President Donald Trump wasted no time turning his first debate against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden into a gutter fight. His constant interruptions made it difficult for the former vice president to complete a thought, and for moderator Chris Wallace to articulate a sentence, and likely prompted many casual viewers to quickly turn the channel.
“Will you shut up, man?” an exasperated Biden said early during the debate, as he struggled with Trump’s verbal bulldozing.
"Will you shut up, man?" -- Biden to Trump pic.twitter.com/F1oX6VM7Wz— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 30, 2020
It was not an uplifting or clarifying event. Trump forced Biden to lower himself to respond to his interruptions, and perhaps in that respect the debate was a success for him. But as the more than 90-minute affair dragged on, there were a number of moments that illustrated how singularly unfit the incumbent is for public service. Here’s a rundown of just a few of them.
Trump was teed up a softball about racism — and wouldn’t even swing at it
Trump has a long history of racism extending from his current attacks on Black Lives Matter all the way back to the mid-1970s, when the Trump Management Company was investigated by the FBI for racial discrimination. On Tuesday, Wallace and Biden gave him a chance to at least pay lip service to anti-racism by pressing him to denounce white supremacist groups.
Instead, Trump bizarrely addressed the far-right, neo-fascist Proud Boys group and asked them to “stand by.” He then pivoted to bashing antifa, saying to Biden, “they’ll overthrow you.”
Holy shit. Trump refuses to condemn white supremacist groups. pic.twitter.com/FFSrvA1tcQ— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 30, 2020
It’s worth remembering that Trump’s infamous comments calling white supremacists marching in Charlottesville in 2017 “very fine people” was a central theme of Biden’s campaign launch. The fact that Trump again refused to denounce them underscored Biden’s case for the presidency without him even having to do it himself.
Not only did Trump refuse to condemn them, the Proud Boys seemed to react to Trump’s “stand by” comments as more or less an endorsement.
Trump won’t even pledge to not try to steal the election
Wallace closed the debate by asking Biden and Trump if they would wait to pledge victory following November’s election until the results are independently certified.
The question would’ve been a layup for any previous president and any previous major party presidential candidate (with the notable exception of Trump in 2016). But Trump wouldn’t even commit to not trying to steal November’s election, and he’s been laying the groundwork for questioning the election results for months.
“I am urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen,” Trump said.
"I am urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully" -- Trump refuses to pledge to not declare victory until the election has been independently certified pic.twitter.com/YD14K8t8nQ— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 30, 2020
Biden, by contrast, quickly answered yes. The debate concluded with him saying Trump “has no idea what he’s talking about” when he pushes conspiracy theories about mail voting being used to rig the election against him, which have been debunked by his own FBI director and Department of Homeland Security secretary.
Trump’s comments on climate change were an infantile mess
The West Coast was ravaged by wildfires for most of the last month, and the Gulf Coast is experiencing a historic hurricane season. So you’d think that when Wallace asked Trump to acknowledge climate change as a real problem caused by humans, that would be the absolute least the president could do. But on Tuesday Trump wouldn’t.
Instead, Trump responded to Wallace’s question about if he believes that greenhouse gas emissions contribute to the warming of the planet by saying “I think a lot of things do.” He then went on an absolutely bonkers tangent about “forest management” and how Europeans purportedly do it better than Californians.
The point of the rant was to push back on climate science. Here’s a transcript, followed by the video.
In Europe, they live, they have forest cities. They’re called forest cities. They maintain their forest, they manage their forest.
I was with the head of a major country, it’s a forest city. He said, ‘Sir, we have trees that are far more — they ignite much easier than California.’ There shouldn’t be that problem. I spoke with the governor about it — I’m getting along very well with the governor — but I said at some point, you can’t every year have hundreds of thousands of land just burned to the ground. That’s burning down because of a lack of management.
"In Europe, they live, they have forest cities, they're called forest cities. They maintain their forest, they manage their forest. I was w/ the head of a major country, it's a forest city. He said, 'Sir, we have trees that are far more - they ignite much easier than California'" pic.twitter.com/ip4BLzbSUb— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 30, 2020
It’s almost impossible to take Trump’s nonsense seriously. But the stakes of this election are deadly serious. Trump’s strategy of constant interruptions may have resulted in many people walking away from the first debate unenthused about both candidates, but the fact of the matter is the choice voters face has never been so stark.