NEW YORK: US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden Tuesday sparred bitterly during the first presidential debate ahead of the November elections, hurling personal insults as they clashed over a range of domestic issues, including the coronavirus and healthcare.

Ignoring the rules, the candidates repeatedly interrupted each other, with Biden, a usually composed person, losing his patience at one point and retorting: “Will you shut up, man? This is so unpresidential.”

Trump, trailing in the polls and urgently hoping to revive his campaign, was plainly attempting to be the aggressor. But he interjected so insistently that Biden, a former vice president, could scarcely answer the questions posed to him, forcing the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, to repeatedly urge the president to let his opponent speak.

Yet Biden also lobbed a series of bitingly personal attacks of his own.

“You’re the worst president America has ever had,” he said to Trump.

“In 47 months I’ve done more than you have in 47 years,” Trump shot back, referring to his rival’s career in Washington.

During a heated exchange over issues of race and protests in US cities against law enforcement, Biden called Trump “a racist.”

“This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division,” Biden said, arguing Trump “pours gasoline on the fire” to stoke his base of mostly white Americans over racial issues.

Trump refused to condemn white supremacists who have supported him, telling one such group known as Proud Boys to “stand back, stand by.”

With just five weeks to go before November 3, Trump needed a debate performance that shifted attention in the campaign from his performance in office to Biden’s vulnerabilities, be they his lengthy record in the Senate or his occasionally unsteady moments on the campaign trail.

But instead the debate demonstrated what voters — even Trump’s own supporters — have said they dislike about the president: his impetuousness and inattention to solving problems like the coronavirus crisis that have directly affected people’s lives.

Biden, on the other hand, took several opportunities to speak directly to the American people, looking directly at the camera and gesticulating to viewers at home.

He addressed them directly — with statements like, “I don’t trust him at all, nor do you, I know you don’t” — and implored them to vote.

Besides, heated clashes over the president’s handling of the pandemic, there was sharp exchanges over the integrity of the election results, along with Trump’s deeply personal attacks about Biden’s family and how the Supreme Court will shape the future of the nation’s health care.

Replying to a question, Trump refused to say when he will finally make his personal taxes public as he has long promised.

Wallace, the moderator, specifically asked Trump about a report in The New York Times that revealed he paid only $750 in personal income taxes each of those years.
All presidents except Trump have publicly released their taxes since the presidency of late Richard Nixon.

Trump has said since 2016 that he would eventually release them. But when asked by Wallace, he said only: “You’ll get to see it.”

Biden quickly used that as a point of attack, saying Trump “does take advantage of the tax code” and “pays less tax than a schoolteacher.”

Trump shrugged off the attack, saying that all business leaders do the same “unless they are stupid.” Of course, the New York Times’ reporting indicates that Trump dodged taxes through writing off business failures, undercutting his own claims about his business acumen.

The President also brought up his administration’s plan to quickly distribute a coronavirus vaccine, but Biden questioned why Americans should trust someone who lies so frequently.

“This is the same man who told you by Easter this would be gone away. By the warm weather, it’d be gone — like a miracle. And by the way, maybe you could inject some bleach into your arm,” Biden said.

Reacting to Trump’ claims about Biden’s son — Hunter — acting corruptly in Ukraine, the former vice president said, “This is not about my family or his family, this is about your family — the American people.”

“He doesn’t want to talk about what you need,” Biden added.

At another point in the debate, Trump raised Hunter Biden’s past issues with drug addiction.

“My son had a drug problem, but he’s overcome it and I’m proud of him,” Biden responded.
After the 90-minute debate, allies of President Trump and his rival, Biden, wasted little time trying to claim victory.

“There was one leader on stage tonight and one liar,” asserted Kate Bedingfield, deputy campaign manager for the Biden campaign.

“There was one president on the debate stage tonight, and it was not the person who flew on Air Force One (the presidential plane).”

For his part, Trump’s response was relatively low key, especially compared with the combative performance he delivered on stage.

As he flew back to Washington, he posted a tweet criticizing Biden and debate moderator Wallace, suggesting he was debating both Biden and the Fox anchor at the same time.

Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh described the back-and-forth as a “free exchange of ideas” and a “free flowing conversation” – and, naturally, claimed that Trump won.

Several experts argued there was no clear winner, given the president’s interruptions and personal attacks from both candidates.

“Nothing over the course of the evening likely did anything to alter the trajectory of such a static race,” said Aaron Kall, debate coach at the University of Michigan.


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