In a debate defined by crosstalk, the two candidates discussed a range of issue including the Supreme Court, healthcare, coronavirus, the economy, taxes, policing, climate change and election integrity.
Both candidates hurled verbal insults at each other all night, with Biden responding to one of Trump’s interruptions with “will you shut up man”.
Biden also called the President a “liar”, a “clown” and “the worst President America has ever had”, while Trump attacked the former Vice President’s intelligence, saying “there’s nothing smart about you Joe” and “you graduated either the lowest or almost lowest in your class”.
Pundits weighing in after the debate were scathing.
“That was a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck,” CNN anchor Jake Tapper said.
“That was the worst debate I have ever seen. It wasn’t even a debate, it was a disgrace, and it’s primarily because of President Trump.”
.@GStephanopoulos: "I have to speak personally here…that was the worst presidential debate I have ever seen in my life." https://t.co/5Bl4Ob3O2t #Debates2020 pic.twitter.com/FxMlSbshiw
— ABC News (@ABC) September 30, 2020
Taxes were a key topic following a New York Times report showing the President only paid $US750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017.
In response, Trump claimed he paid “millions” in taxes over the last four years.
The President also suggested with no evidence that a coronavirus vaccine could be available as soon as November.
The night started with a discussion about the Supreme Court, with Republicans set to seat federal appellate court judge Amy Coney Barrett following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg earlier this month.
Trump reaffirmed his intention to seat Barrett before the election, saying “we won the election, and therefore we have the right to choose her”, while Biden said the outcome of the upcoming election should determine who fills the open seat.
Later in the night, Trump claimed racial sensitivity training for police officers is “racist” and teaches people to “hate our country”.
He also deflected an opportunity to condemn white supremacists, briefly telling one group to “stand back and stand by” before pivoting to attacking left-wing activists.
During a segment on race relations on Tuesday, moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if he was willing to denounce “white supremacists and militia groups” and tell them to stand down, rather than add to the violence that has marred anti-racism protests in some US cities.
Multiple senior federal officials, including at the FBI and Department of Homeland Security this month, have warned that white supremacist groups pose a rising threat of violence in the United States.
Trump initially replied by blaming “the left wing” for violence, before saying he was “willing to do anything”.
“Then do it, sir,” Wallace said, as Biden added: “Do it, say it.”
“What do you want to call them? Give me a name,” Trump said, prompting Biden to mention the Proud Boys, an organisation that describes itself as a club of “Western chauvinists” but has been categorised as a hate group by the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said, before immediately pivoting.
“But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa.”
Antifa, which stands for anti-fascist, is a largely unstructured, far-left movement whose followers broadly aim to confront those they view as authoritarian or racist.
At least one Proud Boy organiser, Joe Biggs, celebrated the group’s mention on the social media platform Parler, saying: “President Trump told the proud boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with ANTIFA…well sir! We’re ready!!” according to screenshots posted by a New York Times reporter on Twitter.
Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, said on MSNBC following the debate, “What we saw was a dog whistle through a bull horn.”
Trump’s response also drew criticism from some social justice leaders.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, on Twitter called Trump’s response “astonishing.”
Biden’s son Hunter also featured heavily in the debate, with the President attacking him for his discharge from the military and accusing him of making “a fortune in Ukraine and China”.
In the final debate segment, Trump repeated his claim, without evidence, that mail-in voting would be subject to widespread fraud.
Trump also repeatedly expressed frustration with moderator Wallace, telling the Fox News anchor “I guess I’m debating you, not him”.
A visibly exasperated Wallace had to remind the candidates of the debate rules several times throughout the night as he tried in vain to control the political brawl taking place on stage.
Wallace also reiterated at the start of the night that neither candidate received questions before the debate, after conspiracy theories floating online claimed Biden received an advanced copy of the debate questions.
Wallace was the first presidential debate moderator to ask a question about climate change since 2008, probing the two candidates about the recent spate of wildfires along the west coast which have been attributed to climate change.
The President blamed the fires on poor forest management and refused to acknowledge a link to climate change, while Biden spoke about the need for climate action and his $US2 trillion green stimulus plan.
The Biden campaign reports they recorded their best ever hour of online fundraising during the second half of the debate.
The next debate will take place on Wednesday, October 7, between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris.
– with Reuters
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