Biden faces down raging Trump, telling him to shut up

In the first presidential debate, Biden says will accept vote result, Trump deflects

By: AFP      Published: 10:47 AM, 30 Sep, 2020
Biden faces down raging Trump, telling him to shut up

Democrat Joe Biden told a raging President Donald Trump to "shut up" in an opening debate that turned almost immediately into a shouting match 35 days ahead of the most-tense US election in recent memory.

The debate in Cleveland, Ohio, was as bad-tempered as had been feared, with Trump leading the way in yelling over his challenger and the Fox News moderator Chris Wallace alike.

There was no handshake as the two men took the stage and while this was due to Covid-19 restrictions, the absence of the traditional greeting symbolized divisions through the country in the final countdown to November 3.

Trump went as hard on 77-year-old Biden as he'd threatened to do, saying the "radical left" had the centrist Democrat "wrapped around their little finger."

And he got personal, seeking to rile the Democrat by accusing one of his sons of corruption, and telling Biden that "there's nothing smart" about the Democrat. 

Biden, though, not only gave as good as he got -- he launched the kind of attack on Trump that the billionaire president has rarely had to endure to his face.

"Liar," "racist" and "clown" were just some of the missiles launched from Biden, who also branded Trump the "puppy" of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At times, neither Biden nor Wallace could get a word in, as Trump loudly touted his economic record and went after Biden's son Hunter.

At one point an exasperated Biden, who leads strongly in the polls, turned to Trump and said: "Will you shut up, man!"

- Conspiracy theories -

That moment symbolized the strength of Biden's performance in an arena where Trump's campaign had for months been predicting he would crumble.

The Republican had even spread lurid conspiracy theories right up until the last minute that Biden would need drugs or an earpiece secretly providing answers to get through the night.

The anger-filled event did nothing to calm fears around the country that the presidential election, taking place in the middle of an ongoing coronavirus pandemic, could end in chaos.

Asked by Wallace whether they pledged to urge calm and refrain from declaring victory if the results are not immediately known November 3, Biden said: "Yes."

Joe Biden pledged to accept the vote results as the pair squared off in a bitter first televised debate, answering: "If it's me, if it's not me, I'll support the outcome."

Trump, though, wouldn't commit, saying that if he saw "tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can't go along with that."

"We might not know for months," Trump said of the results, adding later: "This is not going to end well."

"I'm urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully," he said.

And when asked if he condemned far-right armed militias like the Proud Boys group, Trump gave a cryptic reply: "Proud Boys -- stand back and stand by."

- Direct to American people -

Biden sought to tie Trump squarely to the Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 200,000 lives in the United States, more than in any other country.

And he came with a visible plan to dodge the Trump rhetorical storm by frequently turning to face the cameras directly and addressing the tens of millions of people watching across the country.

"How many of you got up this morning and had an empty chair at the kitchen table because someone died of Covid?" Biden said, channeling his famed ability to show empathy for the suffering -- something that Trump has long had difficulty in matching.

Mocking the 74-year-old Trump for one of his more notorious statements on supposed cures for coronavirus, Biden said: "Maybe you could inject bleach in your arm and that would take care of it."

- Tax avoidance -

Before they even appeared for the first of their scheduled three 90-minute TV showdowns, Biden was capitalizing on bombshell revelations in The New York Times that the businessman managed to avoid paying almost any federal income taxes for years.

Trump -- who has broken longtime presidential transparency by refusing to publish his tax returns -- reportedly used loopholes to pay just $750 in federal tax during the first year of his presidency.

Hours before the Cleveland showdown, Biden published his own tax returns -- and at the debate demanded that Trump do likewise.

Trump insisted at the debate that he has paid "millions" in taxes.

But the affair continues to threat provide Biden ammunition to try and chip away at Trump's crucial support from blue collar voters or what the Republican calls "the forgotten men and women."

