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Opinion | Biden and Trump’s First Debate: Best and Worst Moments

Bret Stephens There was nothing small about the debate. Watching Trump was like being cornered by some oversize, overbearing drunk at a party who spills his beer on you while insisting that Lee Harvey Oswald is still alive. It was the single most despicable political performance by a sitting president in American history. Trump didn’t debate, because he doesn’t know how to debate: He interrupted, taunted, hectored, bragged and ultimately beclowned himself. The debate will be remembered for the contrast between this grotesque parody of a president and his dignified, well-comported, blessedly coherent challenger. Biden didn’t get to speak as much as he deserved, but when he did — most effectively by looking straight at the camera — he hit home.

Héctor Tobar Has Trump ever been this bullying in a debate? He seemed to insult with the desperation of a man who sees his political future coming to an end. Biden did best when he dealt with Trump’s excesses with humor. I loved his early retort, as Trump interrupted, “Keep yapping, man.”

Charlie Warzel Allowing Trump to undermine the electoral process on live television without adequate pushback on his claims was a dereliction of duty by Chris Wallace. If these debates are to continue, networks will need to find a way to fact check them or else they’re largely vectors for Trump’s disinformation. Also, the president, when asked to disavow white supremacists, told them to “stand by.” Trump suggested, vaguely, that “this is not going to end well.” At least we agree on that point.

Peter Wehner Maybe the lowest point in an unbelievable series of low points was when Biden spoke movingly of his late son Beau, in the context of his war service, and Trump attacked Biden’s son Hunter as a drug addict. Trump once again showed he’s a monstrous human being.

Will Wilkinson Trump more than once attempted to characterize Biden as some sort of socialist radical. In each case, Biden denied it and asserted his actual, moderate view. And then Trump would yell, “You just lost the left!” bizarrely undercutting his initial line of attack and underscoring the futile incoherence of his strategy of flailing bluster.

Jamelle Bouie, Gail Collins, Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and Bret Stephens are Times columnists.

Elizabeth Bruenig (@ebruenig) is a Times opinion writer.

Christopher Buskirk (@thechrisbuskirk) is the editor and publisher of the journal American Greatness and a contributing opinion writer.

Linda Chavez (@chavezlinda), a former Reagan White House director of public liaison, is a political commentator.

Michelle Cottle (@mcottle) is a member of the Times editorial board.

Matt Labash, a former national correspondent at The Weekly Standard, is the author of “Fly Fishing With Darth Vader.”

Liz Mair (@LizMair), a strategist for campaigns by Scott Walker, Roy Blunt, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina and Rick Perry, is the founder and president of Mair Strategies.

Daniel McCarthy (@ToryAnarchist) is the editor of Modern Age: A Conservative Quarterly.

Héctor Tobar (@TobarWriter), an associate professor at the University of California, Irvine, is the author of “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free” and a contributing opinion writer.

Charlie Warzel, a New York Times Opinion writer at large, covers technology, media, politics and online extremism.

Peter Wehner (@Peter_Wehner), a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who served in the previous three Republican administrations, is a contributing opinion writer and the author of “The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump.”

Will Wilkinson (@willwilkinson), the vice president for research at the Niskanen Center, is a contributing opinion writer.

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