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US election: Presidential debate leaves Trump, Biden further polarized

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The first US presidential debate was heavily criticized by all sides and did not help the case for undecided voters to head to the polls in November, analysts said after President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden faced off on Tuesday night.

Chris Wallace, the moderator, struggled to prevent both Trump and Biden from interrupting one another while they were speaking.

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Despite Trump and Biden claiming to have done better than the other side, the criticism continued into Wednesday with the president saying, “Nobody wants Sleepy Joe as a leader, including the Radical Left (which he lost last night!).”

Chris Wallace moderates the first 2020 presidential campaign debate between US President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Sept. 29, 2020. (Reuters)
Chris Wallace moderates the first 2020 presidential campaign debate between US President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Sept. 29, 2020. (Reuters)

For his part, Biden said: “There’s no other way to put it: the President of the United States refused to disavow white supremacists on the debate stage last night.”

Undecided voters

Political analysts on both sides of the aisle said the debate influenced undecided voters to skip the November election.

Undecided voters walked away from the debate wanting to stay home on Election Day, according to Democratic strategist Chuck Rocha, a former adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders ran against Biden in the presidential primary.

“If you like Trump or biden, last night made you love them more. If you’re an undecided voter, last night made you want to stay home! And that’s a HUGE win for Trump,” Rocha said in a post on Twitter.

Prominent Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who moderated a focus group of undecided voters during the event, said that the consensus was that “Trump dominated…and turned off undecided voters in the process.”

“This debate has actually convinced some undecided voters to not vote at all,” said Luntz in a post on Twitter.

Those who said Biden won

Ben Rhodes, a former adviser to former President Barack Obama, said that Biden won the debate “just by being a decent, competent guy motivated by the right reasons,” in a post on Twitter.

Trump did not pick up “a single new vote,” according to Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg, who added that Biden “did fine under challenging circumstances,” without elaborating.

Trump’s missed opportunities

Conservatives, including members of Trump’s campaign, said that the president missed opportunities during the event.

“Trump missed opportunities to explain his successes, whether on regulatory reform, killing bad guys, border control, or peace deals,” conservative analyst Mollie Hemingway said on Twitter.

The incumbent was also criticized for being “too hot” and aggressive by one of the president’s advisers.

“On the Trump side, it was too hot,” Christie said. “You come in and decide you want to be aggressive, and I think it’s the right thing to be aggressive, but that was too hot. With all that heat, you lose the light. That potentially can be fixed. Maybe, maybe not,” the former New Jersey governor said after the debate.

Going forward

The Holly Reporter reported an estimated 28.82 million people tuned in on broadcast networks ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, below the 45.3 million viewers million who watched the debate on those channels in 2016.

Apart from the lower ratings, it remains unclear how many voters will be interested in watching the final two debates slated for Oct. 15, in Miami, Florida and Oct. 22, in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Biden campaign said the former VP would participate in the debates despite previous calls by Speaker Nancy Pelosi for Biden to pull out of the debates.

On the other hand, Trump is expected to maintain his aggressive attacks on Biden and his family’s ties to controversial payments from China and Russia.

Biden is also anticipated to use the high number of coronavirus deaths and infections in the US as fuel for his argument that Trump let the American people down.

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- With Reuters