Dan Mitchinson: The key takeaways from the first Trump-Biden debate

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After more than a year of circling each other, Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden met on the debate stage today in Ohio.
The 74-year-old president and the 77-year-old former vice president are similar in age, and they share a mutual dislike. But they differ starkly in style and substance. All of that was evident from the outset on the Cleveland stage.
Here are key early takeaways from the first of three scheduled presidential debates before Election Day on November 3.
POTUS interuptus
Trump has been itching to attack Biden for months, and he wasted no time going on offence. He repeatedly interrupted Biden mid-sentence, sometimes in intensely personal ways.
"There's nothing smart about you," Trump said of Biden, "47 years you've done nothing."
While Trump played into his reputation as a bully, it may have been effective at breaking up the worst of Biden's attacks — simply by talking over them.
Donald Trump has wanted the election to be about anything but the coronavirus pandemic, but he couldn't outrun reality on the debate stage. Photo / AP
Trump aides believed before the debate that Biden would be unable to withstand the withering offensive on style and substance from Trump, but Biden came with a few retorts of his own, calling Trump a "clown" and mocking Trump's style by asking, "Will you shut up, man?"
His supporters may have been cheered by Trump's frontal nature. Whether undecided voters, who watched the debate to try to learn about the two candidates, were impressed is another matter.
Trump can't escape the virus
Trump has wanted the election to be about anything but the coronavirus pandemic, but he couldn't outrun reality on the debate stage.
"It is what it is because you are who you are," Biden told the president, referring to Trump's months of downplaying Covid-19 while he said privately he understood how deadly it is.
But Trump didn't take it quietly. He proceeded to blitz Biden with a mix of self-defence and counter-offensives - 200,000 dead? Biden's death toll would have been "millions," Trump said. A rocky economy? Biden would've been worse. Biden wouldn't have manufactured enough masks or ventilators.
Joe Biden came with a few retorts of his own, calling Donald Trump a "clown" and mocking Trump's style by asking, "Will you shut up, man?" Photo / AP
The kicker: "There will be a vaccine very soon."
Biden fell back on his bottom line: "A lot of people died, and a lot more are going to unless he gets a lot smarter."
For voters still undecided about who'd better handle the pandemic, the exchange may not have offered them anything new.
Question about court, answer about health care
Trump defended his decision to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court just weeks before Election Day, saying "elections have consequences."
Biden said he was "not opposed to the justice," but said the "American people have a right to have a say in who the Supreme Court nominee is."
But rather than litigate Republicans' 2016 blocking of Merrick Garland to the high court, Biden quickly pivoted to the issues that will potentially come before the court: healthcare and abortion. It's an effort by the Democrat to refocus the all-but-certain confirmation fight for Trump's third justice to the Supreme Court into an assault on Trump and his record.
Biden said Barrett, who would be the sixth justice on the nine-member court to be appointed by a Republican, would endanger the Affordable Care Act and tens of millions of Americans with preexisting conditions, and would imperil legalised abortion. It was a reframing of the political debate to terms far more favorable to the Democrat, and one Trump played into. Trump said of the conservative Barrett, "You don't know her view on Roe vs. Wade" and he defended his efforts to try to chip away at the popular Obama-era health law.
Biden has tried to press Democrats to use the court confirmation fight as a rallying cry against Trump, and the debate discussion...

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