Fierce Reaction Pours in After First Trump-Biden Debate

Reaction to Tuesday night’s presidential debate between Republican President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, his Democratic challenger, split along partisan lines but also featured sharp criticism of how the event, often a verbal free-for-all, played out. 

Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, tweeted after  the debate that “For ninety minutes, @realDonaldTrump made a confident, commanding and compelling case for his re-election and took Joe Biden to task for supporting radical policies that would raise taxes, destroy jobs and make our communities less safe.”

Tim Murtaugh, the communications director for President Trump’s re-election campaign, told VOA’s Carolyn Presutti  the president’s performance  was “fantastic.” 

“What viewers saw was President Trump who was in command of every moment of the  debate, and I think what they saw was a weak Joe Biden,” Murtaugh said, “looking around for someone to bail him out.”  

Prominent Democrats, meanwhile, called the debate for the former vice president and said Trump’s performance provided ample reason to deny him a second term in office.  

“Donald Trump has failed this country with his lies, bigotry, and reckless leadership,” tweeted U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who competed against Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination earlier in the year. Booker in particular denounced the president for declining to condemn white supremacists, instead urging them to “stand by.”

Many debate watchers slammed the loud and chaotic exchanges between the two candidates, including Karen Attiah, the global opinions editor for The Washington Post newspaper, who called the event “a national embarrassment.”

Some, including presidential historian Michael Beschloss, harshly faulted the president.  “Democracy was trashed tonight by a President who ran roughshod over the rules,” he wrote, “refused to condemn white supremacists and would not tolerate any form of dissent—a harbinger of what a second term might be like,” Beschloss tweeted.

Others, like former Republican senator Jeff Flake, expressed sorrow over the entire spectacle. “We are a better country than was on display tonight,” Flake wrote on Twitter.

University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato posted a blunt message on his Twitter account:  “CANCEL THE REMAINING PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES.”

But Murtaugh defended the exchanges as illuminating. “I think a freewheeling conversation like the president was driving is actually good, it allows for a much better exchange of ideas and for viewers to see the real difference between the two,”  he said. 

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