Jill: I’ve covered presidential campaigns since 1988 and this was by far the lowest point. It’s hard to find words to describe the painful spectacle that unfolded in Cleveland.
The Commission on Presidential Debates should cancel the second and third debates scheduled for President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. To hold them would be sadistic. Americans don’t deserve this. Biden didn’t deserve it and neither did the moderator, Chris Wallace.
Trump is uncontrollable and cruel and unpatriotic. He made clear in his closing argument that any election he doesn’t win is rigged and fraudulent. His claims had no basis but may have been enough to scare some people off voting in what used to be the world’s exemplary democracy.
To cut to the chase, Trump is not going to convince anyone that Biden is senile after this debate. And Trump did not make any inroads with the suburban women he needs to win swing states like Pennsylvania. They might have turned off the TV around six minutes in, which is when Wallace literally threw up his hands.
If they had stuck around, they would have heard their commander in chief keep up an incessant round of insults, lies and preposterous brag-claims to drown out everything Biden and Wallace were saying. And then, asked to condemn white supremacy, he told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”
I was not expecting this debate to be “the moment when Donald Trump became president.” But I wasn’t expecting this, either.
David: We saw the same debate. I’ve watched debates in every presidential contest since Ronald Reagan was reelected in a 49-state landslide in 1984, and this was the lowest point. I hope this disgraceful display by Trump is a sign that we might get a decisive outcome from the election.
Biden won this contest handily. He delivered two messages with complete clarity. He’s not senile. He will return America to normal. Americans can vote for him with peace of mind.
Biden is a sane, normal, polite human being, but I think he spoke for most Americans when he said, “Will you shut up, man.” That’s what I have been yelling at my TV and my Twitter feed every day for more than four years.
And that was before Trump started going on about how “we’re weeks away from a vaccine.” His own scientists say we’re looking at next spring or summer before widespread availability of a vaccine, yet Trump doubles down on hogwash even as he has to know no one believes him.
He really is crazy.
Jill: When Trump started going after Hunter Biden on making money off his family name, I was rooting for the Democratic nominee to really tear into Trump family ethics and grifting. But Biden said he wouldn’t because he’d rather talk about what the American people need. And when Trump got nasty about Hunter’s drug problem, Biden said he was proud of his son for overcoming it and turned it into a moment of compassion for other families dealing with substance abuse.
It is frightening to consider all the things Trump said that viewers might think are true — that Biden called Black teens superpredators (that was Hillary Clinton back in the 1990s), that Trump gave Americans insurance protections for their preexisting conditions (that was the 2010 Affordable Care Act signed by President Barack Obama), that Trump has improved the ACA (he has sabotaged it and is in court trying to kill it), that Trump has done a great job on COVID-19 (he hasn’t), that he’s a genius because he has Mitch McConnell to push through his court nominees but Obama and Biden were failures because they left him so many vacancies (it was because McConnell blocked them).
“To be continued in more debates,” Wallace said after struggling through the first one. God, I hope not.
David: You missed the best Trump whopper on his tax returns. “You’ll see it,” he said. Right, buddy, you’ve been feeding us that line since the last election. His tax returns must be in the closet with his super-duper health care plan that’s two weeks away and always will be.
Now that we’ve established the awfulness of Trump, Biden needs to up his game if there are going to be more debates.
Nothing is as tired as the claim that we just need a government buy-American policy to rev up manufacturing in the United States. That never works because anything that passes legal muster is toothless. Real buy-American plans would violate our trade agreements. Making promises you can’t keep is an aspect of conventional politics I don’t want back.
And blaming Trump for the COVID recession is just cheap. Any president would have faced a recession after the pandemic lockdowns. We can judge Trump on how the rest of the recovery goes, but he doesn’t deserve to be attacked for a recession he had no way to avoid.
That’s two quibbles with a night that I think Biden should be proud of. He met Trump and bested him.
David Mastio, a libertarian conservative, is the deputy editor of USA TODAY’s Editorial Page. Jill Lawrence, a center-left liberal, is the commentary editor of USA TODAY. Follow them on Twitter: @DavidMastio and @JillDLawrence