Updated Sep 30, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The first Trump v. Biden presidential debate was a hot mess

Mike Allen
Joe Biden (left) and Donald Trump (right) gesture during the first debate
Photos: Jim Watson and Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

This debate was like the country: Everybody’s talking. Nobody’s listening. Nothing is learned. It’s a mess.

  • We were told President Trump would be savage. Turned out, that was a gross understatement. Even the moderator, Fox News' Chris Wallace, got bulldozed.

Why it matters: Honestly, who the hell knows?

  • It was a hot mess of name-calling and rude interruptions, wildly out of control and incoherent.

Between the lines: The debate was, at times, totally incomprehensible.

  • Trump ignored the rules and the debate went off the rails.
  • At literally no point was there an agreed-upon baseline of facts upon which to debate policy.
  • Just a series of claims, lies, denials, and — from Trump — attacks on Biden’s son, Hunter.

The two broke into open insults. Trump: "Don't ever use the word 'smart' with me. ... There's nothing smart about you, Joe."

  • Biden: "The fact is this man doesn’t know what he’s talking about. ... This guy is something. ... He's Putin's puppy."

From the beginning, the two talked over each other, with Trump at times ignoring Biden and speaking directly to the camera, commentating on the debate. A real issue — the leftward tug of today's Democratic Party on Biden, a career-long centrist — quickly degenerated:

  • Trump: "Your party wants to go socialist medicine and socialist health care. And they’re going to dominate you — Joe, you know that."
  • Biden: "I am the Democratic Party right now."
  • Trump: "Not according to Harris" — the president using just the last name of Sen. Kamala Harris, Biden's running mate.

While Biden was talking, Trump took over the moderator's duty and started asking — and even answering questions:

  • "Are you going to pack the court? ... Who's on your list [for Supreme Court], Joe? ... He's gonna pack the court and he's not gonna give a list."

Biden blurted: "Will you shut up, man? … This is so unpresidential."

  • Biden, making a talk-talk motion: "Keep yappin', man."

What to watch: Advisers to Trump and Biden each said their candidates remain committed to appearing in the remaining debates.

Go deeper ... Pundits react to a chaotic debate: “What a dark event we just witnessed”

Go deeper