On Tuesday night at the first presidential debate, President Donald Trump delivered a spectacle. He nearly endlessly interrupted Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and he even harassed moderator Chris Wallace. During one of many testy exchanges, Wallace asked Trump if he would specifically denounce white supremacists. Trump said that he would, but then he didn’t actually do it. After Biden threw out the name of the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys, Trump said the Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by,” which came across to many as a tacit endorsement. On Wednesday, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) implicitly criticized Trump for failing to condemn white supremacists.
Asked if he thought Trump should have condemned white supremacists, which, again, he failed to do, Romney said, “Of course,” adding that he thinks that Trump “could have been more clear in repudiating any form of white supremacy.” That’s an understatement — members of the Proud Boys have celebrated Trump’s remarks as if they take the rhetoric as a de facto endorsement of their organization. At another point in the debate, Trump said that he’s “urging [his] supporters to go in to the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen,” which sounds like an endorsement of physical intimidation of opponents.
Watch some of Romney’s comments in the video below:
"I think he should correct it, and if he doesn't correct it, I guess he didn't misspeak."
— ABC News (@ABC) September 30, 2020
Besides the moments like Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacy and his apparent endorsement of physically harassing opponents, the debate was also marked, as mentioned, by Trump’s nearly never-ending interruptions. In short, his behavior was a national humiliation. Romney referred to the proceedings as a whole as an “embarrassment,” adding:
‘I can’t tell you what impact that will have. I can say I watched the debate last night, it was not a Lincoln-Douglas debate, that’s for sure. I’m not going to give a lot of advice on debate, but when I heard at the very beginning, when Chris Wallace said here are going to be the rules, ‘two minutes for each side,’ and then open discussion, I thought oh my goodness. I don’t recall that ever being the format.’
It’s worth noting — although ground rules including a provision for “open discussion” are definitely pretty open-ended to begin with, even the loose rules that were in place were quickly ignored. Across the hour-and-a-half long event, there were barely any segments that weren’t marked by an interruption. At points, Trump just would not stop bellowing, as if he was pathologically unwilling to even pretend to have the basic level of decency required to have a normal conversation.
Following the Tuesday night chaos, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) announced that they planned to “carefully” reassess the best path forward. They said:
‘Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues. The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly.’
New: Commission on Presidential Debates says "last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues." pic.twitter.com/pkjT1Bs6IQ
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) September 30, 2020
At this point, it’s clear — Trump has essentially nothing to offer the American people other than desperate bluster. He’s a failure and a history-making humiliation.