With just weeks to go until the November 3 election, Donald Trump and Joe Biden went head-to-head in a debate that sought to energize supporters and win over undecided voters. Interruptions, tense exchanges and insults dominated the debate, with moderator Chris Wallace struggling to get a word in.
This first debate mainly focused on US domestic issues, with the COVID-19 pandemic, a Supreme Court vacancy, the economy, and racial justice topping the agenda.
Where did the candidates stand?
The Supreme Court
President Trump defended his decision to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barret to the US Supreme Court just weeks before the election. “I was not elected for three years, I’m elected for four years,” he said.
Joe Biden and other Democrats have demanded that the seat on the top court be filled by the winner of the 2020 presidential race.
“We should wait, we should wait and see what the outcome of this election is,” the former vice-president said.
Trump criticized Biden for deflecting the question on whether he would expand the Supreme Court in retaliation of Barrett’s confirmation if he won the upcoming election.
Joe Biden attacked Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic which has left more than 200,000 Americans dead.
“He panicked, or he looked at the stock market,” Biden said, referring to Trump’s call to reopen the economy as he played down the threat of virus. “You’re the worst president America has ever had,” he said.
Trump, in response, said his administration had done “a great job,” and then hit back at his rival. “But I tell you, Joe, you could never have done the job we’ve done. You don’t have it in your blood.”
Trump defended his administration’s response to the pandemic.
The Democratic nominee also criticized Trump on the economy, saying that unemployment is higher now than when he entered the White House four years ago.
Biden also accused Trump of failing to secure good trade deals, despite promising in his 2016 campaign to fix past agreements.
Millions of Americans have lost their jobs since the pandemic hit earlier this year, with joblessness reaching a record high. “You’re the worst president America has ever had,” Biden said.
In response, Trump accused Biden over his willingness to shut down the US economy again if coronavirus cases rise. “He will shut it down again, he will destroy this country,” Trump said.
The president accused the Democrats of seeking to keep the economy shut until the elections to hurt his chances in the race.
Racial justice and civil unrest
Trump and Biden also had a heated exchange over racial justice and unrest across US cities, with the president accusing Democrats of being weak on law and order.
Meanwhile, Biden accused the president of dog-whistling to white supremacist groups.
“This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division,” he said.
Biden also acknowledged the systemic injustice in the US “in education and work and in law enforcement and the way in which it is enforced.”
Trump also refused to condemn far-right militia groups, including a group known as Proud Boys mentioned by the moderator.
“Proud Boys, stand back, stand by, but I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem.”
Integrity of the election/accepting the results
Donald Trump did not commit to urging his supporter to maintain peace following the election, and instead raised doubts over the credibility of the ballots. He said that if he saw a manipulation of the ballots, he “can’t go along with that.”
Joe Biden, on the other hand, said he will accept the result of the presidential election, even if it wasn’t in his favour.
He also urged people to vote, either in-person or by mail-in ballots, expressing confidence that if people turned out to vote, he would win the election.
“You have it in your control to determine what this country is going to look like in the next four years,” Biden said.