-         Risk of mail-in voting fraud -

Trump falsely said that mail-in voting will lead to "fraud like you've never seen," while Biden accurately stated that, "No one has established at all that there is fraud related to mail-in ballots."

In May, Ellen Weintraub of the US Federal Election Commission (FEC) tweeted that, "There's simply no basis for the conspiracy theory that voting by mail causes fraud." The remark was part of a 66-tweet thread on the topic that provided exhaustive supporting evidence.

In September, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified at a Senate national security hearing: "We take all election-related threats seriously… we have not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it's by mail or otherwise."

Election expert Max Feldman, counsel in the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told AFP: "Voting by mail has been a secure part of our election system for many years."

Additionally, a Brennan Center analysis and the Voting Rights Project, a 2012 investigation of nationwide election security, said that while absentee ballots are more susceptible to fraud than in-person voting, fraud rates are infinitesimal.

"It is... more likely for an American to be struck by lightning than to commit mail voting fraud," the Brennan Center analysis said.

- Trump's economic record -

Trump said that his administration "built the greatest economy in history," a statement he has repeatedly made since entering the White House. This is misleading.

The president's record on the economy has been diminished by the devastating fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Polls, however, tend to remain positive for him when voters are asked who they trust more to create jobs and economic growth.

This stems from Trump's career as a businessman, a tax cut he signed as president and a hitherto strong stock market, which -- on paper at least -- boosts retirement savings. But Trump's messaging on the economy is prone to exaggeration and hyperbole.

Gross domestic product (GDP) and job numbers are the main measures of US economic health.

In Trump's favor, unemployment hit a 50-year low of 3.5 percent in December 2019. In January this year, however, the Labor Department issued an update that was less positive. It showed job growth slowed significantly in the first three years of Trump's presidency.

Some 6.5 million jobs were added between 2017 and 2019 -- 2.11 mn, 2.31 mn (in 2018, Trump's best year) and 2.10 mn. This compared to more than eight million jobs -- 3.00 mn, 2.72mn and 2.35 mn -- in the three prior years, under Barack Obama.

The pandemic has upended the job market.

Unemployment peaked at 14.7 percent in April -- almost seven million Americans filed for government help in one week of March alone. Millions of those lost jobs have since returned. In August 2020, the unemployment rate was 8.4 percent.

The best year of Trump's presidency saw a three-percent rise in GDP in 2018, compared to 3.1 percent in 2015 under Obama. As recently as 2004 and 2005, under president George W. Bush, the economy grew 3.8 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively. None of these three presidents have run close to reaching a historic high; the 1950s and 1960s saw years when growth was more than five percent annually.

US stocks reached historic highs under Trump. The index peaked on February 12, 2020, at 29,551.42 points. But as business confidence plunged because of the coronavirus pandemic the Dow Jones cratered and closed at 19,173.98 on March 20, ending the index's worst week since 2008.

Much of that lost ground has been recovered. On September 29, the Dow closed at 27,452.66.

Obama inherited a market in the depths of the global financial crisis. When he left office in 2017 the Dow Jones had more than doubled, registering cumulative growth of 148.3 percent.

In the 44 months of Trump's first term the Dow Jones has grown 38.5 percent.

- Trump's coronavirus response -

Biden accused Trump of concealing the danger of the coronavirus. This is true.

Trump told investigative journalist Bob Woodward in a February 7, 2020 phone call that the virus is "deadly stuff" and is "more deadly than... even your strenuous flus." 

"You just breathe the air -- that's how it's passed," Trump said in the recording, which Woodward released earlier this month.

Although Trump knew the virus was dangerous, he did not reflect that in his public remarks, instead repeatedly downplaying the risks it posed.

On February 27, Trump had said the risk the virus posed to the American people was "very low" and that the number of cases "is going to be down to close to zero" within days, during one of his daily briefings on the virus. He then compared it to the common flu on March 9.

Trump told Woodward on March 19 that "I wanted to always play it down," adding: "I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."