Who won the presidential debate?

Independent Staff
·5-min read
Donald Trump y el candidato presidencial demócrata Joe Biden debatieron el martes en Ohio. (Getty Images)
Donald Trump y el candidato presidencial demócrata Joe Biden debatieron el martes en Ohio. (Getty Images)

Donald Trump and Joe Biden have gone head-to-head in Cleveland, Ohio in the first of three televised debates ahead of the most contentious election in modern US history. But who won? Here, The Independent's US team give their instant reactions:

John Bennett, Washington Bureau Chief

Donald Trump likely amazed his conservative base, but few others. I had Joe Biden on my scorecard by a comfortable margin. He looked and sounded more presidential, while the incumbent bickered with his foe and moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News. Mr Trump even refused when pinned down to condemn white supremacist groups, especially the Proud Boys. The president refused, merely saying to the Proud boys: "Stand back and stand by."

Mr Biden repeatedly told the sitting president of the United States to "shut up" and "be quiet," calling him a "clown" on national television. Mr Trump yelled over the former VP all night, growing red-faced early on. He uttered false statements and offered very little in terms of a second-term vision. The former vice president appeared to do everything he intended to as he talked healthcare and coronavirus, trying to target white suburban women who supported Mr Trump in 2016 but broke for Democratic congressional candidates two years later. Winner: Biden.

Andrew Buncombe, Chief US Correspondent

Score: Trump 50 - 50 Biden.

Polls suggested just 14 per cent of voters were undecided going into Tuesday's debate. Would any of those tuning in have been particularly impressed by what they watched this evening? Probably not.

Two men in their 70s, arguing and talking over each other, with a third man, also in his 70s, failing to keep order.

Donald Trump had gone into the debate with a plan to aggressively attack Joe Biden, accuse him of being a radical, and try to unsettle him with accusations about his family.

On each count, he did so. But the president did very little to try and expand his appeal to a wider coalition. The Donald Trump who showed up to deliver a noisy, raucous performance was precisely the same man we've watched since he entered the race back in the summer of 2015.

Joe Biden's plan was to try and ignore those attacks, to exude confidence and calm, and to highlight the failings of his opponent, most importantly on the 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic that many have laid at the president's feet.

Mr Biden was certainly more calm, especially when compared to Mr Trump. But it took him a long time to warm up.

When he did, he managed to deliver some decent lines and showed real emotion when talking about his sons.

Griffin Connolly, US Political Correspondent

The only person who won any sort of debate on Tuesday was Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker who publicly urged Joe Biden not to "legitimize" Donald Trump by engaging in a debate with him.

"Why bother? He doesn't tell the truth," Ms Pelosi said on Friday.

He apparently doesn't let anyone else talk either – not Mr Biden, not even the debate moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News.

"Mr President, let him answer," Mr Wallace exclaimed. "Mr President, please stop."

At one point, Mr Trump and Mr Wallace feuded over the degree to which Mr Trump had interrupted Mr Biden throughout the evening.

"Frankly, you've been doing more interrupting," the Fox News host said, attempting to steer away from the squabble.

If one candidate can't even get a word in without being repeatedly, incessantly interrupted, what are we even doing here?

Lucy Anna Gray, Audience Editor

Joe Biden did exactly what he needed to. If he had acted like the obstinate, furious, erratic Donald Trump we saw tonight he would not have gained anyone's respect – that is not the politics people need right now. Although not a perfect performance, Biden got in just enough points to show himself to be the more mature and level-headed candidate. The winner tonight was clear.

Richard Hall, Senior US Correspondent

Tonight's debate diminished the United States. For decades, even in the midst of the most vitriolic and bitter election campaigns, presidential debates have been a chance for voters to hear candidates questioned on policy and challenged on their ideas. This was not that.

Donald Trump interrupted, shouted and lied his way through this debate. The moderator, Chris Wallace, lost control of the president early on and never got it back.

Answers on vital issues, from the coronavirus pandemic to a devastating economic crisis, were not heard. If there were any undecided voters out there before this evening, they would not have been helped by tonight's display.

Alex Woodward, Reporter

Donald Trump armed himself for his first debate appearance against Joe Biden with the same misinformation he has spread in front of thousands of supporters at his rallies and in front of millions people watching his televised press briefings.

In his attempt to defend his record and response to the Covid-19 crisis and economic fallout, he failed to address how it has impacted Americans, giving Joe Biden a chance to do what he has done throughout his career – speak to them. The president has lost reality, making live fact-checking a near impossibility, but his constant interruptions and attacks within 90 minutes overwhelmed the debate to keep him at the centre of it.