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'National embarrassment': Biden slams Trump's debate showing as both return to campaign trail

Biden called Trump's debate performance a "a national embarrassment," while the president attacked Biden and debate moderator Chris Wallace.
Image: Joe Biden
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks in Cleveland on Wednesday.Andrew Harnik / AP

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden returned to the campaign trail Wednesday after their slugfest in Ohio, sharply criticizing each other and pitching their agenda to voters.

Biden, during a stop on a campaign train tour of northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, said the president's performance was "a national embarrassment," and he suggested that the commission that runs the debates find a way to force him to play by the rules at the next two.

Biden criticized Trump for having attacked him, his family and the moderator — Fox News' Chris Wallace — "constantly." And he expressed a desire for the Commission on Presidential Debates to take action to ensure that the melee doesn't repeat itself in the next two debates, scheduled for Oct. 15 and Oct. 22.

"I just hope there's a way in which the debate commission can control the ability of us to answer the question without interruptions," Biden said, responding to a question from a reporter during a stop in Alliance, Ohio.

"My hope is that they're able to literally say the question gets asked to Trump, he has the microphone, he gets two minutes to answer the question, no one else has the microphone. And then, I don't know what the actual rules are going to be, literally, but that to me seems to make some sense," he said.

Biden said that Trump's chaotic approach Tuesday night proved that he had "tried everything to distract, everything possible," but that "it just didn't work."

The presidential debate commission issued a statement Wednesday indicating that it would add measures to prevent a similar debacle from occurring again.

Trump, who held an outdoor rally in Duluth, Minnesota, attacked Biden and Wallace. Trump and his surrogates have repeatedly campaigned in the state hoping to win its 10 electoral votes. Trump, however, is lagging in the polls in Minnesota, and the state's voters have consistently voted for the Democratic candidate every four years since 1976.

"I was debating two people last night," Trump told the crowd, falsely claiming that Biden wanted to cancel the remaining debates. "You know, Joe Biden lost badly," he said. "He should cancel the rest of his now."

Trump also touted the debate's ratings.

"They say that we, all of us, we won big last night. Did you hear about this? In the history of cable television, it had the highest ratings of anything on cable television," Trump said.

About 73.1 million people watched the debate, down from the record 84 million who watched Trump's first debate with Hillary Clinton four years ago, according to the media measurement company Nielsen.

Biden ripped Trump for "the way he conducted himself," citing not only his frequent and bombastic interruptions but also his refusal to condemn the Proud Boys, a far-right group. Trump, asked during the debate to condemn the group, instead said that it should "stand back and stand by" — a statement that the extremist group with ties to white nationalism took as a rallying cry.

Biden offered a different message to the group Wednesday.

"Cease and desist," he said, calling Trump's comments a "dog whistle to white supremacy."

Biden's stop in Alliance, an industrial town of about 20,000 in northeastern Ohio, was his first on a multi-stop train tour Wednesday that was also scheduled to take him to Pittsburgh and several other towns and cities in western Pennsylvania. Trump flipped Pennsylvania and Ohio red in 2016, and Biden has been fighting to put both battleground states back in the Democratic column.

He touted his "Build Back Better" economic proposals in Alliance, saying they were designed to help working-class people and unions, and he repeatedly hit Trump for failing to understand the area's economic struggles.

"Does your president have any idea or understand what you're going through?" Biden said. "And if he does, does he care about it?"

"Or does he just ignore you, lie to you?" Biden added.

He cited Trump's promises that a struggling General Motors factory in nearby Lordstown would stay open on his watch and his urging people to stay in the area and not put their homes up for sale. The factory closed anyway in 2019, and while the national unemployment rate before the coronavirus pandemic shrank to a historically low 3.5 percent last year, it was nearly double that in northeastern Ohio.

Biden said that Trump "broke his promise" and that "he forgot" about "forgotten America" before pivoting to his own populist pitch, promoting himself as someone from a similar working-class area of Scranton, Pennsylvania — not Park Avenue.

Biden delivered briefer remarks in Cleveland before departing on his chartered Amtrak train for Alliance. During a subsequent stop in Pittsburgh, he admitted that some voters may have not felt that they were heard during the Obama administration, when he was vice president, and he vowed to listen to them if he is elected. During the stops and on the train, Biden interacted with voters in some of his first direct retail campaigning of the race.

While Biden has in recent weeks held more public events in key states, they have largely been in front of small groups because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Later Wednesday, Biden made stops in the Pennsylvania communities of Greensburg, New Alexandria, Latrobe and Johnstown before he was set to fly home to Delaware.

His tour through the region came a week after NBC News reported on the state of the race in Ohio, with several current and former lawmakers, political strategists and other political experts saying that Biden had offered myriad policies that might benefit the residents of the region but that he hadn't effectively reached voters there.

Biden has led Trump in two of the last three polls tracked by NBC News since Sept. 1. The slight advantage in a state that national Democrats feared was out of reach has Democratic lawmakers and strategists imploring Biden to work even harder to break through and mobilize people to go to the polls, especially in several counties in northeastern Ohio that used to be Democratic strongholds but that flipped decisively to fuel Trump's victory in 2016.