Americans React to a Brawl of a First Debate

Americans React to a Brawl of a First Debate

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It started civilly enough, but it was only a matter of minutes before the first debate between President Trump and Vice President Biden devolved into a screaming match, as the two presidential candidates traded insults and talked over one another with moderator Chris Wallace struggling for control.

While Wallace had instructed the audience to remain silent during the sprawling 100-minute debate, it was the candidates who were raucous as they answered questions about everything from the Supreme Court vacancy and race relations to the economy, the pandemic, and climate change.

It was a debate that, in many ways, matched the fractured and polarized state of the country.

“A recap of the first 15 minutes of this debate,” tweeted @GinSodaLime with a gif of two elderly ladies sitting on a stoop, beating each other with their handbags. 

Indeed, many observers online said the first 15 minutes were brutal, with President Trump taking the first swipe at Biden, saying, “Your party wants to go socialist. They’re going to dominate you, Joe, you know that.” 

A tit for tat over the Affordable Care Act ensued, with moderator Wallace attempting to intervene and ask follow-ups, only to be drowned out by schoolyard taunts that resulted in Wallace repeatedly chastising the president for interrupting and pleading, “Let him speak, Mr. President,” “Can you let him finish, sir,” and “Please, let the vice president talk.” 

It was all downhill from there. 

The debate wasn’t even through its first segment before Biden told Trump “to shut up, man.” Later, he referred to him as a fool, a clown, and the worst president America has ever had.

“That’s the fun part, though,” said Brenda Billingsly, who watched the debate in Clearwater, Fla. “Do we want mashed potatoes? We’re America. We like the fight.”

For many, though, it was a tough debate to watch. There were moments of substance, yes, but it was hard to hear above the fighting. 

“I would rather breech-birth porcupine triplets than watch another Presidential ‘Debate,’” tweeted Brandon Unger.

During the debate’s second subject, on COVID-19, the name-calling continued with Trump taking credit for his pandemic response, and Biden saying, “A lot of people are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter a lot quicker.”

“Did you say smart, Joe?” Trump hit back. “Don’t ever use the word smart with me because there’s nothing smart about you, Joe.”

Repeatedly, as Wallace tried to bring order back to the chaos with questions about the economic recovery, law enforcement, and the protests in Portland, he reminded the president of the debate’s rules and that both sides had agreed to a two-minute, uninterrupted answer to the first question in each segment. 

The reminder had exactly zero effect.

“Gentlemen, I hate to raise my voice, but why should I be different than the two of you?” Wallace asked at the end of a testy back and forth about Trump’s taxes that devolved into Trump attacking Biden’s son.

And the debate was only halfway over.

“It was very hard to follow,” said Gini Kempisty, of St. Petersburg, Fla. “It was hard to hear with them talking over each other.”

Most debate watchers thought the tone was decidedly negative. Just 17 percent of those who watched described it as positive, according to a CBS News Poll conducted with YouGovAmerica. 

The sentiment online seemed to suggest that the lucky ones were those who decided not to tune in. As conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro tweeted when it was all over, “I literally have no idea who won this debate. I just know we all lost.”



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