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Debate Takeaways: An acrid tone from the opening minute

The first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden erupted in contentious exchanges Tuesday night over the coronavirus pandemic, job losses and how the Supreme Court will shape the future of the nation’s health care.

Posted: Sep 29, 2020 2:50 PM
Updated: Sep 30, 2020 6:27 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — After more than a year of circling each other, Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden met on the debate stage Tuesday night in Ohio.

The 74-year-old president and the 77-year-old former vice president are similar in age, and they share a mutual dislike. But they differ starkly in style and substance. All of that was evident from the outset on the Cleveland stage.

Here are key takeaways from the first of three scheduled presidential debates before Election Day on Nov. 3.

AND IN THIS CORNER

Trump is no stranger to going on offense, but his pugilistic approach on stage left his Democratic opponent fighting to complete a sentence.

Trailing in public and private polling, Trump advisers have pushed him to reframe the election away from a referendum on his presidency to a choice between him and Biden. Trump, instead, commandeered the debate, trying to trip up Biden by interrupting and insulting him. In the process, Trump made the debate more about himself.

“There’s nothing smart about you,” Trump said of Biden. “47 years you’ve done nothing.”

While Trump played into his reputation as a bully, it may have been effective at breaking up the worst of Biden’s attacks — simply by talking over them.

Trump aides believed before the debate that Biden would be unable to withstand the withering offensive in style and substance from Trump, but Biden came with a few retorts of his own, calling Trump a “clown” and mocking Trump’s style by asking, “Will you shut up, man?”

Trump’s supporters may have been cheered by his frontal assault. Whether undecided voters, who watched the debate to try to learn about the two candidates, were impressed is another matter.

Moderator Chris Wallace was none too amused, delivering a pointed reproach to Trump for his interruptions. “Frankly, you’ve been doing more interrupting,” Wallace said, appealing to Trump to let his opponent speak.

Trump is fond of superlatives, but in the case of the debate there is little doubt that it was the most acrimonious since the forums have been televised.

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TRUMP CAN'T ESCAPE THE VIRUS

Trump has wanted the election to be about anything but the coronavirus pandemic, but he couldn’t outrun reality on the debate stage.

“It is what it is because you are who you are,” Biden told the president, echoing Trump's own words and referring to his months of downplaying COVID-19 while he said privately he understood how deadly it is.

But Trump didn’t take it quietly. He proceeded to blitz Biden with a mix of self-defense and counter-offensives. The 200,000 dead? Biden’s death toll would have been “millions,” Trump said. A rocky economy? Biden would’ve been worse. Biden wouldn’t have manufactured enough masks or ventilators.

The kicker: “There will be a vaccine very soon.”

Biden fell back on his bottom line: “A lot of people died, and a lot more are going to unless he gets a lot smarter.”

For voters still undecided about who’d better handle the pandemic, the exchange may not have offered anything new.

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RACIAL RECKONING

Trump said Biden was the politician who helped put millions of Black Americans in prison with the 1994 crime law. Biden called Trump “the racist” in the Oval Office.

For a nation confronting a summer of racial unrest — and centuries of injustice — the debate was the latest cultural flashpoint.

Biden was quiet as Trump blitzed him as a tool of the “radical left” and a weak figure who opposes “law and order.” He pressed Biden repeatedly to name any police union that’s endorsed him. He falsely accused Biden of wanting to “defund the police.”

Biden didn’t capitalize when Trump refused to condemn armed militias and insisted, against the guidance of his own FBI director: “This is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem.”

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said when prompted on the far-right group. “But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”

The former vice president tried to push back, but not until after Trump had made his arguments, including the misrepresentations.

Biden regained some footing mocking the president’s warnings about suburbs, saying, “He wouldn’t know a suburb unless he took a wrong turn.” And perhaps revealing the thinking about allowing Trump the rhetorical upper hand, Biden said, “All these dog whistles and racism doesn’t work anymore.”

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QUESTION ABOUT COURT, ANSWER ABOUT HEALTH CARE

Trump defended his decision to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court just weeks before Election Day, saying “elections have consequences.”

Biden said he was “not opposed to the justice,” but said the “American people have a right to have a say in who the Supreme Court nominee is.”

But rather than litigate Republicans' 2016 blocking of Merrick Garland to the high court, Biden quickly pivoted to the issues that will potentially come before the court: health care and abortion. It’s an effort by the Democrat to refocus the all-but-certain confirmation fight for Trump’s third justice to the Supreme Court into an assault on Trump and his record.

Biden said Barrett, who would be the sixth justice on the nine-member court to be appointed by a Republican, would endanger the Affordable Care Act and tens of millions of Americans with preexisting conditions, and would imperil legalized abortion. It was a reframing of the political debate to terms far more favorable to the Democrat, and one Trump played into. Trump said of the conservative Barrett, “You don’t know her view on Roe vs. Wade” and he defended his efforts to try to chip away at the popular Obama-era health law.

