Down in the opinion polls with five weeks to go until the November election, US President Donald Trump sought to use the first presidential debate to bully his way back into the race.
Repeatedly interrupting and sparring with opponent Joe Biden, the Republican Trump tried to knock the Democratic former vice president off his feet on Tuesday night and alter the dynamic of a contest he has been losing for months. It was unlikely the president succeeded, largely because of his own combative and chaotic behaviour but also because the insult-filled and often fact-free affair may have left the few undecided voters watching at home more dispirited than engaged.
“It’s doubtful that this mentally exhausting debate changed any minds,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist in Washington who advised Trump’s 2016 transition team.
“Each side walked away with something, but the shock of the personal attacks against one another probably turned many people off.”
Trump drew raves from some diehard supporters for his show of aggression towards Biden.
But he spent little time attempting to persuade swing voters, particularly women who have been critical of his tone and tactics, that he is the candidate best suited to tackle fundamental election issues such as the coronavirus pandemic, health care and race relations.
The debate was held in Ohio, where Biden will campaign on Wednesday and one of a group of Midwestern states where the race is expected to remain competitive.
With Biden chipping away at Trump’s base in battleground states that decide elections, the president may have squandered a chance to reach voters he needs.
Reuters/Ipsos polling this month found that four in 10 white non-college-educated likely voters in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin said they were backing Biden this year, up from 2016 when Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was supported by about three in 10 non-college whites in those states. The polling shows Biden with a sizable lead overall nationally but with a smaller edge in those key states. — Reuters