The Race to the Oval Office: The First Presidential Debate

The first debate between President Donald Trump and Vice President Joe Biden was very different from presidential debates in the past. While much was said, many people found it difficult to cull real facts from each candidate’s 27 minutes of speaking time. Many felt some of the statements made were shocking but that some important information could be discerned about the candidates’ viewpoints. Here is the breakdown of the first presidential debate for the 2020 election.

The first topic discussed in the debate was the Supreme Court and President Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. To begin, moderator Chris Wallace asked, “Why are you right in the argument you make [about the appointment of Barrett] and your opponent wrong, and where do you think a Justice Barrett would take the court?” President Trump began the debate by explaining why he chose Barrett: “… [she is] a phenomenal nominee, respected by all top, top academics — good in every way, good in every way.” President Trump also said that since he is still in office and since the Republicans hold the senate, there is no reason Barrett should not be appointed to the Supreme Court. After his two minutes of speaking, Biden was asked to answer the same question. Biden voiced that the American people should choose who elects the next justice, and this choice comes from who they elect as President. He also explained that the next case to reach the court is the Affordable Care Act, which Barrett has made clear she does not support. This led to a choppy discussion about healthcare, filled with many interruptions and in which Biden defended that he is not going to abolish private healthcare if he is elected president; instead, he is going to improve Obamacare so poor people will be enrolled in a public healthcare program. Although the topic was not intended to be addressed in this segment, Biden began talking about the millions of cases of and thousands of deaths from COVID-19 in the US, to which Trump responded, “And if you were here, it wouldn’t be 200 [thousand people dead], it would be two million people, because you were very late on the draw.” Wallace asked President Trump why he has not created a substitute for Obamacare. The President explained that he has helped to substantially lower drug prices and got rid of the individual mandate of Obamacare. Then, the debate quickly lost its sense of order. Biden began interrupting Wallace, and President Trump began interrupting Biden, stating “You just lost the left. You just lost the left.” In response, Biden, shocking many, called the President of the United States a “clown.” As Biden yelled to President Trump: “Would you shut up, man,” the segment ended.  

To begin the second segment, Wallace questioned: “Why should the American people trust you more than your opponent to deal with this public health crisis going forward?” Biden, who had the stage first, explained the impact of the death and infection toll, the fact that President Trump knew the severity of the virus since February, and President Trump’s lack of planning in helping the American people. Shifting focus to his own campaign, Biden said that part of his strategy to combat COVID-19 would be to put money towards supporting small businesses, urge the wearing of masks, and, most importantly, bring together the Democrats and Republicans to save lives. To begin answering this question, President Trump discussed how he closed the border early, which Dr. Anthony Fauci said saved a lot of lives. He then explained, “We got the gowns, we got the masks, we made the ventilators — you wouldn’t have made ventilators — and now we’re weeks away from a vaccine.”  He also discussed the alleged “Fake News” and “bad press” that he has received, which he believes has blurred the many steps he and his administration have taken to help the country deal with COVID-19. After the President told Biden he could never respond to COVID-19 as well as he has, Biden shot back by stating, “I know how to get the job done.” President Trump then mentioned that Biden did not handle N1H1 and the swine flu as well as Trump has handed COVID-19, to which Biden responded by talking to the people at home, urging them to believe that President Trump’s inability to enforce wearing a mask has killed many. Additionally, Biden accused the President of not being trustworthy, especially in regard to a vaccine. In response, President Trump gave an update on the multitude of companies working on creating a vaccine. After a few chaotic minutes that ended with Biden saying, “Will [President Trump] just shush for a minute,” a question was posed about the reopening of the country. Biden urged President Trump to shut down the country. President Trump said that more people would be hurt if the country shut down, reasoning: “We just went through it. We had to because we didn’t know anything about the disease…We’ve learned a lot” and “Those states, those states are not doing well that are shut down.” This conversation was soon stopped when Wallace asked President Trump “Are you questioning the effectiveness of masks?” President Trump said that he only wears masks when he has to, unlike Biden who, President Trump claimed, wears a mask “Every time you see him.” Biden then explained that masks could save many Americans from contracting COVID-19. To end the segment, Wallace asked about the size of the rallies each candidate has held. President Trump simply stated he has large rallies “Because people want to hear what I have to say, I mean, 25, 35,000 people show up at airports,” and that Biden didn’t hold large rallies “Cause nobody will show up.” 

