CNN’s Jake Tapper gave the most accurate summary of the first Presidential Debate when he tweeted “That was a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck.” I am strongly tempted to leave the whole article at that, seeing that I have no idea how I can improve on the statement. Nonetheless, I shall try.
The candidates’ personas, as painted by their opposing campaigns, were set in stone prior to the debate: Biden was supposed to be the doddering old idiot going senile, while Trump was supposed to be the uber-right strongman-wannabe without an ounce of decency. Maybe one side was vindicated. Maybe not. One thing that they certainly did not do was make it devoid of talking points.
Trump’s plan of attack during the debate, which seems pretty ironic considering the information made public later, was to obfuscate Biden’s attacks on his handling of the coronavirus. While Trump did use his trademark equivalent of putting underpants on his head, sticking a couple of pencils up his nose, and going “wibble” as his defense mechanism, the fact that no opportunity was given to Biden to put forward an uninterrupted and comprehensive case against Trump could be argued as the biggest victory for Trump from the debate.
Considering that only fifteen minutes were allocated to the COVID-19 pandemic, and viewers expected points about testing failures and the lack of Personal Protective Equipment to frontline workers, the debate did redeem Trump, if only on a very short basis.
If dismantling the opponent’s narrative is the yardstick by which the debate is to be measured, Biden was the runaway success. Biden exuded self-confidence when he was allowed to address the motions without interruptions. Trump’s interruptions did make him visibly irritated at times, but that was an emotion he shared with the millions of Americans watching the debate.
Of course, some of his policy statements may raise eyebrows across the political spectrum, but the greatest “win” for Biden from the debate was the annihilation of a relentless smear campaign by the Trump team to portray Biden as a senile figure who can’t put two words together coherently, and therefore would be unfit for presidency.
"Proud Boys: stand back and stand by” might just be one of the most incendiary statements said in the whole debate. President Trump did condemn white supremacists and the Proud Boys specifically on Sean Hannity’s show a couple of days later. However, it is rather hypocritical to give a shoutout to an organization designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “hate group” in front of over seventy-three million, only to weasel out of it by retracting the statement after receiving backlash. This entire debacle could pass off as an episode from a slightly less-unapologetic version of Rik Mayall’s "The New Statesman."
One of the major criticisms about the coverage of this presidential debate was the depiction of it being a battle of two equally ridiculous candidates. Unless they watched a different debate, there was only one candidate who was constantly interrupting the other candidate and actively trying to dodge questions, making the entire debate painful to watch. It wasn’t the supposed senile and incompetent person.