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At Least 65 Million People Watched “Shit Show” Trump-Biden Debate

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The first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden—an event so reviled and unwieldy that even the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates was forced to issue a statement—was watched by at least 64.7 million people, according to preliminary rating data released by Nielsen on Wednesday.

That number, which combined the viewers on eight channels—including ABC, CBS, and NBC—lags well behind ratings for the first debate in 2016, which garnered 75.8 million viewers across the same eight networks, CNN reported. All told, the first 2016 debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton was the most-watched in U.S. history.

The Nielsen number does not include online viewers or streams.

That the ratings were down should come as little surprise to anyone who managed to make it through the proceedings on Tuesday night. Although the overall number is more in line with the viewership totals generated by the first presidential debates of 2008 and 2012, the 2020 debate was an often unpleasant affair, with Trump interrupting Biden numerous times and spouting a number of falsehoods. At one point, when asked directly to condemn white supremacy, Trump danced around the question.

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“Sure, I’m willing to do that. But I would say almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not from the right-wing. I’m willing to do anything, I want to see peace,” Trump said. After Biden urged Trump to specifically denounce the far-right Proud Boys, Trump added, “Proud Boys? Stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s gotta do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem.”

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The comment was widely slammed. Trump, on Wednesday, claimed he didn’t know who the Proud Boys are, but still refused to condemn the group. “Whoever they are, they have to stand down and let law enforcement do their work,” Trump said, adding, “They have to stand down. Everybody. Whatever group you’re talking about. Let law enforcement do their work.”

In the immediate aftermath of the debate, CNN anchor Dana Bash called the event a “shit show,” while NBC anchor Lester Holt branded it a “low point in political discourse.” The response was so negative that the debate commission released a statement saying it would reconsider the rules for the candidates’ following two televised arguments, set for October 15 and October 22.

“The Commission on Presidential Debates sponsors televised debates for the benefit of the American electorate. Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues,” read a statement. “The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly. The Commission is grateful to Chris Wallace for the professionalism and skill he brought to last night’s debate and intends to ensure that additional tools to maintain order are in place for the remaining debates.”

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