‘Will you shut up, man’: The best jabs from Biden-Trump debates in 2020

Joe Biden and Donald Trump are due to face each on the debate stage on Thursday evening in Atlanta, Georgia, in their first head-to-head of the 2024 election cycle, hosted by CNN.

The event has already been hit by controversy after the network cut an interview with Trump spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt on Monday when she questioned the political allegiance of moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, subsequently demanding an apology from anchor Kasie Hunt.

Trump has also been busy amplifying baseless conservative speculation that the president will be using performance-enhancing medication during the debate to keep him sharp, an allegation his allies leveled during Biden’s State of the Union address in March as well.

Unusually, this is not the first time the American public has seen its two presidential candidates debate each other, as this year’s election is essentially a rematch of the Covid-blighted contest of 2020.

Biden and Trump debated four years ago at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 29 and again at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 22, with another scheduled in between but cancelled after the Republican tested positive for the coronavirus and then refused to participate remotely.

Here are the highlights from those face-offs.

Biden lays into Trump as a ‘clown’ and ‘liar’

The first debate in Cleveland was rowdy and chaotic from the start, despite the best efforts of Fox News moderator Chris Wallace, with the former vice president to Barack Obama rebuking then-President Trump over his (mis)handling of the pandemic as things quickly got heated.

“Folks, do you have any idea what this clown is doing?” Biden said as they argued over healthcare.

The insults didn’t stop there.

“The fact is that everything he’s saying so far is simply a lie,” he complained when Trump baselessly claimed Biden had stolen the Democratic nomination from Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.

“I’m not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he’s a liar.”

Elsewhere, the Democrat derided his opponent by saying: “You’re the worst president America has ever had, c’mon.”

‘Will you shut up, man?’

The acrimony continued as the two men talked over each other repeatedly, with Biden growing visibly frustrated after a series of interruptions from Trump.

The tension reached a fever pitch when the latter accused him of planning to pack the Supreme Court with “the radical Left.”

Finally losing his patience altogether, Biden hit back by saying: “Will you shut up, man? This is so unpresidential.”

Before the event was even finished, his campaign was already selling T-shirts bearing precisely that slogan.

Hillary Clinton enjoyed the line, but Biden’s anger was genuine.

He later sighed sarcastically to Wallace, “That was really a productive segment, wasn’t it?” before turning to Trump and derisively telling him: “Keep yappin’ man.”

Trump fails to denounce the Proud Boys

In a stunning moment, the sitting president of the United States, decades after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, declined to condemn white supremacist groups when prompted to do so by Biden and Wallace, apparently reluctant to lose out on their votes.

The best Trump could muster on national television was to tell the far-right organization the Proud Boys: “Stand back and stand by.”

“Standing by, sir,” was the group’s response, prompting an outcry and forcing Trump to take back the remark the next day, unconvincingly claiming not to know who they were.

‘China ate your lunch’

Trump also got in a few handy soundbites of his own, attacking the Obama administration’s failure to counter aggressive commercial practices by the rival superpower before questioning how Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, allegedly received $3.5 million after a trip to China with his father when he was vice president.

Biden warns of ‘dark winter’ of Covid

The second debate in Nashville a month later was more civil in tone, with neither man wanting to be associated with the circus atmosphere of the first and mic muting wisely introduced by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Covid was still very much on the agenda and it was Biden, not the president, who issued a stark warning to the public.

“This is the same fellow who told you this was going to end by Easter last time,” he said.

“This is the same fellow who said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to end it by the summer.’ We’re about to go into a dark winter… and he has no clear plan.”

Trump did say that he accepted responsibility for the situation — 220,000 Americans had died of the coronavirus at the time, the death toll ultimately rising to 1.1 million — before quickly blaming China.

‘Release your tax returns’

Biden attacked Trump over his failure to come clean about his finances and alluded to a report about the president having a secret bank account overseas.

The Republican again insisted, as he had throughout his presidency, that he could not do so because he was under audit by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which would not have stopped him putting out the documents even if it was true, claiming that the IRS had treated him “very unfairly.”

Blue states and red states

In an argument over who on Capitol Hill was responsible for holding up economic relief legislation in response to the pandemic, Trump blamed then-House speaker Nancy Pelosi while Biden said the president’s “Republican friends” were at fault.

Trump then described the bill submitted by House Democrats as “a big bailout for badly run Democratic cities and states.”

Biden leapt up on that to make a point about division, declaring: “Look what he’s doing. Blue states or red states — they’re all the United States!”

‘Least racist person in the room’

With Trump needing to roll back his failure to condemn white supremacy (and botched handling of both Charlottesville and the Black Lives Matter protests during his presidency), he backed Biden into an apology over his support for a 1994 crime bill associated with the mass incarceration of Black Americans.

Biden did so, making an impassioned appeal for Black and Hispanic support, before deriding Trump’s own record on race, which prompted the above declaration.

It was the same defense the Republican had made after being criticised for describing Baltimore, a Black-majority city, as “rodent-infested”.