How do you debate an endless liar who constantly interrupts and will not let his opponent speak?
As Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and all of America learned Tuesday night, you cannot, as President Donald Trump made a farce of the faceoff’s format. But in the process, Trump undid a major theme he and his campaign had been pushing for months: that Biden is not mentally up to the job.
Biden did not fall asleep. He did not lose his place in answers. And while at times he stuttered ― a childhood difficulty that he has largely overcome ― he was forceful and stood up to Trump, calling him a liar and even telling him to be quiet.
“Will you shut up, man?” he asked at one point early in the proceedings.
Trump, who lies on a near-daily basis on topics great and small, started his falsehoods early and never let up.
He claimed that his policies had brought hundreds of thousands of jobs back to the U.S. from overseas. He claimed he had created the strongest economy in history. He claimed he totally rebuilt the military. And, more broadly, he claimed he had accomplished more in his term so far than any previous administration.
Every claim is demonstrably false.
Due to Trump’s trade war, manufacturing was actually in a recession even before the coronavirus pandemic struck and hobbled the economy. As moderator Chris Wallace noted, some 1.5 million more jobs were created in the final three years of former President Barack Obama’s administration than in the first three years of Trump’s. While the military has received larger budgets after congressional Republicans agreed to undo the Budget Control Act they had insisted upon under Obama, the massive new deliveries of planes and ships that Trump claims have not occurred. And Trump has come nowhere close to any number of previous presidencies in terms of major legislation or executive actions.
Trump lied about Biden’s climate change plan, his own health-care proposals, and about the dealings by Biden’s son Hunter with foreign businesses.
The president falsely claimed he had paid “millions” in income taxes in 2016 and 2017 –- directly counter to reporting by the New York Times in a series of recent reports that, relying on IRS records, found he paid only $750 those two years.
And, in closing, Trump lied repeatedly about the security and accuracy of mail ballots, once again questioning the legitimacy of an election already underway. He even refused to tell his supporters not to engage in civil unrest during the counting process.
“If I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that,” Trump told Wallace.
Biden on multiple occasions flatly called Trump a liar and ignorant of various facts. The former vice president also told voters in his closing argument that they had the country’s future in their hands. “Is it going to change, or is going to be four more years of those lies?” he asked.
The debate at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland was the first of three planned heading into the Nov. 3 election.
And while candidates typically try to raise expectations for their opponents ahead of debates ― the easier to claim victory for their own performance afterward ― Trump and his campaign did exactly the opposite.
In the past month alone, Trump has called Biden “stupid,” “dumb” and well past his “prime time.” This past weekend, Trump invented out of whole cloth a lie that Biden’s ability to perform well at debates was due to performance-enhancing drugs, and demanded that Biden be given a drug test.
His campaign, meanwhile, has spent tens of millions on TV and digital ads over the spring and summer portraying Biden as senile. Many of the ads were deceptively edited to make Biden seem incoherent or manipulated to make him appear older and sickly.
That strategy, though, may have run its course, as Biden showed he could stand up to Trump’s badgering for an hour-and-a-half and remain coherent, without any significant stumbles.
Trump and Biden are to meet again next in Miami on Oct. 15, and then a third time in Nashville on Oct. 22. Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris are set to debate a single time, on Oct. 7 in Salt Lake City.
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up for membership to become a founding member and help shape HuffPost’s next chapter