The first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden deteriorated into bitter taunts and near chaos Tuesday night. Debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News struggled to stop the candidates from interrupting each other and at times lost control of the entire affair.
After the debate, the Biden campaign said it raised $3.8 million from 10 to 11 p.m. EDT, which it called its “best online fundraising hour of all time.”
Biden’s campaign also began selling T-shirts with one of the former vice president’s first lines, as he tried to talk over Trump.
For its part, Trump’s campaign said its candidate “turned in the greatest debate performance in presidential history.”
A Telemundo poll, however, showed 66% of Spanish-speaking Americans thought Trump won the debate.
On Wednesday, Trump commented on Wallace’s “tough night,.”
A CNN instant poll showed 60% of viewers said Biden won the debate, while 28% said Trump won.
A CBS News poll showed a much closer result.
Legal British political betting markets have Biden as the victor.
“We’re now over a month away from the election and Joe Biden’s lead is the largest it has been since the middle of August, a great time to be pulling away,” said Pete Watt, spokesman for Oddschecker, an odds comparison and insight service, which is compiling a long-term, data-driven project around political betting markets for the U.S. presidential election.
“Since Tuesday night, Biden’s odds have shortened from -125 to -140, while Trump’s have lengthened from +120 to +138. Put simply, this means that Biden’s implied probability has risen from 55.6% to 58.3%, while Trump’s has dropped from 45.5% to 42.10%.”
Another U.K. betting exchange, Smarkets, said Biden’s chances of winning the White House rose by 5% after Tuesday’s debate.
“With Biden trading at 57% and Trump at 42% in our $5.5 million Next President market going into the debate, the advantage was Biden’s to lose, and there were fears from a Democratic perspective that a bad performance would play into President Trump’s hands,” said Sarbjit Bakhshi, Smarkets' head of political markets.
“As predicted, Trump interrupted Biden frequently and made personal attacks on him and his family in an attempt to throw him off his game,” Bakhshi said. “However, the former VP was well prepared for the attacks and held his ground, giving a solid performance. This seems to have inspired some faith in Biden amongst customers on Smarkets, as they have traded his chance of victory up to 62%, with Trump sliding down to 38%.”
The 74-year-old president and the 77-year-old former vice president are similar in age, and they share a mutual dislike. But they differ starkly in style and substance.
With Trump trailing in public and private polling, advisers were pushing him to reframe the election away from a referendum on his presidency to a choice between him and Biden. Trump, instead, commandeered the debate, trying to trip up Biden by interrupting and insulting him.
“There’s nothing smart about you,” Trump said of Biden. “Forty-seven years, you’ve done nothing.”
Trump aides believed before the debate that Biden would be unable to withstand the withering offensive in style and substance from Trump, but Biden came with a few retorts of his own, calling Trump a “clown” and mocking Trump’s style by asking, “Will you shut up, man?”
Wallace was none too amused, delivering a pointed reproach to Trump for his interruptions. “Frankly, you’ve been doing more interrupting,” Wallace said, appealing to Trump to let his opponent speak.
Biden hammered Trump on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is what it is because you are who you are,” Biden told the president, echoing Trump’s own words and referring to his months of downplaying COVID-19 while he said privately he understood how deadly it is.
But Trump didn’t take it quietly. He proceeded to blitz Biden with a mix of self-defense and counter-offensives. The 200,000 dead? Biden’s death toll would have been “millions,” Trump said. A rocky economy? Biden would’ve been worse, according to the president. Biden wouldn’t have manufactured enough masks or ventilators, according to Trump.
Biden fell back on his bottom line: “A lot of people died, and a lot more are going to unless he gets a lot smarter.”
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 Oval Office.
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 has endorsed him. He accused Biden of wanting to “defund the police.”
Biden didn’t capitalize when Trump refused to condemn armed militias and insisted, against the guidance of his own FBI director: “This is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem.”
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said when prompted on the far-right group. “But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left.”
The former vice president tried to push back but not until after Trump had made his arguments.
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.”
Trump also defended his decision to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court just weeks before Election Day, saying “elections have consequences.”
Biden said he was “not opposed to the justice,” but said the “American people have a right to have a say in who the Supreme Court nominee is.”
Biden said Barrett, who would be the sixth justice on the nine-member court to be appointed by a Republican, would endanger the Affordable Care Act and tens of millions of Americans with preexisting conditions, and would imperil legalized abortion.
It was a reframing of the political debate to terms far more favorable to the Democrat, and one Trump played into. Trump said of the conservative Barrett, “You don’t know her view on Roe vs. Wade” and he defended his efforts to try to chip away at the Obama-era health law.