Who won?

My gut reaction to this debate is that Donald Trump will feel great about tying up and bludgeoning Joe Biden all night, Biden is wondering whether to show up at the next two debates and moderator Chris Wallace is planning to throw himself in a hot bath and cry.

This was a hot mess. If you love Trump's smashmouth style, you loved tonight. If you are mortified by his behavior, you are madder than a hornet at the way he treated Biden. And if you were truly undecided, you learned very little.

Trump's misses: a second term agenda and women. Trump made a classic incumbent president mistake by reciting first-term accomplishments but never really articulating an agenda for the next four years. And I suspect a great many female voters will be turned off by his unrelenting interruptions and badgering of Biden and Wallace.

Biden's misses: The former vice president couldn't do much of anything. He clearly had not prepared for Trump's honey badger attack routine, despite it being the most predictable thing about this debate. Never really found a rhythm on any topic. He got better as the night went on as Trump eased up.

Wallace's misses: God bless the moderator, who did his level best to control this debate while being hit in the face with a frying pan for 90 straight minutes. This will be remembered as the biggest debate mess in presidential campaign history.

It leaves me wondering whether the next two debates are going to happen.

Scott Jennings, a CNN contributor, is a former special assistant to President George W. Bush and a former campaign adviser to Sen. Mitch McConnell. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations in Louisville, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY.

SE Cupp: The Trump line that will sicken suburban women

SE Cupp
SE Cupp

"You would have lost far more people."

That's what President Trump said to Joe Biden, as the vice president tried to paint the tragic picture of a country that has lost more than 205,000 Americans to Covid-19.

"How many of you are in a situation where," Biden asked, "you lost your mom or dad and you couldn't even speak to them, you had to have a nurse holding the phone up so you could say goodbye...?"

To which Trump said -- I'll repeat it -- "You would have lost far more people."

In a night of damning lines, to me, it was one of the worst of the night. And it made me sick to my stomach.

President Trump, defending his response to Covid-19, which has brought an explosion of sickness and death—all on his watch-- used those deaths as a political punchline to deflect from his own failures. To call it grotesque is to be too kind. And for suburban women like me, who Trump has lost in droves, it's exactly what turns them off. In a moment of American crisis he can't see the forest for the trees, and instead can only wage petty, personal attacks that seek to deflect blame or accountability.

The line was a slap in the face not only to the families of those who have died, but to all Americans who have struggled through this pandemic. Trump has taken no responsibility for denying the seriousness of Covid for too long, and here in this moment he chose to punt even further. In a debate full of hideous invective, childish and bullying taunts and baseless smears against Biden and his family, this particular attack wasn't against the former vice president -- it was, worse, against the American people.

S.E. Cupp is a CNN political commentator and the host of "SE Cupp Unfiltered."

Raul Reyes: Trump's failure to denounce White supremacy is a travesty

Raul A. Reyes
Raul A. Reyes

To call the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden a circus is an insult to the good people who actually work in the circus industry, including the clowns. This evening was dispiriting, unilluminating -- and proved, once again, that Trump is capable of bringing all those around him down to his level. It was a great disservice to the American people that Trump was such a corrosive presence throughout the debate.

Trump was wildly over-aggressive, at times seeming to be in a debate with the moderator as much as the former Vice President. Biden surely spoke for many viewers when he said, "Would you shut up, man?"

Trump's combative persona is unlikely to win him new support among independent voters or suburban women. But Biden was off his game, clearly rattled by Trump's childish interruptions, and stumbled to articulate his points effectively. Still, his exasperation was relatable to anyone who has tangled with a bully.

That said, Biden offered far more substance than Trump did. Where the President hurled accusations and insults, Biden acknowledged racial inequality and the devastating toll of Covid-19. He also smartly touched on two important numbers, 750 (the amount of federal income taxes that the New York Times reports that Trump paid in 2016, even though the President argued tonight he paid in the millions) and 200,000 (the approximate number of American deaths from coronavirus thus far).

There were two notable low points in the evening: One was when the President refused to clearly and succinctly condemn White supremacy. Given the mass shooting in El Paso and the synagogue attack in Pittsburgh, it is still shocking that Trump would not denounce such bigotry.

Instead of blaming White supremacists directly, when pressed to address the issue, he said, "I'm willing to do anything. I want to see peace." He then undercut himself when referencing a right-wing group, saying, "Proud Boys — Stand back, stand by, but I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not right-wing problem..... This is a left wing problem."

The second was when Biden spoke emotionally about his late son Beau, pushing back against reports that the President had called those who died in military service "losers" and "suckers," reports Trump continues to deny. Even then, Trump could not show a modicum of compassion and humanity, instead moving right on to attacking Hunter Biden, the former Vice President's other son.

Biden did his best to have a serious discussion about the issues and deserves credit for that. The losers tonight were Trump, the hapless moderator Chris Wallace and viewers who endured over 90 minutes of this televised disgrace.

