CLEVELAND — It was sloppy, ugly and chaotic. And then, as Joe Biden acclaimed his late son, it got personal.
President Donald Trump came into his first debate with Biden armed with rapid-fire interruptions on every topic, barreling over Biden’s answers and moderator Chris Wallace’s questions alike for 90 cringeworthy minutes. But no moment illustrated Trump’s determination to bend the debate to his will at all costs than when he wrenched Biden’s tribute to his son Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015, into an attack on the business dealings of Biden’s other son, Hunter.
The former vice president brought up Beau, the former attorney general of Delaware who served in the Army, to highlight Trump’s reported criticism of military members.
“The way you talk about the military, the way you talk about them being ‘losers’ and ‘suckers,’” Biden began, referencing reporting in The Atlantic. “My son was in Iraq. He spend a year there. He spent a year there. He got the Bronze Star. He got the Conspicuous Service Medal. He was not a loser. He was a patriot and the people left behind there were heroes.”
“Really?” Trump said, cutting into Biden’s monologue. “Are you talking about Hunter?”
“I’m talking about my son, Beau Biden,” Biden thundered.
“I don’t know Beau. I know Hunter,” Trump responded.
Trump’s campaign had telegraphed for days that they planned to make Hunter Biden a focus of inquiry in the debates, after months of pushing stories about his lucrative work on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. Trump’s fixation on Hunter Biden now stretches over a year; it was his request that the Ukrainian government open an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden that led to Trump’s impeachment in 2019.
In this case, Trump was so eager to sink his teeth into Hunter Biden that he forgot, until a few minutes later, to answer Joe Biden’s charge about denigrating members of the military. It was part of a pattern of outbursts, put-downs and interruptions that dominated the full debate, to Wallace’s despair — and his repeated, unheeded shouts of, “Gentlemen!”
“Hunter got thrown out of the military. He was thrown out, dishonorably discharged for cocaine use,” Trump continued, even as Biden tried to interrupt, calling it “not true.” (Hunter Biden was discharged from the military, but not dishonorably.)
“He didn’t have a job until you became vice president, and once you became vice president, he made a fortune in China, in Moscow and various other places,” Trump said. “He made a fortune.”
The exchange about Biden’s sons stood out among several startling moments. Given the opportunity to condemn white supremacy, Trump took a pass, instead saying that the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, “stand back and stand by.” Trump also refused to urge his supporters to not engage in civil unrest and not declare victory until a winner is independently certified. Biden promised voters that Trump “cannot stop you from determining the outcome of this election.”
The clashes often turned to personal insults. Biden twice branded Trump a “clown,” called him a racist and, at one point, deemed him “the worst president America has ever had.”
As Trump attacked Hunter Biden, Joe Biden seized the moment back, pivoting straight to the TV camera and addressing debate watchers at home, something he did repeatedly Tuesday night after Trump went on the attack.
“My son, my son, my son — like a lot people, like a lot of people you know at home — had a drug problem,” Biden said. “He’s overtaken it, he’s fixed it, he’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him. I’m proud of my son.”
“Why was he given tens of millions of dollars?” Trump cut in.
“That’s been totally discredited,” Biden said, jabbing his pen at the camera. “Totally discredited.”
Wallace jumped in to scold both candidates, again. But it didn’t stop them from going after each other.
Eventually, the debate circled back around to Biden’s original point about Trump’s reported comments regarding members of the military. Trump accused Biden of calling members of the military “stupid bastards.” At another point in the debate, he also said that Biden “graduated the lowest or almost the lowest” in his college class and to not “ever use the word ‘smart’ with me.”
“Will you shut up, man?” an exasperated Biden said to Trump, likely a first in presidential debate history.
View original post