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Why Last Night’s Debate Is Already Considered The Worst In Presidential History

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Topline

The first, long-awaited presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden—beset with insults, Trump’s failure to condemn white supremacists, Biden attacking Trump’s record on coronavirus, and thin policy talk—was quickly condemned by several commentators.

Donald Trump And Joe Biden Participate In First Presidential Debate

U.S. President Donald Trump went toe-to-toe with rival Joe Biden on Tuesday, with many watchers and … [+] commentators characterizing the showdown as a mess

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Key Facts

The 90-minute debate was widely characterised by political commentators as a disaster and even a “s***show” by CNN’s Dana Bash.

CNN’s Chris Cillizza described the 90-minute debate as “a deep disservice to democracy” and an “awful debate” with no redeeming qualities, as the commentator chose to leave the “hits” section of his roundup intentionally empty.

The Washington Post’s judgement delivered a hard blow in its opening paragraph, calling the “unseemly shout fest” an “insult to the public” and “a sad example of the state of American democracy five weeks before the election.”

The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and Matt Flegenheimer concluded that between Trump’s complaints and self-praise in the third person, “Mr. Trump invited viewers on Tuesday to embrace his preferred version of Trump-era events” and made sure the conversation “turned back to his personal feelings and treatment at nearly every opportunity.” 

Politico’s Ryan Lizza suggested that Trump’s “90 minutes of bullying, interruptions, and ad hominem provocations” were different from his previous debates because he lacked a clear message, and came into the debate “burdened” with a poor record after four years in office.

Fox News’ Brit Hume compared Trump to a “bucking bronco”, suggesting Trump won the debate on the “greatest force of personality”, but added that viewers at home were unlikely to find his performance “all that appealing.”

Key Background

Many considered the lowest point of the debate to be Trump’s failure to condemn white supremacist groups, despite being given the chance to do so by host Chris Wallace. Instead, the president used the chance to shoutout far-right group the Proud Boys, who have been involved in violent clashes with anti-racism protesters, to “stand back and stand by”. Elsewhere, the debate was largely characterised by Trump’s constant interruption of Biden, a lack of control established by the host, personal insults and a very thin focus on policy. But, according to polls cast before and immediately after the debate, the debate was unlikely to serve as a fight for votes, even as Trump lags behind Biden in polls nationally and in battleground states. Most people are not expected to change their mind on who they will vote for in five weeks’ time: a Monmouth university poll before the debate found just 13% of voters expected to hear something that would swing their vote, while a CBS poll after the debate found just 6% of viewers were still deciding who to vote for.

Surprising Fact

According to Politico, the debate didn’t do much to sway a focus group of 15 undecided voters after the debate. The publication polled a virtual focus group of nine men and six women in states across the nation, and while four members said they would vote for Biden and two would back Trump, the remainder were still undecided.

Further Reading

‘Stand Back And Stand By’: Trump Doesn’t Condemn White Supremacists, But Gives Shoutout To Right-Wing Proud Boys (Forbes)

Trump Calls Own Officials Wrong In Debate As Biden Says Truth Treated As ‘Bad Idea’ In White House (Forbes)

‘It Is What It Is Because You Are Who You Are’: Biden Hits Trump On Covid (Forbes)

Trump Claims In Debate He’s Only Had Outdoor Rallies. That’s Not True. (Forbes)

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