Heading into Tuesday’s presidential debate, the first of three, President Donald Trump was trailing in national polls to former Vice President Joe Biden. In an election season disrupted by COVID-19, their campaigns have taken markedly different approaches to public safety: Trump has held indoor and outdoor rallies, in which attendees often do not wear face masks. Biden has avoided large gatherings and advocated for widespread mask usage. Tuesday night brought them face to face for the first time in the election cycle.
“[Trump’s] job last night was to try to win back some votes,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) tells Bustle. “He did the opposite. It’s clear he’s losing the race, and now he’s losing his temper.” Klobuchar endorsed the former vice president in March.
The Minnesota senator, who debated Biden during the Democratic presidential primary, was surprised by how the evening unfolded. “If Joe Biden had gone up there and debated practically anyone else in the Republican party, it might have been a more normal debate,” she says, nodding to the constant interruptions, most often by the president. “My first reaction was that if people were tuning in to find out what four more years of Trump would be like, they saw him wallowing in his anger, bringing everyone around down with him. It was so wild and disconcerting.”
She adds that a change of rules is in order before the second debate on Thursday, Oct. 15. “[Biden’s] campaign needs to push the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) to turn off the mic when the time is up,” she says. “They [need] rigid rules and to strictly enforce them. This isn’t crazy, given Trump’s behavior. It was like a reality TV performance. Unfortunately it’s our reality we’re deciding.” (Shortly after the phone call, the CPD announced it would add “additional structure” to future debates to ensure “more orderly discussion.”)
The debate also reminded Klobuchar of a very different setting. “I’ve had hecklers, but not on stage,” she says. “I remember a debate I had with one of my Republican opponents for U.S. Senate. It was at the [Minnesota] State Fair, and there were some drunk people. They were yelling things — but they were in the crowd!”
She says one of Biden’s strongest moments happened when he was looking directly into the camera and “speaking from the heart about people who have died.” And an unintended coup: “He allowed people to see Donald Trump in his purest form — the anger, hate, and red face," she says. "It was important for people to see that."
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