As the debate wore on, Wallace posed another question: “Looking at both of your records, I’m going to ask each of you, why should voters choose you…over your opponent?” President Trump, who went first, responded, “Because there has never been an administration or president who has done more than I’ve done in a period of three and a half years…” He backed this claim up with statements about the booming pre-COVID economy, and how he and his administration are fixing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), helping the veterans, rebuilding the military, and appointing many judges that he believes are “great.” Biden began by claiming, “Under this president, we have become weaker, sicker, poorer, more [divided], and more violent.” He then explained how he helped revive the economy as Vice President and how he made clear in an encounter with Vladimir Putin that America was “not going to take any of his stuff…” After Biden mentioned his son in the context of when Trump called veterans “suckers,” a conversation about Biden’s sons took place. Biden repeatedly denied that his son, Hunter Biden, who Trump stated was thrown out of the military due to cocaine use, had received millions of dollars from the wife of the former mayor of Moscow. As Biden defended his son’s addiction and Trump continued asking about where the money had come from, Wallace attempted to end the conversation because he believed  “…the American people would rather hear about more substantial subjects.” Another segment was completed, and another segment had lost its track.  

Next discussed was the economy, a strong talking point for each candidate. The economy was built up during the Obama-Biden era, and made arguably stronger during Trump’s first three years as President. Though a major recession has occurred because of the coronavirus pandemic, the economy is recovering at a much quicker pace than experts expected. President Trump answered the question first in this segment, focusing not only on his success before the pandemic, but how he felt he handled the economic situation during the pandemic. “We built the greatest economy in history,” President Trump began. As he continued with his two-minute segment, he explained his success during the pandemic: “We had 10.4 million people in a four month period that we’ve put back into the workforce.” President Trump made it clear that he believes Joe Biden would have caused more deaths because, “He didn’t think [the government] should close [the economy] down.” Later in his statement, he discussed the negative effects the shutdown has had on people. Directing his statement towards Democrat-run states, President Trump compared shutdown states to a “prison;” moreover, he discussed the rising divorce, alcoholism, and drug rates in these states. Biden began his two minutes discussing how very wealthy Americans, namely President Trump, are the people escaping economic problems caused by the pandemic. He stated, “[President Trump is] going to be the first president in the United States to leave office [with] less jobs in his administration than when he became president.” Biden continued to criticize the President, stating that he thought the President opened the country too early.  He further stated, “You can’t fix the economy until you fix the COVID crisis.” Furthermore, he explained that the Trump administration did not handle the situation like a “national emergency,” and, thus, schools are closed, and small businesses are suffering. After more arguing, Wallace brought up President Trump’s tax returns. It was revealed that the President only paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017; he refuted this by claiming his tax returns were almost finished, and people would see them soon. The President explained that he paid less because of tax cuts and codes. Biden then stated that, if elected, he and his administration would eliminate the cuts, and “invest in the people who… need help.” Biden called President Trump the “worst President in history,” and President Trump responded by saying that “[His administration] has done more in 47 months, than you’ve done in 47 years, Joe.” Biden talked about his economic plans, including an increase in taxes for people making over $400,000 per year and the creation of over 7 million jobs. After Biden stated that he would require more taxes from big businesses, President Trump claimed that there would be an economic depression. While talking about industry, Biden boasted that he “brought back the automobile industry.” President Trump then bragged about his own manufacturing success: “Ohio had the best year it’s ever had last year. Michigan had the best year they’ve ever had.” The segment ended in a full-blown fight about Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, who allegedly was lent millions of dollars from foreign governments. The economic discussion was passionate and aggressive, just like the rest of the debate. 

