• Moderator Chris Wallace never established control of the debate.
• The two White House contenders talked over each other and lobbed insults in a breathtaking political brawl that made it hard for either to make a point.
Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden battled fiercely over Trump’s leadership on the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and the integrity of November’s election in a chaotic first debate on Tuesday marked by personal insults, name-calling and Trump’s repeated interruptions.
Moderator Chris Wallace never established control of the debate.
The two White House contenders talked over each other and lobbed insults in a breathtaking political brawl that made it hard for either to make a point.
“Will you shut up, man? This is so unpresidential,” said an exasperated Biden after Trump’s repeated interruptions during the first segment of the debate on the Supreme Court.
Biden later called Trump a “clown,” a “racist,” and “Putin’s puppy” in reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin and told Trump: “You’re the worst president America has ever had.”
Trump for his part said: “There’s nothing smart about you, Joe.”
Late in the debate, Wallace himself urged the president to stop his interruptions.
Wallace said: “I think that the country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions. I’m appealing to you sir to do that.”
Trump replied: “Well, and him too.”
Wallace: “Well, frankly, you’ve been doing more interrupting.”
Trump: “But he does plenty.”
Biden, 77, has held a consistent lead over Trump, 74, in national opinion polls, although surveys in the battleground states that will decide the election show a closer contest. It was hard to determine whether the debate would move the needle.
Trump deflected an opportunity to condemn white supremacists during Tuesday’s presidential debate, briefly telling one group to “stand back and stand by” before pivoting to attacking left-wing activists.
During a segment on race relations, 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 U.S. 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 on Tuesday 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.