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First Debate Full of Missed Opportunities for Biden

Strangely, Biden failed to land any punches on the Trump administration's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

US President Donald Trump and Democratic Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden exchange arguments during the first presidential debate on September 29, 2020. (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

The first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden was an abominable 90 minute shout-fest that was more distasteful and dissatisfying than toddlers throwing a tantrum.

Trump was even more pugnacious, overbearing and dismissive towards Biden than he was in 2016 with Hillary Clinton. The President constantly interrupted both the moderator Chris Wallace and Biden. He shouted, spoke out of turn, and lobbed insults. True to form, Trump argued with Wallace. Biden returned fire, calling Trump a “clown,” a “racist,” and telling him to “shush” and “shut up.”

As repulsive as the display was to many, it probably didn’t dismay Trump’s supporters, being very on-brand and not dissimilar from the President’s Twitter rants. While we’ve come to expect that behavior from Trump, a debate where two people are behaving like this represents a sad state of affairs for the country.

The debate was also chock full of missed opportunities for Biden.

Right out of the gate, Biden promised “the first thing I would do as president is eliminate the president’s tax cut.” It was a strange way to begin. Were there really people watching at home that think raising taxes is a good idea in the middle of a pandemic?

Given that guaranteeing voters more taxes has been a sure-loser for the past four decades, this seemed a gratuitous self-inflicted wound.

“Why didn’t you change the tax code the last 47 years?” Trump shot back, a not particularly effective riposte referring to Biden’s many years holding public office.

Things only got worse from there. Biden’s many missed opportunities were most glaring on the subject of the COVID-19 pandemic currently crippling the nation. Trump criticized Biden for the Obama administration’s handling of H1N1

“H1n1. You were a disaster,” said Trump, handing Biden a golden opportunity.

Biden could have said that they briefed the incoming Trump administration on the possibility of a pandemic and even gave the Trump administration a playbook, which reportedly they threw out.

Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice has said that, “We prepared the administration with a pandemic for dummies playbook [on pandemics.] And a table-top exercise. And so many other briefings.”

Biden could also have pointed out that Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, disbanded the National Security Council’s (NSC) office overseeing responses to pandemics, a decision which surely cost lives.

But Biden didn’t mention any of these things. He instead responded by citing the numbers: “14,000 people died, not 200,000. There was no economic recession… we didn’t shut down the economy. This is his economy. He shut down.”

The answer highlights a Trump strength—the booming economy pre-Covid—and doesn’t effectively portray the extent to which the Trump administration bungled the pandemic response or what a Biden administration would do differently.

Another missed opportunity came when Trump boasted that no one has been hurt by attending his rallies.

Biden could have very effectively responded that Herman Cain died from contracting COVID-19 after he’d attended an indoor Trump rally in Tulsa without a mask.

Trump might have responded that no one really knows where Cain contracted the virus, but then Biden could have highlighted that we don’t know because the Trump administration hasn’t instituted even rudimentary contact tracing.

Biden also could have asked Trump to specify what he meant when he claimed “so many Democratic governors said I did a tremendous job with COVID,” or brought up that many governors said he demanded praise in exchange for needed medical supplies, but Biden lost that opportunity too.

Strikingly, Biden then got into an argument with moderator Chris Wallace about whether his vice presidential running mate, Kamala Harris, had told people not to trust vaccine scientists.

Biden appeared caught off guard when Trump slammed his history of supporting legislation that incarcerated black men at record rates.

“I’m letting people out of jail now,” Trump said to Biden. “You’ve treated the black community as bad as anyone in the country. You called them superpredators and you’ve called them worse than that.”

As Reasonpoints out, “Biden has said a lot of regrettable things about criminal justice, but this remark was actually Hillary Clinton’s,” not that you would know it from watching the debate.

Quite early in the debate, Trump was able to get Biden to denounce the left-wing of his own party, as well as the “Green New Deal.” Biden didn’t elicit any similar disavowal of the right-wing from Trump.

It was the moderator who asked Trump to condemn white supremacists and right-wing militias, or tell them to stand back, to which Trump responded, “stand back and stand by.” He then launched into another attack on Biden, this time about antifa and “law and order.”

Neither candidate agreed that systemic racism exists within the police or the criminal justice system, which will probably hurt Biden’s standing with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Wallace asked Biden, “What does reimagining policing mean?” Biden responded evasively: “What I support is police having the opportunity to deal with the problems they face.”

Biden said that there are a couple of bad apples among cops, and then he curiously recommended that “a psychologist or psychiatrist” be sent out on 911 calls along with the police.

This mix of confusion, utter lack of policy proposals, insults, falsehoods and shouting continued throughout the night. Instead of specifics, Biden waffled and sometimes appeared confused. During those moments, he resorted to looking at the camera and saying a variation of, “Look, no one trusts Trump.”

That may be true, but it certainly didn’t leave the viewer with the impression that Biden has a handle on the facts, or even has plans for dealing with the very dire state the country is in.

about the author

Barbara Boland is TAC’s foreign policy and national security reporter. Previously, she worked as an editor for the Washington Examiner and for CNS News. She is the author of Patton Uncovered, a book about General George Patton in World War II, and her work has appeared on Fox News, The Hill UK Spectator, and elsewhere. Boland is a graduate from Immaculata University in Pennsylvania.  Follow her on Twitter @BBatDC.

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