Invectives, taunts, personal attacks: the first debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden on Tuesday offered a particularly chaotic spectacle 35 days before a US presidential election under high tension.
In a televised duel followed by tens of millions of Americans, the Democratic candidate 77 years treated the 45th president of the United States, 74 years of “liar” and a “clown”. “You’re going to shut it up!” “, He even launched to him while the confrontation turned into cacophony.
“There is nothing intelligent in you”, hammered Donald Trump for his part, who, in bad shape in the polls, hoped for a misstep from his rival that did not take place.
Jaws tight, the tenant of the White House, who will seek a second four-year term on November 3, has tried to portray his opponent as a puppet of the “radical left”, whether on health, safety or the climate.
But the former vice-president of Barack Obama, whose fighting spirit raised questions, held the shock in this face-to-face organized in Cleveland, Ohio, among the most disputed states of the election.
With his eyes fixed on the camera, he regularly called Americans as witnesses, calling on them to go to the polls to avoid “four more years of lies”. If he sometimes stumbled over words, he avoided the blunders that some in his camp feared.
“One of the worst in history”
“This debate will go down as one of the worst in history,” Aaron Kall, a professor at the University of Michigan and specialist in presidential duels, told AFP.
If Joe Biden pledged to accept the result of the ballot, Donald Trump dodged him, once again confining himself to asserting without proof that the postal vote, which promises to be important due to COVID-19, would favour unprecedented “frauds” and could prevent knowing the winner “for months”.
The outgoing president struggled throughout the debate to regain control, continually trying to interrupt “Joe” until he was firmly called to order by the moderator, Fox News reporter Chris Wallace.
“Are you for law and order? “Asked Donald Trump, dark tie striped with red, in a particularly tense exchange, where he accused his rival of weakness in the face of crime and violence.
“Law and order with justice,” replied his Democratic opponent, tie with fine black and white stripes.
The Republican billionaire has also drawn sharp criticism from the Democratic camp for appearing to procrastinate when the reporter asked him if he was prepared to condemn white supremacists.
“No plan” anti-COVID
In his attempt to downgrade Joe Biden, a pure product of the moderate wing of the Democratic Party, to the left on the American political spectrum, he accused him of wanting a “socialist” health system.
His opponent, on the contrary, denounced the desire of the tenant of the White House to install a conservative judge at the Supreme Court just before the ballot on November 3, in order to be able according to him to “get rid” of Obamacare, the insurance disease set up when he himself was Barack Obama’s vice president.
The two septuagenarian candidates also scrambled over the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the most bereaved country in the world with more than 205,000 dead.
“You could never have done the work we did, you don’t have that in your blood,” hammered Donald Trump.
“I know what to do” while “the president has no plan,” replied Joe Biden.
Coronavirus obliges, and as expected, the two men did not shake hands on the stage in Cleveland, where they faced a small audience, with their wives, Melania Trump and Jill Biden, both masked.
Atrium and stimulants
Everything separates the two candidates.
The ex-New York businessman showed up once, in 2016, and created the biggest surprise in modern political history.
Entering politics half a century ago, Joe Biden, senator then vice-president, hopes that his third attempt for the White House (he had already run for the Democratic primaries in 1988 and 2008) will be the right one.
All day, the climate had been tense, foreshadowing an acrimonious confrontation.
At Donald Trump, it was thus implied that Joe Biden could use an earpiece during the evening.
False, answered the Democratic camp – as it had already swept the request of the president who had called for an anti-doping test by suspecting the Democrat of using stimulants.
If their impact on the ballot often remains limited, these debates are highlights of the electoral campaign, since the first televised tête-à-tête organized 60 years ago in Chicago between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.
The other two presidential debates are scheduled for October 15 and 22, respectively in Miami, Florida, and Nashville, Tennessee.