President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, spent more than an hour during the first presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio, brawling over how best to manage the deadly coronavirus crisis, taxes, climate change, and a host of other domestic policy issues.
The messy debate frequently turned nasty, featuring shouting matches and repeated interruptions that left the moderator — Fox News’ Chris Wallace — and our panel of election experts deeply frustrated.
“Both landed some shots. Both interrupted too much and acted like children,” said Matt Mackowiak, a longtime Republican strategist, podcast host and chairman of the local Republican Party in Austin, Texas.
Another election night analyst for The Post, Liz Benjamin, is no stranger to rough-and-tumble politics. But this veteran of Albany — who covered it as a reporter, columnist and as the former longtime anchor of Capital Tonight before becoming a communications consultant — called it a “wash.”
“This was a wash,” she wrote. “Both candidates accomplished what they had to do by playing to their respective bases and avoiding any disqualifying gaffes.”
“There were memorable moments — ‘Would you shut up, man,’ — but no balls knocked out of the park,” she added, referencing one of Biden’s interjections.
That’s what our three analysts made of the sprawling 90-minute slugfest.
But longtime Staten Island Republican political strategist Leticia Remauro gave Trump a slight edge.
“Trump by a hair. He was forceful and solidified his base but loses points for interrupting,” wrote Remauro, a regular on New York 1’s ‘Inside City Hall’ who ran public relations for the Battery Park City Authority in the aftermath of the Sept. 11th terror attacks.
“Biden didn’t seem as strong but did exude compassion which feeds his base,” added Remauro, who is planning to run for Staten Island borough president on the GOP line in 2021.
They’ve broken down their analysis by the seven key portions of the debate tonight.
The Trump and Biden Records:
- Remauro: Biden wins this one by appearing fatherly by defending his son against an aggressive Trump attack regarding Hunter’s addiction. Way too personal. Trump error — Trump C-/Biden B+
- Benjamin: Trump seeks to cast Biden as a career politician, while defending his own record on the economy and deflecting on the COVID crisis. Biden uses the old “are you better off now” standard, gets hot under the collar when Trump attacks his son, but — to his credit — doesn’t lose it completely. Neither comes out the clear victor here — Biden: C/Trump: C
- Mackowiak: I don’t even remember this section. This whole debate was a mess. — Biden: C- / Trump: C-
The Supreme Court:
- Remauro: Trump by a hair. Even though Trump was hyperbolic and argumentative, he explained why he was within his rights to appoint his nominee. Biden capably turned the discussion to the Affordable Care Act but bungled his thoughts and didn’t land his punch. Biden deftly skipped over answering the ‘pack the court’ question but I don’t think that helped with his base — Biden: C / Trump: B-
- Benjamin: Trump comes out swinging in this opening question and unapologetically employs the “to the victor goes the spoils” argument. Biden off to a weak start, though he pivots to protecting the Affordable Care Act – a significant Democratic touchstone — Trump: A-/ Biden: C
- Mackowiak: The most important moment was Biden refusing to deny he would pack the court. — Biden: C- / Trump: B-
- Remauro: This is a draw. Biden hit all his talking points and evoked emotion for lost loved ones. Trump landed punches pointing out Biden mishandling of H1N1 and that Biden didn’t want to shutdown the country early. Both fed their base — Trump: B / Biden: B
- Benjamin: Trump is on the defensive and falls back on blaming China, loses points by criticizing Biden for wearing a mask while his own family members sit in the audience wearing masks. Biden, who has no record to defend here, scores some direct hits, appeals to families who have lost loved ones to COVID — Biden: A-/Trump D
- Mackowiak: Biden made Trump play defense. He prosecuted the case effectively — Biden: A- / Trump: C-
- Remauro: Trump wins this one by reminding people that Biden wants to keep the economy shut down, Biden basically agrees but gets in a shot for his base when he says only billionaires are making money now — Biden: B / Trump: A
- Benjamin: Trump deflects, seeking again to shift blame for the COVID-induced economic crisis by pointing at Democratic governors who haven’t fully opened their states. Biden again plays to the left, where he needs to shore up support, by going after millionaires and billionaires who have prospered during the pandemic. Also smartly pivots back to the COVID crisis — Biden: B+/Trump: C
- Mackowiak: Trump won this exchange by making forceful arguments defending his record and criticizing the weak recovery during the Obama-Biden years — Biden: C / Trump: B+
Race, Violence and Law Enforcement:
- Remauro: Trump wins this one because he brought the conversation back to law and order and reminded viewers that the violence in the street was sparked by BLM protests, which concerns the base of both men. Biden never landed a punch, though he was eloquent in his opening statement — Biden: C / Trump: A
- Benjamin: Trump leans into sending federal troops into cities roiled by racial unrest and protests, scores some points with the right by accusing Biden of being anti-cop and too cowed by the left, but refuses to outright denounce white supremacists. Biden tries to walk a delicate line by denouncing violence AND racism, but comes out wishy washy on both. Neither was terribly strong here — Trump: C- / Biden C–
- Mackowiak: Trump was fairly effective here. But he missed an opportunity to call out white supremacists by name — Biden: B- / Trump: B
The Integrity of the Election:
- Remauro: Trump by a hair, because Trump, Biden and Wallace agreed that the election wouldn’t be decided on Election Day and the viewers were left with unanswered questions about whether the paper ballots could be counted properly. Biden: B- / Trump: B
- Benjamin: Biden takes the high road and promises to accept the outcome of the election, while urging Americans to vote and promising to call for calm as ballots are counted – a strong moment for him. Trump again raises questions about the veracity of the results, makes unfounded allegations of widespread fraud and seeks to undermine the very foundation of small-d democracy — Trump: D / Biden, B+
- Mackowiak: Neither won and neither lost on this subject — Biden: B / Trump: B
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