How Trump-Biden debate descended into the gutter and never left it

From ‘how you doing, man’ to ‘keep yapping’ – how Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s debate descended into the gutter and never left it for 90 endless minutes

  • There was no friendly handshake to kick things off, no room full of supporters in each candidate’s court
  • Instead Joe Biden turned to Donald Trump and said: ‘How you doing, man?’ 
  • But that was the last civil moment and from there on the two exchanged bitter barbs, personal insults and Chris Wallace did not stop them
  • Roughly 50 minutes into the debate, Wallace snapped: ‘Gentlemen, I hate to raise my voice, but why should I be any different than the two of you?’
  • Trump blamed Biden, but Wallace firmly pushed back to the president, ‘Frankly, you’ve been doing more interrupting.’ 

It started out civilly enough, with President Donald Trump striding deliberately to his lectern, and Democrat Joe Biden nodding to his opponent and offering a ‘How you doing, man?’

But within 15 minutes, the debate had devolved into a series of endless interruptions, with Biden, seemingly unable to complete a sentence, finally blurting out, ‘Will you shut up, man?’

It was a chaotic and unusually bitter first presidential debate of the 2020 general election, made all the more unusual by the the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

There was no friendly handshake to kick things off, no room full of supporters in each candidate’s court. Instead, the debate played out before a socially-distanced audience of about 100 people in a makeshift debate hall built in an atrium that had been previously set up as an emergency hospital for patients with COVID-19.

Even without the pandemic, the 90-minute faceoff was jarring.

Trump came out of the gate looking to challenge Biden and badgered him throughout the debate, drawing a string of rejoinders from the Democrat, including a plea to ‘just shush for a minute’ at the half-hour mark.

At other points, the two candidates dialed down their rhetoric, only to resume their interruptions once again. When Trump was fielding a question about a report that he paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017, Biden was the one interjecting: ‘Show us your taxes. Show us your taxes.’

Trump came out of the gate looking to challenge Biden and badgered him throughout the debate

Trump came out of the gate looking to challenge Biden and badgered him throughout the debate, drawing a string of rejoinders from the Democrat, including a plea to ‘just shush for a minute’ at the half-hour mark.

TEN WORST MOMENTS OF THE DUMPSTER FIRE DEBATE

‘PROUD BOYS – STAND BACK AND STAND BY’

Trump was asked by Wallace to condemn white supremacists and militias. ‘Sure, I’m willing to do that.’ ‘Then do it, sir,’ Wallace said – and Biden shouted ‘do it, say it.’ Trump asked for a ‘name’ and Biden said: ‘Proud Boys.’

‘Proud boys – stand back and stand by! But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left,’ Trump said.

 ‘SHUT UP’

Biden told Trump: ‘Would you shut up, man?,’ after getting interrupted repeatedly when discussing the Supreme Court. As Trump spoke over Chris Wallace Biden said: ‘Keep yapping.’ 

HUNTER AND COCAINE

Biden spoke of his dead son Beau’s decorated service in Iraq. ‘I didn’t know Beau. I know Hunter. He was thrown out, dishonorably discharged for cocaine use,’ Trump said of Hunter Biden. ‘That’s not true.’ Biden responded. Hunter got an ‘administrative discharge.’ 

‘CLOWN SHOW’ 

‘It’s hard to get any word in with this clown – excuse me, this person,’ Biden said.

TRUMP GOES AFTER BIDEN’S BRAINS 

‘There’s nothing smart about you Joe,’ Trump told Biden. Biden had said ‘a lot more are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter.’

BIDEN GOES AFTER TRUMP ON TRUTH

‘Everything he’s saying so far is simply a lie. I’m not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he’s a liar,’ Biden said of Trump. 

TRUMP SPARS WITH WALLACE  

Moderator Chris Wallace begging Trump to follow the rules. ‘I’m the moderator of this debate and I would like you to let me ask my question and then you can answer,’ he said at one point. 

TRUMP CASTS DOUBT ON WHOLE ELECTION 

Trump again attacked mail-in ballots. ‘This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen.’ He said. ‘We might not know for months because these ballots are going to be all over,’ he said.  

TRUMP’S WAR WITH WALLACE 

‘I guess I’m debating you and not him but that’s okay I’m not surprised.’ 

BLEACH IN THE ARM 

‘And by the way maybe inject some bleach into your arm, that’ll take care of it,’ Biden said, mocking Trump’s statement about injecting disinfectant to treat coronavirus.

Roughly 50 minutes into the debate, moderator Chris Wallace’s frustration came to a boil as he tried to regain control.

‘Gentlemen, I hate to raise my voice, but why should I be any different than the two of you?’ Wallace said, drawing some muffled laughter from both sides of the otherwise mostly quiet room.

Trump blamed Biden, but Wallace firmly pushed back to the president, ‘Frankly, you’ve been doing more interrupting.’

The reaction from the mask-wearing crowd, warned not to make a sound, was inaudible on television, though there were several moments when they could be heard laughing or jeering inside the atrium – including when Biden used his ‘shut up’ line.

But was no discernible response when the former vice president called the sitting president a ‘clown’ and told him to ‘keep yapping.’

The television cameras also eliminated the difference in speaking volume between Trump and Biden that made Trump seem even more combative. 

Inside the atrium, Biden was sometimes hard to hear and spoke far more softly than Trump, who often yelled, and even Wallace, who repeatedly tangled with Trump as he tried to get the candidates to abide by the no-interruption rules their campaigns had agreed to.

The debate was hosted by the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University in the 27,000-square-foot atrium of the Sheila and Eric Samson Pavilion on the clinic’s Health Education Campus. Notre Dame, the original debate host, withdrew because of the pandemic.

Earlier this year, the building had been transformed into a temporary, 1,000-bed surge hospital, named Hope Hospital, for expected coronavirus patients. Though it never ended up needing to be used, the floor where the debate stage was built was not long ago lined with beds for patients and copper piping to bring in oxygen.

This time it was turned into a makeshift debate hall with a stage, red carpeting and elevated platforms for cameras. About 100 people watched, all of whom were tested for the virus and sat with plenty of distance between them. Guests were required to wear masks, though some – including members of the president’s family – didn’t. Seats were set with programs and antibacterial wipes.

Most in the crowd did abide by the social distancing and mask-wearing rules. At least one audience member even wore a bright red ‘MAGA’ face mask, technically a violation of rules prohibiting campaign paraphernalia.

Some in Trump’s section tried to greet the first lady with a standing ovation as she walked in, but with the sparse crowd it didn’t quite come together.

The emptiness of the room only made the sharpness of the candidates’ verbal slugfest, which often took the tone of a schoolyard squabble, more notable.

‘The fact is that everything he’s saying so far is simply a lie,’ a flustered Biden snapped when Trump suggested that the vice president stole the nomination from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. ‘I’m not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he’s a liar.’

After just over 90 minutes, the faceoff was done – but not without more interruptions.

‘This is the end of this debate,’ said Wallace, as Trump continued to boom his objections. ‘We’re going to leave it there, to be continued,’ the moderator said as he finished what he deemed an ‘interesting’ debate.




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‘Gentlemen, I hate to raise my voice, but why should I be any different than the two of you?’ moderator Chris Wallace said, drawing some muffled laughter from both sides of the otherwise mostly quiet room.

Last civil moment: Biden said ‘how you doing man’ as Trump walked on stage. It was downhill from there immediately

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