Looking back over the first presidential debate of the 2020 election is a dizzying affair. It was a 90-minute event that felt both never-ending and lighting fast due to its chaotic nature.
The primary source of the chaos was President Trump, whose wild interrupting and flagrant lies made it impossible to get really anything of value from the whole venture.
It’s futile to try to summarize such an out of control night. It’s worth highlighting the moment that stunned many which was when Trump refused to disavow white supremacists saying they should “stand back and stand by.” That was only one of the many absurd and sometimes fear-inducing discussions that happened on that stage.
His opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, was not immune from the mudslinging nature of the debate either. Biden referred to Trump as “clown” and “the worst president ever,” even telling Trump pointedly to “shut up” after one of many interruptions.
However, that kind of blunt talk came across as nothing more than a reaction to the raving whirlwind yelling at him the whole time. It’s hard to imagine anyone getting subject to that and being able to avoid any reaction.
Yet, it’s clear that Biden did not break in the way that Trump wanted him to. The performance on display that night was intended to shatter Biden in front of all.
Trump’s manner of attack was based on a narrative that was present in a minor way during the democratic primary, the narrative that Biden is not well mentally due to his age. Despite the continued evidence showing the fallacy of this kind of attack, it has remained popular in the right-wing ecosystem.
Ironically this kind of performance by Trump failed to land and will likely bolster the image of Biden. It showed that Biden was not some addled old man out of his depth. Polling last week has already shown that the debate didn’t endear Trump to voters, which he needs considering he is currently behind in the race.
The polarized environment of modern politics makes it so that Biden is not likely to get a substantial boost from this, but currently, Biden is in a position where he only needs to keep the race in stasis. If he and his campaign are successful in doing that, he is greatly favored to win the election.
In the next debate, Trump will likely adopt a different strategy to make up lost ground. In the 2012 election, Obama was beat in the first debate but was able to bounce back in the polls after a successful second debate.
However, many have questioned the need for another debate since it would likely devolve into another night of disheartening chaos.
Once again, Trump has shown the fragility of our usually accepted norms. This chaotic night will live on in history as another depressing reminder of the state of our republic.