U.S. President Donald Trump says he “really enjoyed” debating former vice president Joe Biden Tuesday night, declaring victory for a performance that has received poor reviews from all sides of the political spectrum.
Trump also told a crowd of his supporters during a rally in Duluth, Minn., Wednesday night that Biden is trying to withdraw from the other two upcoming debates, a claim that had already been refuted by Biden’s campaign the night before.
“I really enjoyed last night’s debate with Sleepy Joe,” Trump said, before going on to brag about the high ratings for the broadcast.
“Now I understand that he’s cancelling the debates, let’s see what happens,” he added. “I don’t think that’s going to be a very good move for him.”
While some media commentators said the remaining scheduled debates should be cancelled based on how chaotic and at times incoherent the first one turned out to be, Biden and his campaign have made clear they will still be attending.
“Joe Biden’s going to show up. He’s going to continue speaking directly to the American people,” Kate Bedingfield, the communications director for Biden’s campaign, told reporters after the debate Tuesday.
The next showdown between the presidential nominees, scheduled for Oct. 15, will be a town hall-style event where both Trump and Biden will take questions from voters. That will be followed by a more traditional debate on Oct. 22.
On Wednesday, the Commission on Presidential Debates vowed to to change the rules to help create “orderly discussion,” but did not specify how it would do that.
Biden said on Wednesday he hoped organizers of future debates would be able to turn off the microphone of the candidate who is not speaking.
“It was a national embarrassment,” Biden said of the debate and Trump’s performance. “I am not going to speculate what happens at the second or third debate.”
Trump clashed repeatedly with both Biden and moderator Chris Wallace, who repeatedly tried to maintain order and remind Trump of the rules — including to not speak during Biden’s allotted time.
Trump told his supporters in Duluth and on Twitter that Wallace had a “rough night,” saying at the rally he felt like he was “debating two people last night.”
The debate featured several other moments from Trump that were criticized by pundits and the public. He refused to explicitly condemn white supremacists, instead telling a far-right group known as the Proud Boys to “stay back and stand by.” He also wouldn’t tell his supporters to stay calm in the event of a contested election, and unconvincingly defended reports he’s paid hardly any federal taxes over the past 15 years.
Biden, for his part, faced criticism for not answering questions on whether he would support expanding the Supreme Court with liberal judges to offset a conservative majority created by Trump’s third nominee for the court, Amy Coney Barrett.
While the debate received high viewership, it did not achieve the “record high ratings” Trump claimed Wednesday night. According to Nielsen, an estimated 73.1 million people tuned in — 13 per cent fewer than the audience for Trump’s first debate with Hillary Clinton in 2016, which actually set records.
Trump wondered aloud in Duluth “what they (the media) will do” if he loses in November and is no longer holding rallies or participating in debates.
“With those ratings, (the media) will never let (Biden) cancel,” he said. “What are they going to do without Trump?
“What are they going to do in eight, 12, 16 years when I say, ‘Let’s hang it up’?” he added, alluding to suggestions he’s made in the past of serving longer than two terms in office — which would be a violation of the Constitution.
— With files from Reuters