The first presidential debate on Tuesday was little more than an insult contest that provided few answers to voters, a Texas Christian University professor told Texas Standard.
“It was really bad theater,” said James Riddlesperger, a TCU political science professor. “It was a theater without a plot.”
President Donald Trump attacked former Vice President Joe Biden’s intelligence several times and interrupted Biden often. Biden called Trump a “clown” and told him to “shut up.”
Riddlesperger suspects that the debate did little for voters, other than to confirm personal biases viewers had before watching it.
“The overnight poll that I saw showed that people thought about 48% thought that Biden won and 41% thought Trump won,” he said. “That’s almost identical to what the national polling is showing right now in terms of the race.
Trump appeared to rely on a strategy of disruption. “He interrupted, I think someone said 73 times,” Riddlesperger said. And the tactic appeared to throw Biden off course.
“Joe Biden thought he was going to a debate and found himself in a mud wrestling contest instead and really never gained his feet in terms of how to respond to that,” he said.
According to Riddlesperger, Trump’s disruption strategy could cost the president, who is running behind Biden in the polls.
The TCU professor was surprised Trump failed to take one big opportunity when the subject of white supremacy was raised by moderator Chris Wallace.
“The opportunity for President Trump to disavow white racism and white supremacy was an opportunity that he missed,” Riddlesperger said. “That should be the easiest softball to hit out of the park.”
Instead of disavowing white supremacist groups, Trump encouraged them, telling the Proud Boys, a group of extreme right-wing activists known for violent protests, to “Stand back and standby.” The group celebrated the shout-out on social media.
“That is not only out of the ordinary in terms of American politics, but it actually could be dangerous in the hands of people who already have propensities towards violence,” Riddlesperger said.