Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a top Biden surrogate, said it wasn’t obvious that Biden should commit to future debates.
“I’m going to leave that to the campaign,” he said. But if the point of debates is to allow the candidates to articulate a message to viewers, Coons said, Tuesday’s fracas failed the test.
“It was very hard to follow what was being said, and President Trump showed not just disrespect to the moderator, but to the American people who tuned in trying to figure out what his plans are,” Coons said. “The point of the debate is for the American people to make a decision, informed by hearing from the two candidates on what’s your record, what are your values? Joe Biden came prepared to respect the American people. Donald Trump did not.”
Simon Rosenberg, a former senior consultant for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Biden’s campaign should seek rule changes for the next two debates, on Oct. 15 and Oct. 22. Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris square off on Oct. 7.
“Of course, Biden and Harris should keep debating. But they should work to make sure Trump can’t repeat his performance tonight,” Rosenberg said. “Moderators should have the ability to cut off his mic and split screens should be limited. Let them talk to the American people without the other facial expressions and interruptions registering.”
Trump aides said they relished the freewheeling debate, saying it benefited the incumbent’s style. But they also reserved criticism for the debate moderator, Fox News host Chris Wallace.
“Chris Wallace jumped in too often to save Biden from himself when he had backed himself into a corner or couldn’t come up with an answer,” said Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh.
People close to the president said he was jubilant upon exiting the stage, and many in his inner circle were thrilled with his performance. Trump dominated with his aggressive approach, they argued.
But other Republicans worried that Trump’s aggressiveness wouldn’t play well with undecided voters or suburbanites who are exhausted with his chaotic approach to governing.
Trump was “too hot,” said Scott Jennings, a top political aide in the George W. Bush White House. The president, he added, didn’t give Biden “enough room to dig the holes.”
“Trump is the biggest dog in the junkyard. He’s proved that. He’s louder, ruder and appears tougher. The job for Biden tonight was to seem strong enough to do the job and Trump took direct aim at that,” one longtime Republican strategist said. “He’s a bully. But after he kicked sand in Biden’s face, Biden needed to be stronger and he just wasn’t.”
He added, however, that Trump’s dominance came at a cost. If the president was looking for ways to lose more women voters, the GOP strategist said, “He accomplished that tonight.”