They interrupted each other. They insulted each other. They talked over each other.
“Will you shut up, man?” Biden said at one point, as Trump interrupted him for the umpteenth time. “This is so unpresidential.”
“There’s nothing smart about you, Joe,” the president said. “He graduated the lowest or almost the lowest in your class. Don’t ever use the word ‘smart’ with me.”
“You should get out of your bunker and get out of the sand trap and get [off] your golf course,” Biden said.
“You probably play more golf than I do,” the president said (falsely).
If Trump’s goal for the evening was to show voters that Biden, at 77, can no longer hold his own in a 90-minute debate, much less as president, he failed.
The former vice president turned Trump’s customary weapons of bluster and insult against the incumbent, who hasn’t been challenged so directly in public since his 2016 debates with Hillary Clinton.
It was Trump, not Biden, who looked off-balance and out of practice for much of the debate. He grew red in the face. He demanded extra time to answer, drawing sardonic rebuffs from the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News.
Biden was the competitor who appeared to have a strategy. He worked his way methodically through his campaign’s substantive talking points — principally, that Trump failed to meet the challenge of a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans and still has no coherent strategy to quell the public health crisis or improve America’s healthcare.
“He doesn’t have a plan,” Biden said. “The fact is, this man doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
And even as he went on the offensive against Mr. Biden on matters of law and order, Mr. Trump declined to condemn white supremacy and right-wing extremist groups when prompted by Mr. Wallace and Mr. Biden. When Mr. Wallace asked him whether he would be willing to do so, Mr. Trump replied, “Sure,” and asked the two men to name a group they would like him to denounce.
But when Mr. Biden named the Proud Boys, a far-right group, Mr. Trump did not do so and even suggested they be at the ready.
“Proud Boys? Stand back and stand by,” the president said, before pivoting to say, “Somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”
CNN instant poll of debate watcher: 60% say Biden won, 28% say Trump won. pic.twitter.com/5qIhkFQrwe— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) September 30, 2020
CBS NEWS BATTLEGROUND TRACKER— CBS News Poll (@CBSNewsPoll) September 30, 2020
Instant poll of debate watchers: more say Joe Biden won tonight’s debate pic.twitter.com/dHZqV95wqB