Sarah Isgur: The winner was a button on your TV remote control

Sarah Isgur
Sarah Isgur

I tuned in tonight expecting to write about what we learned about each campaign's strategy to turn out their voters. But this debate taught us that there is only one tool that will help us build a happier and healthier America: the mute button.

This debate was a pointless exercise. Three men talked over each other for the vast majority of the 90 minutes. For voters wanting even the most basic understanding about what either Donald Trump or Joe Biden would do as president over the next four years, that was far too ambitious a goal for this debate. When only one person was talking--a rare occurrence--a viewer was more likely to hear petty insults and disjointed thoughts than a plan to speed up production and distribution of a vaccine to tackle the coronavirus pandemic or how to ensure kids are back in school in the spring.

I don't know what to tell you. I've worked on the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney in 2008 and 2012 and Carly Fiorina in 2016, and in all three branches of our government. I've never seen anything like this, and it served no discernible purpose.

President Trump came into tonight's debate hall trailing Joe Biden in every national poll. He needed to shift the race, and there were dozens of ways he might have attempted to do that. Needless to say, nothing that happened in tonight's debate changed the fundamentals of this race, except, perhaps, to lower the viewership of future debates unless moderators are given the ability to mute each candidate when it is not his turn to talk.

Tonight's winner? Your remote control's mute button.

Sarah Isgur is a CNN political analyst. She is a staff writer at The Dispatch and an adjunct professor at George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs. She previously worked on three Republican presidential campaigns and graduated from Harvard Law School.

Keith Boykin: The worst debate in American history

Keith Boykin
Keith Boykin

Joe Biden clearly won Tuesday night's debate, but that's not the point. What Americans just witnessed was the worst presidential debate in American history and a compelling argument to cancel the rest of the season's presidential debates.

From the very first question, President Donald Trump was rude, disrespectful and unpresidential, but his responses to three of moderator Chris Wallace's questions were outright disqualifying.

First, Trump calling the upcoming election, in which we are seeing a surge in mail-in ballots, "a fraud" was outrageous. We've never seen an American president openly undermine the integrity of the American election system right before an election. This is what dictators do -- not democratic leaders.

Second, Trump refusing to forcefully condemn White supremacists and right-wing militia groups, even after one of his own supporters was recently charged with killing two people and injuring a third, shows just how insensitive he is to America's raging race problem. Pressed by moderator Chris Wallace on whether he would condemn white supremacist supporters, Trump said, "Sure. I'm willing to do that." But then seemed to walk it back, telling Proud Boys, a far right extremist group, to "stand back and stand by." It was a disgrace that gave aid and comfort to racist bigots all across America.
Third, in the midst of the worst public health crisis in 100 years and the worst economic crisis in 80 years, Trump provided no plans for what he would do about these crises if given another four years in office. Instead, with more than 200,000 Americans dead from Covid-19, Trump took credit for bringing back college football.

While the President spent the entire night attacking, lying, distracting, rambling and interrupting, Biden was calm and intelligent, often looking directly into the camera to push past the spectacle and address the American people directly. Biden asked, "Do you believe for a moment what he's telling you in light of all the lies he's told about the whole issue relating to Covid?

Finally, while Trump gave vague promises of "immaculate air" and "immaculate water," Biden gave specific proposals on climate change and other issues. The contrast was dramatic. America should be ashamed we ever allowed Trump to be president.

Keith Boykin is a CNN political commentator and a former White House aide to President Bill Clinton.

Frida Ghitis: In horrifying debate, Trump shows why he's a threat to America

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

If the election is a referendum on the presidency of Donald Trump, this debate, horrifying as it was, offered the perfect showcase. Trump acted like a bully-- lying, shouting, sweating, and saying things that could encourage more racism and more violence. It wasn't even subtle.

Pressed by moderator Chris Wallace, who insisted on knowing if Trump would be willing to condemn white supremacist supporters, Trump eventually said, "Sure. I'm willing to do that." But he also issued a call to one of the most abhorrent groups in America, the so-called "Proud Boys," whose name you may have first heard in the infamous 2017 rally in Charlottesville, amid the crowds chanting of "Jews will not replace us." Trump's message from the debate stage, "Proud boys, stand back and stand by." Stand by? For what?

When asked later if he would tell his supporters to refrain from violence and accept the election results, Trump refused, instead telling his backers to go "watch" the polls. We have already seen reports of Trump supporters harassing Democratic voters at the polls. Trump threw more logs in the fire he has been building for months, with claims about election fraud, ominously laying the ground to reject the election results if he loses.

He showed what a dangerous President he is. He confirmed that this election is a choice about whether the country will accelerate its drift toward autocracy or return to its democratic path.

Biden kept his cool, and made many good points. Outshouting Trump was out of the question even for the enfeebled moderator. Biden was at his best when he ignored Trump's rants and spoke directly to viewers. "Do you believe for a moment what he's telling you in light of all the lies he's told you...relating to Covid?" Trump repeatedly tried to switch subjects and hit Biden about his son Hunter, who is not running for president. Biden rejected the claims about his son. Then he looked straight into the camera, and said, "This is not about my family or his family. It's about your family. He doesn't want to talk about you, what you need."

