Discussion of topics including the Supreme Court, healthcare, race and violence, and the nation’s economy quickly turned into a chaotic storm of interruptions and insults during the first of three scheduled debates Tuesday night between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
Back and forth between Trump and the former vice president included several personal jabs — Trump attacked Biden’s family, referencing his son Hunter’s past drug use. Trump also insinuated his challenger was dumb and questioned his record as a former senator and vice president.
“I’ve done more in 47 months – I’ve done more than you’ve done in 47 years,” Trump said.
Biden also took several swings at the president by calling him a “clown,” “liar,” the “worst president” in American history, and telling him to “shut up.” Biden also described Trump as “Putin’s puppy.”
Hostility between the candidates — and even the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, at times — clouded more serious topics of the night including the response to COVID-19.
“This debate was an unbecoming spectacle, and painful to watch due to (Donald Trump)’s lack of self control. I am embarrassed for America,” Democratic Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson, who represents part of Newton County, stated via Twitter after the debate ended.
During the debate, Trump and Biden stood by their original views concerning the Supreme Court nomination. Trump was adamant in pushing his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett through the Senate to succeed the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg and not waiting for the election to pass.
“I’m not elected for three years. I’m elected for four years,” he said.
Biden said the nomination should wait and voters should play a role in the process.
“The American people have a right to have a say in who the Supreme Court nominee is and that say occurs when they vote for United States Senators and when they vote for the President of United States,” Biden said.
On Twitter, Republican Georgia Congressman Jody Hice, who represents part of Newton County, voiced his support of Trump’s comments.
“The American people elected (Donald Trump) in 2016 to appoint Constitutionalist judges like (Amy Coney Barrett). The American people gave Republicans a clear majority in the Senate in 2014, 2016 & 2018 to confirm them. As Obama said, ‘Elections have consequences.’ #FillThatSeatNow," Hice wrote.
Trump’s response to COVID-19 was questioned and criticized by Biden, saying the president "doesn't have a plan."
"If I were running it, I’d know what the plan is. You’ve got to provide these businesses the ability to have the money to be able to reopen with the PPE, as well as with the sanitation they need," Biden said when asked why his stance on reopening businesses and schools was different from Trump. "Nancy Pelosi and Schumer, they have a plan. He won’t even meet with them."
"Well, (Biden) wants to shut down this country and I want to keep it open," Trump later replied. "He wants to shut down the country. We just went through it. We had to, because we didn’t know anything about the disease. Now we’ve found that elderly people with heart problems and diabetes and different problems are very, very vulnerable. We learned a lot. Young children aren’t, even younger people aren’t. We’ve learned a lot, but he wants to shut it down. More people will be hurt by continuing."
Hice tweeted, again, in support of Trump's response to COVID-19.
“(Donald Trump) ended travel from China on January 31 to stop #COVID19. (Joe Biden) accused him of being xenophobic. (House Democrats) were still obsessed with their bogus impeachment. (Trump) saved American lives with early action while Democrats played politics,” Hice stated.
Hice made no comments after the debate concluded.
When asked about their future plans for the economy, Biden said he intends to raise the corporate tax from 21% to 28%.
"You have 91 companies federal, I mean, the fortune 500, who don’t pay a single penny in tax making billions of dollars," he said.
Trump said his plan was to continue his free market approach including lower taxes and more deregulation.
Toward the end of the debate, Trump was asked if he were willing to condemn white supremacists and military groups. Since the debate ended, many have questioned the president's response, saying he did not condemn either group. Below is a transcript of the segment:
Wallace: You have repeatedly criticized the vice president for not specifically calling out Antifa and other left wing extremist groups. But are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia group and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland?
Trump: Sure, I’m (willing) to do that.
Wallace: Are you prepared specifically to do it.
Trump: I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing not from the right wing.
Wallace: But what are you saying?
Trump: I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.
Wallace: Well, do it, sir.
Biden: Say it, do it say it.
Trump: What do you want to call them? Give me a name, give me a name, go ahead who do you want me to condemn.
Wallace: White supremacist and right-wing militia.
Trump: Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right wing problem this is a left wing.
Scott Jay, chairman of the Newton County Republican Party, said Wednesday morning he did not want to say what he thought about the performance of the candidates.
“I’m a loyal conservative,” Jay said. “Beyond my thoughts or feelings about how it went last night … my vote will go to the party’s nominee.
“I’m not sure there were any winners last night,” he said. “I don’t know if the Constitution of the United States won last night.”
Many Newton County residents voiced their displeasure with the debate on The Covington News’ Facebook page, calling the event an “embarrassment” and “disgrace” and saying the candidates “acted like children.” Some readers said the debate provided no clarity on who to vote for. Others longed for the presence of Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgenson.
“I personally would have liked to see the Libertarian candidate included in the debate. We may have gotten more intelligent answers,” Connie Hull, of Covington, wrote.
The approximate 90-minute debate can be replayed in its entirety here.
The next debates between Trump and Biden will be held Oct. 15 and Oct. 22, each starting at 9 p.m. The vice presidential debate between Republican Mike Pence and Democratic challenger Kamala Harris is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 7 at 9 p.m.
The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 5. On Oct. 12, early in-person voting begins, continuing through Oct. 30. Election Day is Nov. 3.
News Editor Tom Spigolon contributed to the report.