The candidates threw punches in the political boxing ring about their opponents’ track record and decisions when serving in public office but rode roughshod over the debate playbook rules that called for respectful behavior and no interruptions.
Commentators expressed shock at Trump’s aggressive, even truculent, performance. But they tended to skate over Biden’s own performance. Writing in the New Yorker, for example, Susan B. Glasser observed about Trump that “Trump shouted, he bullied, he hectored, he lied, and he interrupted, over and over again.” This summary verdict was the conventional wisdom. But while Trump took some ruthless and relentless shots at Biden, it’s important to note that the former vice-president also seized the opportunity to lob a variety of egregious insults that targeted the president.
Indeed, Biden dubbed Trump as a “clown,” a “racist,” a “liar,” “Putin’s puppy” and “the worst president America” has ever seen. He also missed few opportunities to impugn Trump’s integrity, dubbing him a liar towards the outset of the debate. It all went downhill from there. “Will you shut up, man? This is so unpresidential,” Biden snapped at Trump at one point during the debate, later adding: “Keep yapping, man.” “It’s hard to get any word in with this clown, excuse me, this person,” Biden said during an exchange regarding taxes.
The right, already angered by the performance of Fox News’ Chris Wallace, did not take it lying down. Conservatives flooded Twitter after the debate, emphasizing that Biden got away with lies, misleading statements and attacks at the president. They argued that Biden also interrupted Trump’s responses, but moderator Chris Wallace had no control over the scene.
“Biden got away with endless lies and cheap shots. The questions were mostly asked from a left perspective (‘the science of climate change,’ what’s wrong with ‘critical race theory’ training,’ etc.) and Biden went unchallenged by the moderator far too often,” Conservative radio show host Mark Levin tweeted Tuesday night.
“The president had to force his way into the discussion at times, he was quite good on specifics and getting his issues into the debate,” Levin added. “Biden unleashed repeated personal attacks, including resorting to name-calling, like ‘clown,’ ‘racist,’ ‘shut up,’ etc.”
As the election inches closer and the race for the White House tightens, any undecided voter who tuned into the debate wouldn’t have gained a stronger grasp on either candidate’s policy positions or platform. Instead, they would have to be persuaded by Trump or Biden’s brutal rhetoric as America’s most prominent political leaders traded insults and snubs for an entire night.
“Both candidates were rude, crude, and sloppy with their facts. It was more like a cuss fight in a nursing home than a debate for the highest office in the land,” Aram Bakshian Jr., contributor at The National Interest, wrote.
When the issue of healthcare came up, Biden described him as a “liar.” Trump attempted to interject, but Wallace insisted the former vice-president should finish his remarks. “He doesn’t know how to do that,” Biden snubbed.
Trump then blasted him for standing by the progressive wing of the party on issues relating to healthcare, prompting Biden to say, “Folks, do you have any idea what this clown is doing? I’ll tell you what, he is not for any help for people needing health care because he has in fact already cost 10 million people their health care that they had from their employers because of his recession.”
The testy exchange was just one of the few that had a semblance being about a real policy dispute. Biden, however, resorted to low-blows that belied his mature stance on stage. He, too, was “unpresidential” in attacking the president with pointless barbs that likely didn’t persuade any undecided or swing voters to back his campaign.
Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill.