Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 27 October 2020

US ELECTIONS

Chaotic first debate for Biden and Trump unlikely to swing undecideds

Snap polling suggested the vast majority found the tone to be negative, only 17 per cent found it informative and most felt annoyed

Never in the US history of presidential debates has chaos, interruptions and insults been bandied between the candidates as they were at Tuesday’s head to head between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

The US President opted for an aggressive approach but ended up interrupting Mr Biden more than 50 times, smearing his family and failing to condemn white supremacists.

Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, called Mr Trump “a clown”, “a liar”, “racist” and “Putin’s puppy” – and repeatedly asked him to “shut up”.

The 90-minute exchange came low on policy proposals and civil discussion between the candidates. The moderator, prominent news anchor Chris Wallace, lost control of the debate, couldn’t stop Mr Trump’s interruptions and failed to enforce time limits.

Politically, Mr Trump who is behind in the national and key state polls, didn’t deliver a performance likely to change the state of the race. Election analyst Nate Silver tweeted that the chaotic debate is not an effective strategy for the US President.

“I’m not sure why trying to fight the debate to a messy, unwatchable draw is supposed to be a strategy for Trump when he’s seven points behind in the polls,” he wrote.

But Mr Trump’s more damaging, non-stylistic mistake came through his failure to condemn white supremacists.

Mr Wallace asked Mr Trump: “Are you willing to condemn white supremacists and militias and tell them they need to stand down?”

The president said he was willing to do anything, asking Wallace for the name he wanted to be condemned. Both Mr Biden and Mr Wallace chimed in: “Then do it”.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, but I tell you what – someone needs to do something about Antifa,” he said.

The Proud Boys is a prominent far-right neo-fascist organisation and reportedly welcomed the name check with posts online suggesting they were happy to “stand by” to take action.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the executive director of the Anti-Defamation League, said Mr Trump owes the American public an apology for failing to condemn white supremacy.

Mr Biden’s performance was shy at times in the first debate overtaken by Mr Trump’s interruptions.

But the former vice president stood his ground in defending his son, Hunter, when Mr Trump smeared him. “Hunter got thrown out of the military. He was thrown out, dishonourably discharged for cocaine use. And he didn’t have a job until you became vice president,” Mr Trump said, in an unusual attack on a contender’s family.

“That’s not true,” Mr Biden said. “None of that is true.”

“He made a fortune in Ukraine and China,” Mr Trump interjected.

“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,” an emotional Mr Biden said.

The debate repeated the candidates’ disagreements on the handling of coronavirus and a vaccine, climate change, taxes, race relations, Supreme Court nominations and healthcare. At one point when Mr Trump promised to release taxes, Mr Biden used the Arabic word “Inshallah” in its colloquial meaning “never going to happen”.

But for Mr Trump, who has thrown many attack lines at Mr Biden and none has stuck, this was no different. The president’s overly aggressive behaviour, inability to address the undecided voters and the chaotic state of the debate is likely to make the encounter inconsequential in swaying the election.

CBS News’ battleground tracker poll said that 69 per cent of debate watchers felt “annoyed” and only 17 per cent found it “informative”. The poll also said 83 per cent of viewers said the tone of the debate was “negative”.

Vice President Mike Pence will debate the first black woman vice presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, on October 7.

Updated: September 30, 2020 09:27 AM

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