Weeks before the first presidential debate of 2020 ever unfolded, US President Donald Trump laid down the markers of how viewers were supposed to watch it. The programme was supposed to be about the self-immolation of a doddering, drooling 77-year-old fool on live national television in front of 100 million people.
That did not happen.
Mr. Trump, trailing in the polls and urgently hoping to revive his campaign, was plainly attempting to be the aggressor. But he interjected so insistently that Mr. Biden could scarcely answer the questions posed to him, forcing the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, to repeatedly urge the president to let his opponent speak.
“Will you shut up, man?” Mr. Biden demanded of Mr. Trump at one point in obvious exasperation. “This is so unpresidential.”
Yet Mr. Biden also lobbed a series of bitingly personal attacks of his own.
“You’re the worst president America has ever had,” he said to Mr. Trump.
“In 47 months I’ve done more than you have in 47 years,” Mr. Trump shot back, referring to his rival’s career in Washington.
As in his debate with Paul Ryan – the 2012 running mate of presidential nominee Mitt Romney – Biden relied heavily on a well-stocked arsenal of chuckles and smiles, not to mention a series of facial reactions that ran the gamut from incredulous to disgusted. Biden is particularly adept at knowing what to do when the other guy is speaking – a trick only a veteran debater can master. With a few exceptions, Biden demonstrated that he had thoroughly absorbed the lessons of his debate preparation. He knew when to step back, and when to detonate his rehearsed lines – even though Trump stepped right over a lot of them.
Biden made a point of keeping his focus on the voters, frequently addressing the camera, directly appealing to “you folks at home”.