Biden raises record funds as aides jab 'train wreck'
Joe Biden broke fundraising records coming out of Tuesday’s acrimonious presidential debate between the Democratic nominee and Donald Trump. The chaotic and unwieldy debate, in which moderator Chris Wallace, from Fox News, struggled to rein in Trump and the president egged on far-right groups, yielded a large fundraising haul for the Democratic campaign.
In a conference call with reporters after the debate, Biden’s communications director and deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, announced that the campaign raised $3.8m between 10pm and 11pm through ActBlue, the Democratic grassroots fundraising site.
“Tonight we broke the single-hour record for a campaign ever on ActBlue,” Bedingfield said. “And we broke our own hour record and raised $3.8m between 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock.”
That fundraising infusion suggested that the total sum the campaign raised from the debate eclipsed the entire hauls some statewide or national campaigns have enjoyed.
The $3.8m was one plainly positive note for the Biden campaign following a debate that both Democrats and Republicans cast as a mess. After the debate in Cleveland, even usually reserved TV anchors could not help but denounce it as the worst debate they had ever seen – a “shitshow”, as CNN put it.
Speaking to reporters during a campaign stop in Ohio, Biden condemned Trump’s debate performance, saying he understood why some Americans would feel disgusted with politics.
“The president of the United States conducting himself the way he did, I think it was just a national embarrassment,” Biden said.
Biden also specifically addressed one of the most startling moments of the night – when the president refused to denounce white supremacist groups such as the Proud Boys, telling them instead to “stand back and stand by” – and offered his own message to the far right.
“My message to the Proud Boys and every other white supremacist group is cease and desist,” Biden said. “That’s not who we are. This is not who we are as Americans.”
Biden described Trump’s debate performance, and specifically his refusal to condemn white supremacist violence, as “a wake-up call for all Americans”.
“For 90 minutes, he tried everything to distract,” Biden said. “And it just didn’t work.”
On Wednesday morning, Republicans were somewhat morose about Trump’s performance and the longer-term outlook.
Trump did hit some of Biden’s weak spots, such as when he cornered the former vice-president on whether he supported adding seats to the supreme court (Biden didn’t commit one way or another), and when he pushed Biden to distance himself from the leftwing Green New Deal set of environmental proposals.
But those moments were eclipsed by Trump’s refusal to denounce the Proud Boys and his near-constant interruptions of Biden and Wallace. On Wednesday, when questioned about his refusal to condemn the group, Trump said the Proud Boys should “stand down and let law enforcement do their work” and that he didn’t know who they were.
During the debate Biden had a few zingers, but he visibly struggled to keep his composure. At one point he told the president to just “shut up”; at another, he said Trump was the “worst president America has ever had”. The “shut up” line spread quickly online and inspired memorabilia.
On Wednesday, Biden and his allies stressed a sense of optimism.
“Biden was stellar compared to the train wreck that was Trump,” the Democratic strategist Maria Cardona said. “In that sense, I feel great! But I am wholeheartedly embarrassed at the global spectacle Trump made of the United States last night.”
But there was also a sense, for supporters of both candidates, that the debate would not dramatically shift voters one way or another. Republicans did not expect Trump to lose support, but they did not expect him to gain much, either.
The Republican strategist Scott Jennings, a former longtime aide to the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said: “What is it that’s been keeping the anvil on Trump’s job approval for four years? It’s women! It’s job approval among women. He does OK among men.
“I don’t know a single woman – and I’ve texted a bunch – that watched him last night and went, ‘That’s exactly the kind of guy with exactly the kind of communication style that I enjoy’.”
It “was the perfect illustration of America today”, the Republican strategist Terry Sullivan said on Wednesday. “Lots of talking with very little listening, and nobody’s mind is changed.”
On Fox News right after the debate, the veteran Republican strategist Karl Rove said: “I’m not certain it was very edifying or enlightening for the viewers.”
The former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who helped prepare Trump for the debate, said on ABC News after the debate that Trump was “too hot” at times. Christie said it was good for Trump to come in and be aggressive, but “with all that heat, you lose the light”.
And even while Biden’s campaign and allies expressed positivity, there was a similar sense of disillusionment.
“Donald Trump is a disgusting human being. Last night had nothing to do with a presidential debate or American politics. It was a showing of inhuman, un-American behavior on an international scale,” said the Democratic strategist Jennifer Holdsworth.
“There were no redeeming moments of the debate other than Joe Biden rightfully defending both of his sons.”
The Biden campaign was pressed on whether Biden would attend the next debates. His aides said he would. The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) issued a statement on Wednesday saying it would soon announce “additional structure … to the format of the remaining debates, to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues”.
With just five weeks left until election day, Trump is trailing in national and battleground state polls.
Amid accusations that he has mishandled the pandemic and damaging reports about his finances and past comments on the military, the debate was perhaps Trump’s best opportunity yet to shift the dynamics of the race, which has been remarkable steady and narrowly in Biden’s favor throughout an exceptionally turbulent summer.
Trump once again declined to pledge that he would honor the results of November’s election, and continued to undermine the integrity of mass mail-in balloting, which is already under way in many states in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus.
For months, activists and Democratic party officials have been telling Joe Biden supporters that the only answer to the question “can we trust the polls?” is to go out and vote for Biden, and then get others to do the same.
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