Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden battled fiercely over Trump’s leadership on the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and taxes in a fiery first debate on Tuesday marked by Trump’s repeated interruptions.
With moderator Chris Wallace trying in vain at times to control the debate, the two White House contenders talked over each other and lobbed insults in a breathtaking political brawl that made it hard for either man to make a point.
“Will you shut up, man? This is so unpresidential,” said an exasperated Biden after repeated interruptions during only the first segment of the debate on the Supreme Court.
Biden called Trump a “clown” and a “racist” and told him: “You’re the worst president America has ever had.”
Trump for his part said: “There’s nothing smart about you, Joe.”
Biden questioned Trump’s leadership on the coronavirus pandemic, saying Trump had panicked and failed to protect Americans because he was more concerned about the economy.
“He panicked or he looked at the stock market,” Biden said of Trump, who has pushed for states to reopen their economies and played down the threat of the pandemic.
“A lot of people died and a lot more are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter, a lot quicker,” Biden said.
Trump objected to Biden using the word “smart.”
“You graduated either the lowest or almost the lowest in your class. Don’t ever use the word smart with me. Don’t ever use that word,” Trump said.
He defended his approach on the pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 people in the United States and put millions of Americans out of work.
“We’ve done a great job,” Trump said. “But I tell you, Joe, you could never have done the job we’ve done. You don’t have it in your blood.”
With more than a million Americans already casting early ballots and time running out to change minds or influence the small sliver of undecided voters, the stakes were enormous as the two White House candidates took the stage five weeks before the Nov. 3 Election Day.
The two contenders did not shake hands as they entered the debate, adhering to protocols on social distancing because of the coronavirus.
Biden, 77, has held a consistent lead over Trump, 74, in national opinion polls, although surveys in the battleground states that will decide the election show a closer contest.
The 90-minute debate, with a limited and socially distanced in-person audience because of the pandemic, was held at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. It was the first of three scheduled presidential debates and one vice presidential debate.