Presidential Debate Morphs into Verbal Slugfest as Trump, Biden Trade Insults

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President Donald Trump, left, and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, right, with moderator Chris Wallace, center, of Fox News during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

By: TJVNews Staff

Marked by angry interruptions and bitter accusations, the first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden erupted in contentious exchanges Tuesday night over the coronavirus pandemic, city violence, job losses and how the Supreme Court will shape the future of the nation’s health care, according to an AP report.

In what was the most chaotic presidential debate in recent years, somehow fitting for what has been an extraordinarily ugly campaign, the two men frequently talked over each other with Trump interrupting, nearly shouting, so often that Biden eventually snapped at him, “Will you shut up, man?”

“The fact is that everything he’s said so far is simply a lie,” Biden said. “I’m not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he’s a liar.”

AP reported that Trump and Biden arrived in Cleveland hoping the debate would energize their bases of support, even as they competed for the slim slice of undecided voters who could decide the election. It has been generations since two men asked to lead a nation facing such tumult, with Americans both fearful and impatient about the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 of their fellow citizens and cost millions of jobs.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden answers a question during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool)

Biden’s jab that 20 million people would lose their health insurance brought the debate onto his turf, clearly part of his game plan, according to Fox News.

The second pivot point came when Trump accused Biden of wanting to strip health insurance from 180 million people, and when the Democrat said he had opposed Medicare for All, the president said “your party” is for “socialist” medicine, as was reported by Fox News.  Those jabs, and the mentions of Bernie Sanders, were clearly at the core of Trump’s game plan.

AP reported that the president drew a lecture from Wallace, who pleaded with both men to stop interrupting. Biden tried to push back against Trump, sometimes looking right at the camera to directly address viewers rather than the president and snapping, “It’s hard to get a word in with this clown.”

Trump was clearly on the offensive, taking an aggressive posture and slamming Biden continuously for his lack of substantive action on policy in his 47 years in public service.

Wallace tried repeatedly to put Trump on the defensive and asked him if he was willing to condemn white supremacists and paramilitary groups.

“What do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name,” Trump said, before Wallace mentioned the far right, violent group known as the Proud Boys. Trump then pointedly did not condemn the group, instead saying, “Proud Boys, stand back, stand by, but I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not right-wing problem. This is a left wing problem.”

AP reported that Trump said Biden was the politician who helped put millions of Black Americans in prison with the 1994 crime law. Biden called Trump “the racist” in the race.

Biden was quiet as Trump blitzed him as a tool of the “radical left” and a weak figure who opposes “law and order.” He pressed Biden repeatedly to name any police union that’s endorsed him. He falsely accused Biden of wanting to “defund the police.”

The former vice president tried to push back, but not until after Trump had made his arguments, including the misrepresentations.

Biden regained some footing mocking the president’s warnings about suburbs, saying, “He wouldn’t know a suburb unless he took a wrong turn.” And perhaps revealing the thinking about allowing Trump the rhetorical upper hand, Biden said, “All these dog whistles and racism doesn’t work anymore.”

The vitriol exploded into the open when Biden attacked Trump’s handling of the pandemic, saying that the president “waited and waited” to act when the virus reached America’s shores and “still doesn’t have a plan.” Biden told Trump to “get out of your bunker and get out of the sand trap” and go in his golf cart to the Oval Office to come up with a bipartisan plan to save people.

President Donald Trump responds to Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool)

AP reported that Trump snarled a response, declaring that “I’ll tell you Joe, you could never have done the job that we did. You don’t have it in your blood.”

“I know how to do the job,” was the solemn response from Biden, who served eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president.

The pandemic’s effects were in plain sight, with the candidates’ lecterns spaced far apart, all of the guests in the small crowd tested and the traditional opening handshake scrapped. The men did not shake hands and, while neither candidate wore a mask to take the stage, their families did sport face coverings, according to the AP report.

Trump struggled to define his ideas for replacing the Affordable Care Act on health care in the debate’s early moments and defended his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, declaring that “I was not elected for three years, I’m elected for four years.”

“We won the election. Elections have consequences. We have the Senate. We have the White House and we have a phenomenal nominee, respected by all.”

Trump criticized Biden over the former vice president’s refusal to comment on whether he would try to expand the Supreme Court in retaliation if Barrett is confirmed to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as was reported by AP.

The president also refused anew to embrace the science of climate change.

As the conversation moved to race, Biden accused Trump of walking away from the American promise of equity for all and making a race-based appeal.

“This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division,” Biden said, according to the AP report.

Recent months have seen major protests after the deaths of Black people at the hands of police. And Biden said there is systemic racist injustice in this country and while the vast majority of police officers are “decent, honorable men and women” there are “bad apples” and people have to be held accountable.

Trump in turn claimed that Biden’s work on a federal crime bill treated the African American population “about as bad as anybody in this country.” The president pivoted to his hardline focus on those protesting racial injustice and accused Biden of being afraid to use the words “law and order,” out of fear of alienating the left.

“Violence is never appropriate,” Biden said. “Peaceful protest is.”

Biden has evoked his son Beau Biden to criticize Trump for reportedly calling members of the American military who lost their lives “losers” and “suckers.”

Raising his voice at Tuesday night’s debate, Biden described his son as a hero. Beau Biden died of cancer in 2015.

Trump responded by pivoting to a familiar attack, on Biden’s other son, Hunter.

The president said, “I don’t know Beau. I know Hunter,” and accused Hunter Biden of having collected millions of dollars from oversees interests, including China, while working as a consultant during his father’s tenure as vice president. It echoed attacks the president made earlier in the debate in Cleveland, but have little basis in fact.

Breitbart reported that Trump also opened a new line of attack when he said Hunter Biden was dishonorably discharged from the military for cocaine use. Biden responded that his son wasn’t dishonorably discharged.

He addressed viewers directly and said that, like a lot of Americans, Hunter had a drug problem but was “working on it” and had “fixed it.”

Biden added “I’m proud of my son.”

As Joe Biden spoke into the camera, Trump attempted to engage him on the issue of packing the Supreme Court.

“Would you shut up, man?” Biden snapped.

From L-r., Rep. Chris Coons, D-Del., Rep. Lisa Rochester, D-Del., and Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, talking before taking their seats before the start of the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“Who is on your list, Joe?” Trump continued, apparently not hearing Biden, referring to the Democrat’s refusal to make a list of his Supreme Court nominees public.

“This is so unpresidential,” Biden huffed.

“That was really a productive segment, wasn’t it?” Biden said sarcastically as moderator Chris Wallace attempted to regain control.

“Keep yapping, man,” Biden said.

Breitbart also reported that on the issue of possible fraud in the mail-in ballot voting,  Biden said Trump officials have said there is no evidence that people will cheat with mail-in ballots. Biden said there will be enough poll watchers to make sure people can vote in person while socially distancing. Biden said Trump wants to dissuade people from voting and told people to show up to vote because “you will determine the outcome of the election.” He also said that “he cannot stop you from being able to determine the outcome of this election.” Biden said if he wins, it will be accepted. If he loses, it will be accepted.”

Biden said that if he gets the votes, Trump can’t stay in power and “will go.” Biden asked if voters want “four more years of these lies.”

Guests for the first presidential debate take their seats, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

With just 35 days until the election, and early voting already underway in some states, Biden stepped onto the stage holding leads in the polls — significant in national surveys, close in some battleground states — and looking to expand his support among suburban voters, women and seniors. Surveys show the president has lost significant ground among those groups since 2016, but Biden faces his own questions encouraged by Trump’s withering  attacks.

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