Vietnamese Americans give Biden slight edge in first presidential debate

By Anh Ngoc   October 1, 2020 | 04:02 am PT
Trump’s volatility and interruptions dominated the stage, but Biden capitalized on existing leverages to deliver a decent performance, many Vietnamese Americans feel.

"The atmosphere was heated. It wasn’t two, but three people debating," said Jimmy Luong, who works in the financial sector in Boston, Massachusetts.

He was commenting on the first 2020 U.S. presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden held in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday night (U.S. time).

Trump and Biden debated several issues like the nomination for a Supreme Court judge, Trump’s Covid-19 response, healthcare and the economy.

But the ‘debate’ descended soon into volleys of personal insults and repeated interruptions, with moderator Chris Wallace being cut off by Trump multiple times and Biden telling Trump to "shut up."

Luong, a Trump supporter, admitted the president had "overreacted" in repeatedly cutting off other speakers and pushing the debate into chaos. But he also said it was Trump’s personal style and might have even been a strategy to throw his opponent a curve, making Biden lose his composure and forget what he was about to say.

"Among the three people on stage, Trump controlled the debate for the most part. Biden acted calm at first, but stumbled and stuttered multiple times at the end," Luong said.

"For me, Trump’s strength proved he could take on 10 people, not just two."

Another Trump supporter, Julia Ngo in California was worried about the president’s behavior during the debate.

"Interrupting others while debating is very much frowned upon. I hope Trump will learn from experience next time and change his debating style, or he would be put at a disadvantage," said Ngo, a financial advisor who has lived in the U.S. for over a decade.

She said she’d been looking forward to the debate for the last few days, but was ultimately disappointed with the result. She was even more upset on seeing Trump having to face several accusations, making him lose his temper and focus on defending himself instead of actually discussing policies.

Biden also launched attacks at Trump while purposefully avoiding tough questions like how his son, Hunter Biden, was accused of receiving $3.5 billion in bribes, she said.

"Based on how candidates debate and criticize each other, viewers can see their opinions, thought process and how they solve issues. But Trump was too focused on defending himself, while Biden as a new candidate did not clearly show what he would do for America, focusing instead on attacking his opponent," Ngo said.

A TV in Julia Ngos home in California, the U.S. shows the first 2020 U.S. Presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on September 29, 2020. Photo by Julia Ngo.

At Julia Ngo's home in California, the U.S., the television broadcasts the first 2020 U.S. Presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, September 29, 2020. Photo by Julia Ngo.

‘Shut up’

For Biden supporters like Linh Nguyen, the former VP’s performance was what they expected against Trump, known for his unorthodox and rule-breaking style.

Biden’s performance could be considered successful because he cornered Trump on hot issues like the Covid-19 pandemic, white supremacy and a declining economy, said Nguyen, who lives in Seattle, Washington. He also managed to rile Trump up with words like "clown" or "Putin’s puppy," even telling Trump to "shut up" at one point.

"Biden stutters, but he was eloquent at the debate. There were moments when he looked directly into the camera and delivered speeches persuasively and effectively," Nguyen said.

"Trump might have spoken more, but what’s more important is that what Biden said was practical and more detailed, helping people in neutral positions understand more about him."

A CNN poll revealed that 60 percent of those who watched the debate considered Biden doing a better job than Trump. About two thirds of the surveyed said Biden’s answers were more honest, while 69 percent believed Biden’s attacks were fair. In contrast, only 32 percent believed Trump’s attacks were fair.

Derek Pham, a journalist of Vietnamese descent in California, who seems himself as a centrist, said: "In the last 20 years I’ve been in America, I’ve never seen a presidential debate like this one. Many people even said the two candidates looked like children fighting over candy."

"As usual, Trump pre-emptively attacked his opponent right from the first question, while Biden used a completely opposite strategy. Trump lost points when he lost composure for most of the debate. Biden was calmer and did not fall into Trump’s trap and landed more hits as well," Pham remarked.

Having never voted for a U.S. president to maintain his neutral stance, Pham graded Trump’s performance an 8 and Biden’s a slightly better 8.5.

However, he also felt the debate was not convincing enough to help Biden win on November 3 (Election Day). "Biden would have to do better in his next debates," he said.

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in the middle of the debate. Photo by Reuters/Brian Snyder.

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at the Cleveland debate, September 29, 2020. Photo by Reuters/Brian Snyder.

Stay clear-headed

Luong Ta, who has lived in the U.S. for about four decades, said Biden’s burden in the presidential race seemed lesser than Trump’s, considering how he was leading the polls in most states, including battleground ones, while Trump has failed to score with his Covid-19 response.

Biden would only need to stay clear-headed during debates and dismantle the "Sleepy Joe" image that Trump gave him in order to succeed, Ta felt. On the other hand, Trump needs to turn the tables on his image as a weak leader of an America marred by the pandemic and racial divisions.

"Through his style of bullying the opponent, Trump not only failed to convince those who have had enough of America’s state, but also cemented people’s impression of him. Biden, despite not demonstrating he’s a brighter candidate, has not pushed away centrists.

"As such, Trump hasn’t been able to turn the tide in his favor," he added.

Dinh Cong Bang, another self-proclaimed centrist in Florida, a battleground state, shared the sentiment.

"Biden was slightly better during the debate, as he only needed to not make mistakes to gain the upper hand. Trump, meanwhile, held the short end of the stick due to his many issues and, if polls were accurate, might lose for not being able to put out solutions for America’s existing problems," said Bang, an IT expert who has lived in the U.S. for 20 years.

Bang said he had made time to watch the debate with his friends despite being on a trip to Washington. But, like many others, he felt "disappointed" as the debate did not bring anything new to the table while personal attacks, for example into Biden’s son or Trump’s tax records, took way too much time.

He said both Trump and Biden had failed to sway undecided voters like himself. Bang said he and others were waiting for upcoming debates to see more clearly the differences between the policies of both candidates.

"I hope they will paint a picture of America for the coming years, including its relationship with China, which is a topic that other people of Vietnamese descent like me care a lot about."

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