The idea of a “divide” in America arose when the candidates were discussing race and violence in cities. The desire for equality and justice in America has been prominent in many peoples’ minds since (and before) the killing of George Floyd. Violence in cities has risen, and (mostly) peaceful protests have taken over the nation. Biden began the discussion about this topic by citing that in 2017, President Trump did not completely condemn anti-Semites and the Klu Klux Klan in Charlottesville. He also vocalized that he believes President Trump has torn apart America, and that he showed his lack of care for the American nation when he teargassed peaceful protesters in June so he could take a picture in front of a church. In President Trump’s two minutes, he discussed negative things Biden has said about the black community, the support that he has in the military, and the lack of law and order in Democrat-run cities. When the topic of racial injustice arose, Biden outlined his plan: he wants to have a committee of police officers and civil rights groups work together to figure out a way to quell the tensions and solve problems in America. He also explained his belief that “the vast majority of police officers are good.”  He stated that the peaceful protests are very acceptable; President Trump then acknowledged that some of the protests have escalated. Later, President Trump explained how he believes racial sensitivity training is racist and is “teaching people to hate our country.” He felt that these trainings were bad for the American people, so he ended them. Biden countered, saying the opposite: “There is racial sensitivity. People have to be made aware of what other people feel like…” Biden feels that with these trainings and a forward-thinking mindset, America can “defeat racism.” Violence in cities is not new, and President Trump pointed out that there was a lot of animosity in cities during the Obama-Biden era, specifically in Baltimore and Oakland. The violence, he said, is because Democrats, including Biden, do not stand for law and order. Biden quickly refuted this, saying that he is “in favor of law and order.” A heated discussion about law and order ensued, and Trump pointed out that not many law enforcements groups have supported Biden. Biden defended himself on the claim that he has not called Portland’s mayor and tried to help stop the ongoing protests: he said that he is not in office, and that it is not his position to break up the aggression. President Trump stated that, if allowed, he would send the National Guard to help the situation. To end the segment, Wallace asked Trump if he was willing to condemn “white supremacists and militia groups,” and Trump responded by telling the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” Then, he stated that ANTIFA, an extreme left-wing group, is the problem. 

The recent natural disasters are a reminder of the issues the planet faces due to climate change. Addressing this issue, President Trump talked about nature first, explaining that he wants crystal clean water and air while also keeping businesses running. Additionally, he shared that he and his administration are planning to plant a billion trees this year, and that his solution to the forest fires is to have better forest management. Biden outlined his plans to improve the environment, which are to use renewable energy as the main power source, drive mostly electric vehicles (and put charging stations on the highways), create weatherized buildings, and create millions of jobs. But, before all of this, he wants to rejoin the Paris Accord. Biden continued to discuss how the millions of jobs he wants to create would help the economy and the environment, and President Trump questioned why he did not do any of this in the last 47 years. Finally, after the President brought up the Green New Deal, Biden clarified that it is not the plan he would enact. This segment, like the others, was filled with arguments and interjections.  

Coronavirus has affected many things, and the election is not an exception. In his last segment, Biden attempted to convince the American people to vote. He explained that though millions of people will have to mail in their ballots, there is “no evidence that [they] are a source of being manipulated and cheating.” He added, “If I win, that will be accepted. If I lose, it will be accepted.” President Trump shared his thoughts that unsolicited ballots are bad, but solicited ones are acceptable. He said it will be better if people “go and vote,” rather than vote by mail. After Trump claimed that “[Mail-in ballots] are not going to end well,” Biden fired back, saying that “Five states have had mail-in ballots in the last decade or so…” The final question posed during the debate was: “Will you urge your supporters to stay calm during this extended period, not to engage in any civil unrest? Will you pledge tonight that you will not declare victory until the election has been independently certified?” President Trump explained that he wanted his followers to “go into the polls and watch very carefully.” He added that he believes it is a “fraudulent election.” Finally, he stated that if the election is fair, he is “100% on board.” Biden said that he will have his followers stay calm, even though “it will take time to [count the ballots].” He concluded that he will “support the outcome,” and will “Be president for Democrats and Republicans.”