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Pundits react to a chaotic debate: “What a dark event we just witnessed”

The first presidential debate between President Trump and Joe Biden in Cleveland on Tuesday night was a shouting match, punctuated by interruptions and hallmarked by name-calling.

Why it matters: If Trump aimed to make the debate as chaotic as possible with a torrent of disruptions, he succeeded. Pundits struggled to make sense of what they saw, and it's tough to imagine that the American people were able to either.


What they're saying: The prevailing sentiment on cable news seemed to be that it was "a shit show," as described by CNN reporter Dana Bash.

  • "What a dark event we have just witnessed," MSNBC anchor Brian Williams said as his network returned to the studio post-debate. "A tip of the hat to Cormack McCarthy when we say 'If that wasn't a mess, it will do until the mess gets here.'"

"That was a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck," CNN anchor Jake Tapper said in response to Tuesday's event. "That was the worst debate I have ever seen. It wasn't even a debate. It was a disgrace." 

  • "And it's primarily because of President Trump, who spent the entire time interrupting, not abiding by the rules he agreed to. Lying. Maliciously attacking the son of the vice president. When asked to condemn white supremacists, he brought up the name of a neofascist far right group and said 'stand back and standby.'" 
  • "We'll talk about who won the debate and who lost. One thing for sure, the American people lost tonight. That was horrific."
  • "I'm going to say it like it is," said CNN reporter Dana Bash, responding to her colleague. "That was a shit show. We're on cable. We can say that. Apologies for being maybe a little bit crude." 
  • "But that is really the phrase I'm getting from people on both sides of the aisle on texts, and the only phrase I can think of to really describe it."

"[Y]ou wonder if America maybe lost on the substance of the heart of the issues and whether they really got to them over some of that back and forth," said Fox News anchor Bret Baier to his colleague Martha MacCollum.

  • "It was a tumultuous back-and-forth, no holds barred. They both dove in really hard, and I think obviously, there was a ton of talking over each other," McCollum responded.
  • "I do feel like we've been through something," Baier said. "You at home maybe feel it too."

Go deeper: The first Trump v. Biden presidential debate was a hot mess

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