US President Donald Trump and Joe Biden return to the campaign trail on Wednesday after a chaotic debate that allowed the 77-year-old Democratic candidate to rebuff Republican claims that he doesn't have the stamina for the White House job.
Snap polls on the debate performances of the presidential candidates leaned towards Biden, who withstood a barrage of barbs from the 74-year-old Trump while delivering some of his own.
A CBS sampling of 1,039 likely voters who watched the televised debate held in Cleveland, Ohio, had Biden edging Trump by 48 percent to 41 percent -- a margin similar to that of the national polls heading into the November 3 election.
But the overall winner -- or loser in the case -- was the 69 percent of those surveyed who said the unruly shoutfest simply left them "annoyed."
"A hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a trainwreck," said CNN host Jake Tapper, an assessment shared by many viewers and analysts. "That was the worst debate I have ever seen.
"It was a disgrace and it's primarily because of President Trump," Tapper said.
Trump spent much of the time interrupting Biden, accusing him of being controlled by the "radical left" and trying to get under his skin with comments about his son Hunter's past business affairs.
Trump had insinuated ahead of the debate that Biden is too old for the job and his mental faculties have been diminished by age.
An exasperated Biden variously described Trump as a "clown," a "fool," a "liar" and "Putin's puppy" while telling him at one point to "shut up, man."
But the former vice president mostly kept his composure and went toe-to-toe with Trump for the full 90 minutes, attacking his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, race relations and the economy.
"Much of the tone for this debate was driven by Donald Trump's strategy to rattle Joe Biden with constant interruptions, taunting, and name-calling," said Mitchell McKinney, a communications professor at the University of Missouri.
"The overall image projected tonight by Donald Trump was one of a petulant president," McKinney said.
"Joe Biden avoided any major gaffe or stumble tonight that would feed into the Trump narrative that Biden is too old or not fit for serving as president," he said.
- 'Meltdown' -
While the Biden camp was praising their candidate's performance on Wednesday, Trump took to Twittter to lash out at Fox News host Chris Wallace, the moderator, claiming he had joined forces with Biden and ganged up on him.
Biden responded with a tweet depicting Trump as a crying baby.
The Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said Trump's debate behavior demonstrated why she had recommended that Biden not debate him at all.
"You saw a political nervous breakdown, a meltdown," Pelosi said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "(Trump) has never respected the dignity of his office and he demonstrated that last night.
"You saw his authenticity and you saw Joe Biden's authenticity and I just thought the contrast was so great," she said. "The election has to be the major intervention into this president's behavior."
Pelosi said she was particularly disturbed by Trump's failure to condemn white supremacists and had "lost a lot of sleep" over it.
The Cleveland debate was scheduled to be the first of three before the election but the acrimonious debacle led to calls by some commentators for the two others to be cancelled.
In an interview with CNN, Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris suggested it was unlikely that Biden would bow out of the next debates.
"Joe Biden's never going to refuse to talk to the American people," she said. "I think the American people benefitted from a very clear contrast (between Trump and Biden)."
Trump was to attend a fundraiser on Wednesday and address an outdoor campaign rally at the airport in the town of Duluth in Minnesota, a state narrowly won by Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Biden was to embark on a train tour of the battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania billed as the "Build Back Better Express."
The next debate is scheduled to be held on October 15 in Miami, Florida, with the final debate on October 22 in Nashville, Tennessee.