Sunday, 25 Oct 2020

'Nobody won': Conservatives in Biden hometown left cold by Trump debate

OLD FORGE, UNITED STATES (AFP) – A “Policemen for Trump” hat on his head, Mr Tom Kenney leaves the small room where a dozen or so supporters of the US President are watching the candidates’ debate in the swing state of Pennsylvania.

“I got sick of listening to Biden,” he says.

Inside the building, Fox News’ coverage of the widely anticipated first debate between Mr Donald Trump and his presidential challenger Joe Biden plays loudly to locals of Old Forge – a borough of working class Scranton, where Mr Biden grew up.

Their colours are stuck to the mast – a life-sized cardboard cutout of Mr Trump with two thumbs up welcomes those gathering to watch and Trump posters and anti-abortion slogans are stuck up liberally on the walls.

The group listens in silence as the two candidates rip into each other with gusto, then erupts with laughter when the President refers to his opponent personably, but with some depreciation, simply as “Joe”.

“I think Trump is doing very well, I think Joe Biden is having a difficult time making an argument, making his case,” says Mr Doug Miller, 30, wearing a red “Keep America Great” hat.

Outside, Ms Jackie Smith – who says she is a fervent supporter of the President – is smoking a cigarette in the rain.

“Trump has done a lot for us in the four years that he’s been in office,” she says.

Pennsylvania, like Ohio – where the debate was held – is a rust belt state that’s seen large job losses in recent decades as heavy industry has declined. Mr Trump won them both in 2016, but they are in play for Democrats in November.

Mr Trump tried hard to denigrate Mr Biden’s mental acuity leading up to the debate and with the Democrat putting in a stronger performance that many expected, frustrations are starting to simmer in Old Forge.

Back on TV, the candidates wrangle over the Supreme Court, the coronavirus pandemic, climate change – topics chosen by debate moderator Chris Wallace, who allots time to each candidate and doesn’t hesitate to take Mr Trump to task for interrupting his opponent.

But his efforts aren’t much appreciated.

“I feel for most of the evening (Mr Trump) was not only debating sleepy Joe Biden, he was having to debate Chris Wallace, who I think is a total fool,” Mr Miller says.

Mr Wallace works for Fox News – a channel that skews conservative – but he has a reputation of going after anyone he comes across, regardless of their politics.


The bitterly fought debate finished, opinions are divided on how their candidate performed.

“The winner was Donald Trump. I mean, he was competing against Chris Wallace and Joe Biden,” says 20-year-old student Lorenzo Febbo.

“Joe Biden tended to respond like how he normally does, with interrupting.”

But for Mr Nicholas Haas, also in his 20s, neither candidate came out on top: “Nobody really won because I didn’t learn anything from either side.”

Resplendent in a dress the colours of the American flag, a Trump brooch and blue Trump earrings, Ms Lynette Villano, 74, recognised Mr Biden’s performance was better than expected.

“He rested up for a couple days, so I guess, he was okay.”

That should be read as warm praise from the conservatives of Old Forge.

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