Don't feel sorry for Biden, feel sorry for America. This was a bad night for the country, a shameful display from a shameless president.

Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. Follow her on Twitter @fridaghitis.

Paul Begala: Trump confirms he is the candidate who brings chaos

Paul Begala
Paul Begala


That's the word Democrats want to use to define the Trump presidency. Chaos is the indictment the Democrats want to press on Donald Trump. And tonight, Donald Trump pleaded guilty.

The first presidential debate was, even for the Trump era, chaotic. The President interrupted Vice President Joe Biden repeatedly, whined about the press, and sparred with poor Chris Wallace, the moderator.

Biden counter-punched in frustration, telling Trump at one point, "Will you shut up, man?" And the people watching at home surely shouted, "Amen!" Biden was at his strongest talking about the Covid-19 crisis, speaking of the more than 205,000 dead; the families with an empty chair at the table.

Trump's performance seemed almost unhinged, as if he or his strategists concluded that the American people wanted him to yell more, interrupt more, lie more. It is difficult to imagine anyone not already committed to Trump seeing that performance and being reassured. Repulsed is more like it.

For months Trump has claimed Joe Biden is not up to the job. The morning of the debate, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani even accused Biden of having dementia. In fact, Biden showed flashes of righteous indignation, launching his most withering and effective line of the night when Trump attacked Biden son Hunter: "This is not about family," he said, turning to face the camera. "It's about your family, American people. It's about you."

A lot of families are struggling. They're balancing lost jobs, dealing with depleted savings, looming eviction, canceled health insurance, a deadly virus surging, kids unable to go to school. Their lives are chaotic enough. They want compassion. They want competence. They want caring. Biden offered that tonight. Trump only offered more chaos.

Julian Zelizer: The huge issue that Chris Wallace, strangely, downplayed

Julian Zelizer
Julian Zelizer

Nobody "won this debate." It was pure chaos, an insult to deliberative democracy. We all lose when something like this takes place.

But in terms of whose campaign will be more pleased, that probably goes to Joe Biden. Why is this the case? Biden is winning the race right now; President Trump is a weak incumbent. Polls consistently show that Biden is doing well in most of the key states.

Despite all the low expectations, Biden showed that he has command of the issues and can handle this kind of interaction much better than his critics predicted. He hit any number of key issues and stood by as the President failed to condemn white supremacist groups. When the President went after Hunter Biden, Trump showed the ugly.

The debate, however, certainly was not a home run for the Democrats. Chris Wallace structured the debate in a way that downplayed the central issue of our time: Covid-19. The moderator treated the pandemic, and the failed response since February, as one issue among many—rather than the defining issue of our time. It's like not highlighting the financial crash and Great Depression during a debate in 1932.

By the second half of the debate, the back-and-forth descended into chaos on steroids. It felt like more time was spent on Hunter Biden than Covid-19. The chaos takes Biden away from the core issues.

For now, Biden can live with that. Trump isn't working for huge numbers of voters, including those precious suburbanites. This debate won't change things.

Julian Zelizer, a CNN political analyst, is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and author of the book, "Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party." Follow him on Twitter @julianzelizer.

Jessica Anderson: Unfinished business after first debate

Jessica Anderson
Jessica Anderson

The two candidates on stage tonight had one audience in mind -- undecided independents in swing states. Biden failed to convince them, while Trump likely made progress.

Biden may have performed well by the standards of DC groupthink, but he failed to engage with the real concerns on independents' minds. Biden dodged a questions about packing the Supreme Court, how he would handle the pandemic differently -- other than locking down the entire country -- and whether he would abolish the Senate filibuster. He also floundered when confronted with the violence sweeping the nation's cities.

Biden cannot answer these questions without alienating the extremists in his party. If he shouts down court-packing, he loses liberals. If he articulates a well-coordinated plan for economic recovery and the pandemic, he loses the strawman arguments against Trump. Biden has nowhere to go, so instead, he stayed silent and lost any edge he may have had with swing voters.

We do know that Biden has said he would eliminate many of Trump tax cuts, which were a historic boon for the middle class, according to The Heritage Foundation. Instead of telling working families how his platform would help them, Biden undercut them by talking about expanding Obamacare, raising taxes, and offered a weird riff on Brazilian rainforests.

By contrast, Trump focused on the extensive achievements of his administration and provided details that matter, like massive pre-Covid job creation that he is bringing back and his support for small businesses through pro-growth tax reform. He repeated his support for law enforcement and opposition to violence and anarchy — something Biden struggled to do.

These issues matter. While independents might not like President Trump's style, they like his substance and have benefited from his presidency. The next debate offers a chance to bring those voters home.

Jessica Anderson is Executive Director of Heritage Action, a nationwide grassroots organization. She is also the Founder and President of Moms for Safe Neighborhoods, a PAC advocating on safety and security issues and supporting President Trump. Anderson formerly served as an Associate Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget from 2017 to 2018. Follow her on Twitter at @JessAnderson2.

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