Updated: Oct 18, 2021
The first presidential debate for the 2020 election occurred Tuesday night. To describe it, a sole word is appropriate: chaos. During almost the entirety of the debate, candidates President Donald Trump and Former Vice President Joe Biden hauled personal insults at each other and rudely interrupted each other’s remarks. Both candidates’ behavior seemed to cancel each other out, leaving no clear winner to the first of the three presidential debates.
On Supreme Court: Trump Came Out Looking More Reasonable
Regarding the controversial nomination over the weekend of conservative-leaning Judge Amy Coney Barrett—whom Democrats have accused of being associated with the religious right-wing—Biden, considering Trump’s rhetoric in comparison, appeared to make unnecessary fear-mongering statements about Judge Barrett. He claimed that she would be in favor of overturning the controversial abortion access case Roe v. Wade––which granted American women the right to unrestricted access to abortions––as well as the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)––which stated that all Americans should be able to obtain affordable health insurance. In response, Trump simply contradicted Biden and questioned the validity of his accusations, repeating, “You don’t know that,” as well as mentioning (but not citing) supposed praise of Barrett by liberals during her academic career at the University of Notre Dame.
On COVID: Biden Beat Trump by a Long Shot
It is without a doubt that with respect to the debate’s allotted time to discuss the brutal coronavirus pandemic, Biden was victorious over Trump. When asked to respond to Biden’s accusations regarding the coronavirus, President Trump remained fixated on his initiative of banning the Chinese from entering America in February, when the virus first emerged as a potential threat to global health. He was also heard utilizing his common colloquial terms for the coronavirus, such as the “China Plague,” for which the left commonly accuses Trump of perpetuating derogatory rhetoric.
However, while Trump remained fixated on that single action, Biden presented to the audience facts about America’s turbulent battle with the coronavirus, citing Trump’s suggestions to inject bleach (which Trump claimed was a sarcastic comment) and his refusal to wear a mask on several occasions. Additionally, Biden brought up Trump’s contradiction of the nation’s top scientists—including those who were members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force—regarding the estimated time of arrival of a potential coronavirus vaccine. Biden went on to make several passionate points, saying that Trump only cared about his own health and not that of the American people, referencing the difference in the precautionary measures he took for himself versus those taken for the protection of his crowds. In one instance, he was far more direct and empathetic than Trump with the American people, asking the rhetorical question, “How many of us have an empty chair at home” in light of the large coronavirus death count in America. In response to most of this, Trump merely accused the “fake news” media of its allegedly negative portrayal of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.
On Trump’s Taxes: Trump Took a Blow But Was Not Badly Hurt
The New York Times’s rather timely discovery of Trump’s alleged measly low $750 tax payment last year was the perfect opportunity for Biden to grill Trump in the debate. While Trump repeated that the allegations were perpetrated by the “fake news,” saying that he, in fact, paid “millions of dollars” in federal taxes, Biden countered by demanding for Trump to reveal his tax returns to prove the validity of his statements. Trump responded by saying that he would later since the tax returns were apparently under audit. He was quick to respond, declaring that it was the Obama administration that enabled him to receive tax refunds and attempting to assure the audience of his honesty. Although Biden did attempt to further question Trump’s statements, President Trump was successful in avoiding the topic of his taxes.
On Economy & Environment: Trump Clear Winner
While Biden made significant efforts to flip the argument to the economic crisis due to COVID-19, Trump clearly was the champion of the economic segment of the debate. Instead of falling victim to the attacks by Biden regarding the economic crisis due to COVID-19, Trump countered by referencing the economic growth in the second quarter of 2020 despite the pandemic and his re-opening of the economy. He instigated fear of a Biden administration by referencing his plans regarding taxes and stating that raising taxes after a recession is bound to hurt the economy. Trump also accused Biden and his leftmost supporters of planning to implement the Green New Deal, a high-cost government plan for the environment supported by the Democratic Party’s more radical members—notably Senator Bernie Sanders (D–VT) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D–NY). While Biden denied supporting the Green New Deal, Trump’s comments did paint Biden as a politician at the mercy of the left-wing, perhaps because Biden failed to elaborate further than simply stating that he supports the “Biden Plan” rather than the Green New Deal.
On Race: Trump Bulldozed by Biden
There is little reason or excessive thought on this matter: Biden had an excellent opportunity to highlight Trump’s alleged racism as well as his response to the recent violence caused by the Black Lives Matter rioters. In his passionate two-minute speech regarding race, Biden memorably referenced and condemned Trump’s calling neo-Nazi rioters “very fine people,” his violent response to peaceful protestors in DC in order to take a photograph with the Bible in front of a church, and his suspension of racial sensitivity training for federal employees.
Trump, when confronted with the issue, seemed reluctant to shift the topic towards law enforcement. He accused Biden of wanting to defund the police, despite Biden clarifying on several occasions that he is not in support of it. Furthermore, Trump boasted of his endorsements from law enforcement departments and associations (including the Fraternal Order of Police, one of the largest police unions in the country) and spoke of “law and order,” almost completely dodging the established topic of race, except for his one comment regarding how no president with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln has helped Black Americans more than himself.
To add insult to injury, Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacy was one of the most publicized moments of the debate and caused much disgust amongst voters across the political spectrum. He appeared to repeatedly dodge the demand from Biden and Wallace, asking questions regarding whom he was to condemn. Finally, he went no further than to merely instruct the Proud Boys (a white supremacist organization) to “stand down and stand by.” Naturally, Americans of a wide range of ideologies were quick to condemn Trump’s comments, including his own supporters.
Overall: Both Candidates Failures in First Debate
Despite both candidates having the upper hand in sections of the debate, the overall performance of both Biden and Trump turned out to be abysmal.
Both candidates’ behavior would be deemed inexcusable in a debate in any other context. Trump made frequent personal attacks on Biden, notably telling him to never “use the word smart with me” and that “There’s nothing smart about you [Biden]” as Biden supposedly graduated “the lowest or almost lowest in his class.” Even more insultingly, Trump mocked Biden’s living son Hunter when Biden was recalling the achievements of his late son Beau. He was also impatient and inconsiderate towards not only Biden but even Wallace, which resulted in Trump being the object of several jokes by Wallace throughout the debate. Despite repeated requests, both sincere and sarcastic, by Wallace for Trump to respect Biden’s speaking time, Trump continued to interrupt during the full ninety minutes; at one point, Wallace even sarcastically indicated that he would be willing to switch places on the debate stage with Trump. In response, several netizens and satirists were quick to criticize Trump’s behavior following his performance, comparing the debate to a kindergarten classroom.
On the other hand, Biden often lost his temper with Trump, exclaiming statements such as “Would you shut up, man?” as well as calling him a “clown.” Furthermore, it was rather noticeable that Biden raised his voice when confronted by Trump regarding his children. In addition, Biden often avoided certain questions, including those regarding some liberals’ proposal to add justices to the Supreme Court, as well as those regarding endorsements from law enforcement officers—an attack question from Trump.
Finally, the debate had little discussion in regard to each candidate’s plans for the future. Rather, the two candidates bitterly quarreled about their pasts. Trump, for instance, attacked Biden for his actions during his tenure in the Senate and the Obama White House, saying, “I [Trump] have done more in forty-seven months than [Biden has] in forty-seven years.” Biden, meanwhile, slammed Trump’s first term, calling him the “worst president America has ever had.”
In short, the debate was not a discussion of policies and values, but a battlefield full of insults, interruptions, and immaturity. Considering the fact that most states have already commenced voting by mail, the debate––despite being only the first, may make or break the election for either candidate.