revelations about his tax returns, in which in 10 of the last 18 years he has not paid a single dollar and, as president, only $750, less than any average American. “I paid millions”, Trump decided without giving details and against the information of the New York newspaper.
Biden, doubtful and lacking energy all night, never put him on the ropes. Only the moderator did, when he insisted on some of his questions. Like his plans for health coverage once he eliminates the system imposed on Barack Obama’s presidency, for which he had no answer. Or the moderator’s insistence on whether Trump will agree not to declare himself a winner in the November 3 election until there is independent certification (he refused and insisted that the mail-in vote, expanded by the pandemic, is a “fraud”). Or when Wallace called on him to condemn white supremacism and the militia groups that support it.
First he tried to dodge the condemnation. Wallace insisted. “Who do you want me to condemn,” the president said, and the Democrat suggested that he condemn the Proud Boys, an extreme right-wing group that was among the participants in the violent protests in Charlottesville in 2017. “Proud Boys, step back and be prepared,” Trump said, without explicit condemnation, and he changed the third to condemn the ‘anti-fa’ groups of the extreme left.
The debate bottomed out at that point. Also when Trump threw personal darts at Biden. He was expected to attack his mental capacity: “There is nothing intelligent about you. He was also expected to use the son of Democratic candidate Hunter Biden for his business in Ukraine when Biden was Vice President. “He’s totally discredited,” Biden insisted on accusations that he got rich in a corrupt way.
But Trump went further when Biden accused him of calling soldiers like his other son Beau, who went to war in Iraq and died years later of cancer, “losers. “Your son was kicked out of the army for cocaine abuse,” he said to his rival, who could only admit that, like many other families, his had had to overcome that problem.
It was perhaps the lowest blow of a sordid debate at times and chaotic almost from end to end, the most unpleasant one in memory. The first meeting between Trump and Biden shakes even more a country strained by an epidemic that does not cease and by the racial tensions of the summer, with the uncertainty of what will happen when the electoral recount begins, with the certainty of a legal war between both parties for the results and the fear of a violent escalation.