“Will You Shut Up, Man?” The Moment Trump Lost The Debate

Rebekah Kuschmider
4 min readOct 3, 2020


Hillary Clinton landed a solid hit in 2016.

“My Social Security payroll contribution will go up, as will Donald’s, assuming he can’t figure out how to get out of it,” Clinton said.

The two candidates for president had been on the debate stage talking about their tax plans. Trump, per usual, had NOT been talking about his own taxes, however. Clinton had been needling him about what the lack of disclosure said about his finances. Then she snuck in that one last clever jibe on the fly.

No one remembers that part, though. They remember what happened next when Trump leaned into the microphone and muttered “Such a nasty woman.”

Four years later, we have seen Trump’s taxes and we know Clinton was right about his contortions to avoid payment. We have also now watched as Joe Biden stood on a stage and, in front of his god and national tv audience, called Donald Trump a clown.

Twice. He called him a clown twice.

Trump did not call Biden a nasty man.

Trump was long rumored to fear facing Vice President Biden, the man who sat one heartbeat from the office Trump is trying not to lose. A candidate with name recognition as total as Trump’s own but with a favorability rating that leaves his in the dust. Joe Biden, the Scranton scrapper who wouldn’t be afraid to go toe to toe with any bully on the playground. Biden who has a middle-class patina and record of public service that effortlessly tarnish Trump’s materialistic grasping as nothing but vapid social climbing.

Moreover, Trump looks at Biden and sees no soft underbelly. There is no target for Trump to aim at with a candidate as known and vetted as Joe Biden. There’s just his 50-year record in politics, which only serves to emphasize that Trump, after fewer than four years in the White House, is still a political newbie who makes newbie mistakes. Biden is a man who has weathered so many hits from life that no hit Trump might take would hurt him. Trump might not truly respect Biden but he also can’t disrespect him without the protective shield of Twitter between them.

It also can go almost without saying that Trump views Biden differently because he is a man. The sexism Trump brought to the debate against Hillary Clinton is entirely absent in this race.

During the course of last night’s debate, Trump did fall into his social media patterns of mocking and derision but Biden was never the object of his taunts. He made references to Pocahontas, his terrible moniker for Senator Elizabeth Warren. He popped in a “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer” into the dialogue when he had cause to talk about Democratic leadership in the Senate. He even stooped so low as to comment on Biden’s son Hunter’s struggles with drugs, something Biden handled with icy control, looking at the camera and telling America he was proud of his child for overcoming an addiction.

The rest of the night, Trump blustered and circled policy points that he never quite nailed. He charged through the conversation in his typical goatish way, snorting and butting into every moment, whether it was his turn to talk or not. He irritated the former Vice President enough that Biden snapped at him several times, calling him a clown and a fool, and once closing his eyes in the kind of parental annoyance we all recognize and saying “Will you shut up, man.”

Trump never hit back. There was no return volley of “You’re the clown!” Or “You shut up!” Trump even let it slide when Biden called him “Donald” instead of “Mr. President.” That was a protocol breach that couldn’t have been anything less than intentional. Biden knows how to address a president. He chose not to.

Trump didn’t demand his due respect in that moment or at any moment after that.

In watching Trump stand opposite someone he doesn’t disdain audiences saw him somewhat defanged. His verbal strikes lacked venom. What’s more, when Biden asserted his right to be on that stage and be heard, Trump conceded the point. When Biden told him to shut up, Trump shut up and let Biden finish speaking. Trump’s point was lost to Biden’s superior claim on the attention of the audience. Biden knew it was his turn, Wallace knew it, and Trump knew it, too. The man who prides himself on never backing down backed down and let Joe Biden take the spotlight.

Just like no one remembers the verbal punch Hillary Clinton landed in 2016 that got her forever labeled a Nasty Woman, no one will remember what Trump was saying when Biden told him to shut up on national tv. All people will remember is that Trump let him do it.



Rebekah Kuschmider

Feminist + GenX. Politics, feminism, reading books, and parenting are what I do best.