CLEVELAND (NEXSTAR) – After months of anticipation, the first debate between President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, is in the books. And as you might imagine, there was no shortage of memorable moments or aggressive interruptions.
While both sides are claiming victory, here are a few of the pivotal moments everyone will be talking about that likely define who had the biggest night.
Candidates toss jabs, interrupt each other
Moderator Chris Wallace struggled to maintain control throughout the debate as Trump took shots at Biden as the Democratic candidate attempted to answer questions.
Early in the debate, Trump claimed without evidence that 2 million people would have died if Biden was president. Moderator Chris Wallace pleaded with Trump, stating that COVID-19 would be discussed later in the debate. Wallace then asked Trump about whether he had a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, and the president said, “First of all, I guess I’m debating you, not him, but that’s OK. I’m not surprised.”
Biden laughed at Trump’s jabs. But he also appeared to get upset at times, too.
“Everything he is saying so far is simply a lie. I’m not here to call out his lies. Everyone knows he’s a liar,” said Biden.
While Trump played into his reputation as an aggressive communicator, it may have been effective at breaking up the worst of Biden’s attacks — simply by talking over them.
“There’s nothing smart about you,” Trump said of Biden. “Forty-seven years you’ve done nothing.”
Similar exchanges throughout the debate led many social media users to describe it as difficult to watch. On multiple occasions, each of the candidates spoke over each other with Wallace attempting to get things back on track.
At one point, Biden looked into the camera asking, “Folks, do you have any idea what this clown is doing?”
“I’m the Democratic party”
After Trump accused him of supporting abolishing private insurance, Biden declared that he is the leader of his party.
Biden noted that he won the Democratic nomination partly by arguing against single-payer health care that many of his rivals sought. The former vice president has instead proposed expanding the Affordable Care Act to provide a public option that people could buy into.
Trump responded that Democrats still want to abolish private health insurance and suggested the party would force Biden to do its bidding.
“My party is me,” Biden replied. “Right now, I’m the Democratic Party.”
Tussle over taxes
Trump won’t say when he will finally make his personal taxes public as he has long promised.
Wallace specifically asked Trump about a report in The New York Times that revealed he paid only $750 in personal income taxes each of those years.
All presidents except Trump have publicly released their taxes since the presidency of Richard Nixon.
Trump has said since 2016 that he would eventually release them. But when asked when by Wallace, he said only: “You’ll get to see it.”
Biden quickly used that as a point of attack, saying Trump “does take advantage of the tax code” and “pays less tax than a schoolteacher.”
Trump shrugged off the attack, saying that all business leaders do the same “unless they are stupid.” Of course, the New York Times’ reporting indicates that Trump dodged taxes through writing off business failures, undercutting his own claims about his business acumen.
Trump goes after Biden’s family
While Biden was making a point about the Trump administration’s trade deals with China not having the desired effect, Trump jumped in. He resurrected past claims about the former vice president’s son Hunter working overseas.
Trump said Hunter Biden reaped millions in ill-gotten profit from China and other overseas interests, accusations that have been repeatedly debunked. Biden shot back, “None of that is true.” He then added of Trump, “His family, we could talk all night.”
Trump interrupted to respond that his children gave up lucrative jobs to join government and “help people,” which left Wallace pleading, “Mr. President, please stop” trying to restore order on the stage.
Biden then turned to the camera and addressed the audience directly, something he did frequently Tuesday night. “This is not about my family or his family,” Biden said. “It’s about your family.”
President won’t condemn white supremacists
Wallace tackled the topic of racism asking Trump, “Are you willing tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down?”
Trump responded “sure” before asking which groups Wallace wanted him to condemn.
When the Proud Boys were mentioned, Trump avoided directly answering the question instead saying, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right wing problem. This is a left wing problem.”
Trump also pitched himself as the ideal candidate for Black voters mocking Biden by saying, “This man, this man is a savior of African Americans? This man has done virtually nothing.”
Biden attacks Trump on COVID-19 response
Trump and Biden sparred over Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, with Biden saying “a lot more people are going to die” unless Trump gets “smarter a lot faster.”
Biden charged during Tuesday night’s debate that Trump “has no plan” to deal with the virus and noted that the president praised Chinese President Xi Jinping’s initial actions in dealing with the outbreak. Biden told Trump to “get out of your bunker and get out of the sand trap on your golf course” and bring Democrats and Republicans into the Oval Office to cut a deal on a coronavirus aid package.
Trump, in response, offered a number of erroneous claims, charging falsely that Biden opposed shutting down travel to China and claiming that the U.S. is “weeks away” from producing a vaccine. He also said that Biden’s handling of the H1N1 outbreak during the Obama administration was a “disaster,” though the number of H1N1deaths in the U.S. was less than 1% of the deaths from the coronavirus.
Biden also noted that Trump misled the public on the severity of the virus and said that rather than owning up to the American people, the president “panicked or just looked at the stock market.”
The impact of Tuesday’s debate — or the two that follow in the weeks ahead — remains unclear.
The tumult of 2020 is difficult to overstate: COVID-19 has rewritten the rules of everyday life; schools and businesses are shuttered; and racial justice protests have swept the nation after a series of high-profile killings of Black people by police.
Despite the upheaval, the presidential race has remained largely unchanged since Biden seized control of the Democratic field in March. The nation has soured on Trump’s handling of the pandemic, and while his base of support has remained largely unchanged, he has seen defections among older and female voters, particularly in the suburbs, and his path to 270 Electoral College votes, while still viable, has shrunk.
Polls suggest fewer undecided voters remain than at this point in the 2016 campaign. And several high-profile debates in past elections that were thought to be game-changing moments at the time ultimately had little lasting effect.
Four years ago, Democrat Hillary Clinton was widely seen as besting Trump in their three debates, but she lost in November. In 2012, Mitt Romney crushed Barack Obama in their first meeting only to falter in the rematches.
But some debates have mattered: most famously, a turning point in the 1960 race was when John F. Kennedy was perceived — at least by TV viewers — as outdueling Richard Nixon. And in 1980, Ronald Reagan was able to reassure nervous voters that he possessed a presidential temperament when he delivered a winning performance against incumbent Jimmy Carter.
The next debate between Trump and Biden takes place on Thursday, October 15 in Miami.
Before that happens, we’ll see Vice President Mike Pence and challenger Senator Kamala Harris take the stage Wednesday, October 7 in Salt Lake City.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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