Biden has tried to press Democrats to use the court confirmation fight as a rallying cry against Trump, and the debate discussion largely played out on his turf.

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‘INVISIBLE’ WALLACE STRUGGLES TO CONTAIN TRUMP

Debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News tried mightily to hold his ground Tuesday after saying beforehand that it was not his job to fact-check the candidates, especially Trump, in real time.

But Wallace struggled to stop Trump from interrupting and at times seemed to lose control of the debate.

“Mr. President, as the moderator, we are going to talk about COVID in the next segment,” Wallace said.

Soon after: “I’m the moderator, and I’d like you to let me ask my question.”

Minutes later: “I have to give you roughly equal time. Please let the vice president talk.”

And when Wallace noted that Trump hasn’t come up with his health care plan in nearly four years, Trump turned the question back on Wallace.

“First of all, I’m debating you and not him. That’s okay. I’m not surprised.”

Wallace had said he wanted to be “invisible.”

Well, that was impossible.

__

FAMILY BUSINESS

As expected, Trump found a way to bring up Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, and recycle allegations about the younger Biden’s international business practices. Biden called Trump’s litany “discredited” and fired back, “I mean, his family we can talk about all night.”

But Biden sidestepped any of the specifics of Trump’s international business dealings and instead turned straight to the camera. “This is not about my family or his family,” Biden said as Trump tried to talk over him. “This is about your family.”

In a later exchange, Trump interrupted Biden when he was talking about his late son, Beau Biden, who died of cancer in 2015 after having served in Iraq.

“I don’t know Beau, I know Hunter," Trump said.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 126591

Reported Deaths: 2334
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin32743974
Ramsey13510352
Dakota9389136
Anoka8216150
Stearns548540
Washington534568
Scott323434
Olmsted312529
St. Louis273865
Wright231414
Nobles217416
Clay209343
Blue Earth19797
Carver17147
Kandiyohi16004
Rice15869
Sherburne158321
Mower149415
Winona120918
Lyon9336
Crow Wing92021
Waseca9189
Chisago8902
Benton8625
Beltrami8137
Otter Tail7836
Todd7415
Steele7332
Nicollet68917
Itasca68817
Freeborn6474
Morrison6438
Douglas6243
Martin59916
Le Sueur5915
McLeod5734
Watonwan5724
Goodhue52911
Polk5274
Pine5160
Becker5053
Isanti5044
Chippewa4043
Carlton3921
Dodge3700
Mille Lacs36411
Hubbard3352
Wabasha3320
Pipestone33016
Cass3285
Meeker3123
Brown3073
Rock3041
Yellow Medicine2685
Cottonwood2640
Murray2583
Redwood25111
Fillmore2410
Sibley2403
Renville23311
Faribault2140
Roseau2110
Jackson2011
Wadena2011
Unassigned19553
Swift1921
Kanabec19110
Houston1831
Lincoln1710
Pennington1701
Stevens1691
Koochiching1634
Aitkin1572
Pope1480
Big Stone1290
Lac qui Parle1263
Wilkin1264
Lake1080
Mahnomen1011
Norman1010
Grant904
Marshall901
Clearwater880
Red Lake612
Traverse540
Lake of the Woods431
Kittson330
Cook110

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 109660

Reported Deaths: 1580
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk18245283
Woodbury689694
Johnson568330
Black Hawk530098
Linn5173128
Dubuque479754
Scott413437
Story389818
Dallas333744
Pottawattamie303244
Sioux231714
Buena Vista221312
Marshall194736
Webster174014
Plymouth157126
Wapello148362
Clinton138226
Muscatine136958
Crawford132412
Des Moines12819
Cerro Gordo127823
Warren11716
Carroll105210
Jasper103634
Henry9995
Marion94810
Tama91137
Lee89810
Delaware7099
Dickinson7017
Wright6981
Boone6869
Mahaska64024
Bremer6299
Washington61811
Harrison5928
Jackson5463
Benton5291
Lyon5257
Clay5014
Louisa49815
Hamilton4543
Winneshiek4519
Winnebago44718
Hardin4445
Kossuth4430
Poweshiek43911
Floyd41911
Jones4173
Emmet41217
Cedar4115
Buchanan4054
Iowa3858
Cherokee3762
Franklin37518
Guthrie37415
Sac3724
Page3680
Clayton3583
Butler3502
Mills3501
Shelby3501
Fayette3483
Cass3452
Madison3442
Allamakee3358
Chickasaw3301
Clarke3193
Humboldt3003
Palo Alto2932
Hancock2924
Grundy2855
Calhoun2784
Howard2589
Osceola2540
Monroe24911
Mitchell2360
Monona2331
Taylor2252
Union2174
Pocahontas2142
Jefferson2101
Appanoose2093
Lucas1916
Fremont1861
Ida1812
Greene1800
Van Buren1642
Davis1624
Montgomery1595
Adair1471
Keokuk1451
Decatur1400
Audubon1371
Worth1330
Wayne1133
Ringgold822
Adams700
Unassigned90
Rochester
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