It was messy, unedifying, often downright ugly. And the only real winner was the incredible moderator Chris Wallace.
Still, Joe Biden didn’t lose.
What was meant to be a two-way debate between the presidential contenders more resembled a three-way bout with Wallace often hitting harder against Donald Trump than Biden.
The Democratic contender had the most to lose but he also had a low bar.
He looked awake. He didn’t stumble or waffle too much. In fact, he quickly became feisty, fighting back against Trump’s constant hectoring, heckling shouting and downright abuse.
Boy did he fight back. Within minutes he called the president a “clown”. During the 90 minutes he added numerous other insults including “liar”, “fool”, ”Putin’s puppy” and “the worst president in the history of this country”.
At one point early on he even said, “Will you shut up, man!” which was unpresidential — but then so was the whole debate. And he definitely reflected the views of most people watching the horrible spectacle.
He successfully touched Trump’s trigger points urging him to get off the golf course “out of the bunker, out of the sandtrap”.
Meanwhile the chaotic debate continued to resemble two toddlers in a sandpit testing the furious teacher in the middle.
Biden tried everything to handle Trump’s appalling behaviour which set new lows even by his own standards. The former vice president rolled his eyes, smirked, and downright laughed during the Trump rants. And he did plenty of talking back himself.
But at some key points he allowed Trump’s interjections to derail him, most noticeably during the much anticipated discussion on Trump’s tax returns.
Trump claimed he paid millions and Biden kept sniping “show us your tax returns”, but when given the chance to pursue him he diverted to general tax policy, letting Trump off the hook.
As expected Biden was strongest on the COVID-19 issue, even though he stumbled in the first few minutes of the key figure of 200,000 dead. He hit home with Trump’s cover-up of the pandemic; reminded us of the bleach outrage; demolished Trump’s claim a vaccine was due within weeks.
Biden shrugged off calls of “socialist”. He ignored the constant: “Why didn’t you do anything in your 47 years, Joe?”. Most importantly he did not lose his cool when Trump launched the anticipated vile attack on his son Hunter.
Biden showed the stamina to keep fighting right until the last seconds of the exhausting 90-minute debacle.
How he, a moderator or any poor viewers can come back for a second round will be the next test.
In a year of extraordinary headlines, the upcoming US election will be one of the most compelling news stories of 2020. That’s why we’ve partnered with one of America’s best, independent publications: The Atlantic. Save 50% on a year of Crikey and The Atlantic when you subscribe today using the promocode ATLANTIC2020. Click here to subscribe now.