On September 29, 2020, the first of three presidential debates took place in Cleveland, Ohio. Former Vice President Joe Biden went against President Donald Trump in a ninety-minute debate moderated by Fox News Host Chris Wallace. The six topics of the debate were COVID-19, Economy, The Supreme Court, Race and Violence in American Cities, Trump’s and Biden’s Records, and the Integrity of the Election. They also touched on Climate Change and Environmental Issues.
In short, everyone agrees that the debate was catastrophic. Both candidates slung personal attacks, Chris Wallace became an unofficial third debater, Trump constantly interrupted Biden, and the debate dissolved into an elementary schoolyard shouting match.
The entire point of these debates is to inform undecided voters on the policies of the candidates or the candidates themselves, so they can confidently vote on election day. This debate did not achieve that objective or any objective aside from showing the growing toxicity of our political atmosphere.
If I were to pick a winner of this debate, it would be Joe Biden, not because of what Biden did, but because of what Trump did. Entering this debate, the problem for Trump was the expectations for Biden were exceedingly low because Trump painted Biden as an inadequate debater with a concerning memory. Throughout this debate, relative to his previous memory slips and verbal flops, Biden did decently in terms of speaking.
Furthermore, Trump’s interruptions damaged his debate performance. He constantly pressed Biden on issues to the point where it seemed excessive On certain questions like the one asking if Biden would support packing the Supreme Court, Trump badgering Biden was appropriate because he refused to answer. However, badgering him on every single minuscule issue was irritating and may have been a major turn off for voters.
Also, the debate focused on Trump, not Biden. This may ultimately harm Trump because one of the reasons why Trump won in 2016 was because he went silent after the Access Hollywood tape released, where he made obscene remarks about women. During that time, the attention shifted to Hillary Clinton and the FBI investigation into her emails. Since there was intense scrutiny and focus on Clinton, Trump won because he was not Hillary.
The same applies now, except Biden currently plays Trump’s 2016 role. Biden basically could have let Trump speak for long periods to shift the attention on Trump, especially considering the fact Biden has not held as many public appearances as Trump. When leaving the debate, people will remember Trump’s constant badgering and interruptions as opposed to the underhanded insults from Biden.
Trump’s worst moment was when Wallace asked him whether he was willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups, to which he very tepidly replied “Sure.” Trump said It is debatable as to whether or not he condemned them however, even if he did condemn them, the remark was extremely weak.
Trump’s best moments were his persistent attack on Hunter Biden’s connection to Russia and his question asking which law enforcement group supported Biden, “Who do you have? Name one (law enforcement) group that supports you.” Biden failed to provide a convincing response or rebuttal.
Despite this, the cons of Trump’s debate performance were far greater than the pros.
However, this was not Biden’s night either. For the Biden campaign, the objective of this debate should have been to paint Biden as a moral contrast or alternative to Trump, referencing Michelle Obama’s famous quote: “When they go low, we go high.” Instead, Biden ended up mirroring him. When Trump was attacking Biden on his intellect and son’s affiliation with Russia, he repeatedly called him a clown. He also stated, “Will you shut up, man?” To add insult to injury, he said, “You’re the worst president America has ever had.”
His best moments were when he focused on climate change and when he held a clear stance on election integrity. Biden was effective in providing an alternative environmental policy to Trump’s negligence of climate change. Biden also openly stated he would accept the election results whether he won or lost, while Trump said he would fight the results of a “rigged” election.
This debate was a nightmare and an embarrassment of the highest level of politics. It showcased that pettiness was not exclusive to one side and that there is a greater emphasis on personal attacks than policy description. We can only pray that the conduct and atmosphere of the next presidential debates will be better than the fiasco the nation witnessed tonight.