Undecided voters praise Biden’s debate performance while labeling Trump “unhinged” and a “crackhead”

Biden debating Trump was “like trying to win an argument with a crackhead," Ruthie from Pennsylvania says

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published September 30, 2020 11:47AM (EDT)

Joe Biden and Donald Trump at the first Presidential Debate on September 29, 2020 (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Joe Biden and Donald Trump at the first Presidential Debate on September 29, 2020 (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Undecided voters panned President Donald Trump's disastrous debate performance on Tuesday, though it is unclear how effective either candidate was at swaying voters still on the fence between the two candidates.

Voters in a virtual focus group hosted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz largely had positive things to say about Democratic nominee Joe Biden's performance. In contrast, they heavily criticized Trump, who incessantly interrupted Biden and moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News to launch into a cascade of heckles and lies.

Voters described Biden as "better than expected," "coherent" and a "nice guy lacking vision."

Voters described Trump as "unhinged," "un-American," "chaotic," a "bully" and "arrogant."

One voter, Ruthie from Pennsylvania, said Biden won her over, and debating Trump was "like trying to win an argument with a crackhead."

But the debate did not seem to sway most of the 15 voters, who were based in key swing states like Arizona, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Four of the voters said they would back Biden, while two said they would back Trump. The rest remained undecided.

"You just saw 90 minutes. How can you still be undecided?" Luntz asked. "Please explain that to me."

Overall, early polls suggest Biden won the debate. A CBS News poll showed Biden winning 48-41, while a CNN poll showed Biden wining 60-28.

Trump's refusal to condemn white supremacists seemed to stick out most in the minds of most of the voters.

"That was definitely his worst moment . . . It's literally the easiest thing he could accomplish, and he still didn't do it right," Travis from Arizona said.

"He will not denounce anyone who supports him," Joe from Arizona added, "and that was on display today."

The voters also expressed concerns over Trump's false claims stoking doubt in the security of voting by mail. 

"I'm not exaggerating when I say almost literally everything Donald Trump says about mail voting is wrong in whole or in part," CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale tweeted on Tuesday. "Like almost every single claim, every single example."

But voters also wished that Biden would have done more.

Kimberly, a Black voter from Ohio, warned that the chaos of the debate risked "turning off" voters from casting a ballot at all.

"They were both bickering at each other like two old men in a nursing home," Travis from Arizona said.

"What I want to see in the next debate is why should Joe be elected — not why shouldn't I vote for Trump," Jeremy, also from Arizona, added.

Biden did, however, seem to benefit from Trump and his associates' attempts to paint Biden as "senile" ahead of the debate.

"I was surprised that he did as well as he did," Joe from North Carolina said. "Some part of the narrative that Trump has spun so far that Biden may not be up to this task — it certainly did plant a seed of doubt in my mind."

Biden also seemed to reassure some voters after Trump's repeated baseless attacks trying to spin the former vice president as some sort of radical.

"My biggest concern about Biden going in and just throughout the whole primary was the radical left, so to speak, taking over the party," said Joe from Arizona, but Biden's answer won him over. 

Ruthie from Pennsylvania argued that it was "irrelevant" whether Biden would be able to stand up to Trump's attacks in upcoming debates.

"It's like me thinking it's relevant that I can win an argument with a crackhead," she said. "That doesn't matter."

You can watch the video below via YouTube

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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