This meant that Mr Trump could skip quickly past uncomfortable moments and potential pitfalls. The debate breezed past his administration’s handling of the pandemic, an area he has consistently received low scores in national polls for, and a bombshell New York Times report on his tax returns.
Mr Biden also could not effectively rebut Mr Trump when he made exaggerated claims, nor hold his feet to the fire for failing to condemn white supremacists or his lack of a comprehensive healthcare plan.
2. THE SPECTRE OF SOCIALISM
Mr Trump simultaneously tried to paint Mr Biden as a socialist, while trying to pit the left wing of the Democratic Party against Mr Biden for not being leftist enough for them.
“They’re going to dominate you, Joe, you know that,” said Mr Trump near the start of the debate, adding: “Your party wants to go socialist.”
“I’m the Democratic Party right now,” Mr Biden said.
The former vice-president responded in a consistently moderate manner, rendering Mr Trump’s socialism line of attack less effective.
Over the course of the debate, Mr Biden explicitly said he was against defunding police forces and did not support the Green New Deal.
While neither are positions that will endear him to the left wing of the party, they will likely reassure skittish swing voters. They are also unlikely to irrevocably alienate left-wing Democrats, who are strongly opposed to Mr Trump and have been campaigning for Mr Biden.
3. PERSONAL INSULTS SIGNAL MORE UGLINESS AHEAD
The debate at times descended into name-calling and insult-hurling.
Mr Biden called Mr Trump a clown, a fool and a liar, told him to shut up, and called him the worst President the United States has ever had.
Mr Trump mocked Mr Biden’s intellect, saying that he graduated the lowest in his class. “Don’t ever use the word smart with me,” said Mr Trump. “There’s nothing smart about you, Joe.”
The debate got especially heated when Mr Trump went after Mr Biden’s son Hunter, whom he accused without proof of corrupt business dealings. He also referenced the younger Mr Biden’s drug abuse and said he was “dishonourably discharged” from the military.
Mr Biden, who had been in the middle of praising his late son Beau’s military service in Iraq, said: “That is simply not true.”
“He’s fixed it, he’s worked on it,” Mr Biden said of Hunter’s drug problem. “I’m proud of him. I’m proud of my son.”
4. TRUMP DOUBLES DOWN ON UNSUBSTANTIATED CLAIMS OF ELECTORAL FRAUD
Asked about the integrity of the election, Mr Trump doubled down on his unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, calling the election rigged and saying: “This is not going to end well.”
He said that he was urging his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully”, in contrast to Mr Biden’s pledge to call on his supporters to remain calm on election night. Mr Biden also promised not to call victory until the results had been independently certified.
Mr Trump’s comments raise the chance of unrest should he lose, with his supporters potentially unwilling to accept the election and its outcome as legitimate.
5. MOST PEOPLE HAVE ALREADY MADE UP THEIR MINDS
The debate was also unlikely to close the gap between Mr Trump and Mr Biden. Voting is already underway in many states, and most people say that their minds are made up.
Historically, polls also do not shift that much at this stage. According to a FiveThirtyEight analysis of polls from 1976 to 2012, the difference between polling leads just after the first debate and at the end of the campaign was an average of 2.2 per cent.
A Morning Consult poll released on Tuesday morning found that 86 per cent of all voters say their position on the 2020 race was immobile, with only 14 per cent saying they might change their mind.
Party voters were similarly set in their ways, with 9 per cent of Democrats and 11 per cent of Republicans saying they were open to change. Just over a quarter of independents say they might change their mind.