Briefs: That chaotic first debate

Associated Press

The belligerent tone that was persistent, somehow fitting for what has been an extraordinarily ugly campaign

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND — The first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden deteriorated into bitter taunts and near chaos Tuesday night as Trump repeatedly interrupted his opponent with angry — and personal — jabs that sometimes overshadowed the sharply different visions each man has for a nation facing historic crises.

In the most tumultuous presidential debate in recent memory, Trump refused to condemn white supremacists who have supported him, telling one such group known as Proud Boys to "stand back, stand by." There were also heated clashes over the president's handling of the pandemic, the integrity of the election results, deeply personal attacks about Biden's family and how the Supreme Court will shape the future of the nation's health care.

But it was the belligerent tone that was persistent, somehow fitting for what has been an extraordinarily ugly campaign. The two men frequently talked over each other with Trump interrupting, nearly shouting, so often that Biden eventually snapped at him, "Will you shut up, man?"

"The fact is that everything he's saying so far is simply a lie," Biden said. "I'm not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he's a liar."

The presidential race has been remarkably stable for weeks, despite the historic crises that have battered the country this year, including a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans and a reckoning over race and police brutality. With just five weeks until Election Day and voting already underway in some key states, Biden has maintained a lead in national polls and in many battlegrounds.

Debate Takeaways: An acrid tone from the opening minute

WASHINGTON — After more than a year of circling each other, Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden met on the debate stage Tuesday night 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. 

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President Donald Trump gestures while speaking during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Analysis: Trump leans on tone that turns off voters he needs

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump needed to make the first general election debate about his rival, Democrat Joe Biden. Instead, as he so often does, Trump made it about himself.

The president set the tone from the start for one of the ugliest general election debates in recent memory, badgering Biden and repeatedly interrupting him. Biden alternated between ignoring the president and growing visibly irritated. Moderator Chris Wallace admonished and pleaded with Trump to allow his rival to speak. 

Trump's aggressive posture may have appealed to his most passionate supporters — a primetime display of the brashness he has brought to the Oval Office. But by the end of the 90-minute contest, it was unclear whether Trump succeeded in making up any ground in trying to expand his coalition or win over persuadable voters, particularly white, educated women and independents who have been turned off in part by the same tone and tenor the president displayed on the debate stage. 

"Trump brought the chaotic nature of his presidency to the debate stage," said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist. "He needed to knock Biden off his game, but he may have just reminded independent voters why they've turned against him."

Indeed, if there were ever a debate that turned voters away from politics altogether, this was it. Despite an array of complex and substantive issues on the debate agenda — a Supreme Court vacancy, the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic, the nation's reckoning over race and police brutality — the candidates' dramatically different visions for the country were frequently overshadowed by their obvious disdain for each other. 

AP FACT CHECK: False claims flood Trump-Biden debate

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump unleashed a torrent of fabrications and fear-mongering in a belligerent debate with Joe Biden, at one point claiming the U.S. death toll would have been 10 times higher under the Democrat because he wanted open borders in the pandemic. Biden preached no such thing.

Trump barreled into the debate Tuesday night as unconstrained by the facts as at his rallies, but this time having his campaign opponent and frequently the Fox News moderator, Chris Wallace, calling him out in real time, or trying. Biden stumbled on the record at times as the angry words flew from both men on the Cleveland stage.

A look at how some of their statements from Cleveland stack up with the facts in the first of three scheduled presidential debates for the Nov. 3 election:

VIRUS DEATH TOLL

TRUMP, addressing Biden on U.S. deaths from COVID-19: "If you were here, it wouldn't be 200,000 people, it would be 2 million people. You didn't want me to ban China, which was heavily infected. ... If we would have listened to you, the country would have been left wide open."

Foreign observers note 'chaos,' 'rancor' in US debate

BEIJING — "Chaos, interruptions, personal attacks and insults," one outspoken Chinese newspaper editor said of the U.S. presidential debate. An Australian counterpart said it was "swamped" by the "rancor engulfing America." 

The first debate pitting Republican President Donald Trump against Democratic challenger Joe Biden was not a highlight of political oratory in the eyes of many overseas. 

Yet interest ran high for its potential impact on what may be the most consequential U.S. election in years, now just over a month away. 

Observers looked for possible impact on financial markets and currencies, although the reaction was muted overall. Share prices slipped further in Japan and the dollar weakened against the Japanese yen and the euro, while U.S. futures were lower, auguring a weak opening on Wall Street. 

The debate itself went as expected, said Jeffrey Halley, a senior market analyst at Oanda. 

California's wine country residents facing fire fatigue

NAPA, Calif. — Will Abrams and his family packed their pickup truck with laptops, clothes, sleeping bags and a tent and quickly left their rental home in California's wine country after seeing flames on a hill about a quarter-mile away Monday morning. It was their third hurried fire evacuation in as many years.

In 2017, Abrams woke up to find their Santa Rosa home on fire and cleared burning branches from the driveway so he could get his wife and children to safety. Their home was destroyed. Then last year, the family evacuated as another wildfire bore down on Sonoma County. They were terrified to cross into the San Francisco Bay Area amid smaller grassland fires sparked by power lines falling in the midst of strong, hot winds.

"This time we hurried up and packed up the car, and we were in gridlock traffic on (Highway) 12 while the flames were approaching from behind," Abrams said Tuesday. He and his wife tried to entertain the kids by making conversation so they wouldn't panic. "It was just obviously traumatic on a personal level, but also just that so little has changed since the fires of 2017 in terms of preparedness and prevention."

They have been told this home is still standing. But with the Glass Fire only 2% contained, the Abrams and their 12-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter are staying in Berkeley until they are allowed to return.

"I'm trying to prepare my kids and let them know that climate change is part of life and they're going to have to deal with it as they get older and also trying to provide them a sense of safety and security. It's not easy. But we should not accept this is the way it's going to be," he said. 

Fall could bring chill to dining out

U.S. restaurants are moving warily into fall, hoping their slow recovery persists despite the new challenge of chilly weather and a pandemic that's expected to claim even more lives.

New York opens indoor dining on Wednesday, restricting capacity to 25%. San Francisco may do the same as early as this week. Chicago is raising its indoor capacity from 25% to 40% on Thursday, but says restaurants still can't seat more than 50 people in one room.

It's a dose of reality for an industry that was able to stem at least some of its losses by pivoting to outdoor dining this summer, setting up tables and chairs on sidewalks and parking lots and offering some semblance of normalcy.

But as temperatures start to slide in many parts of the country, restaurants will have to coax patrons to come back inside, and it's anyone's guess how many actually will. That could spell trouble for an industry that has already lost nearly 100,000 U.S. restaurants — or 1 in 6 — since the start of the pandemic, according to the National Restaurant Association. The future remains uncertain for thousands more.

"We're all a little apprehensive, but that was the case when we started outdoor dining, too," said Samantha DiStefano, owner of Mama Fox, a restaurant and bar in Brooklyn. 

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