Tuesday night marked the first presidential debate of the 2020 election cycle, pitting former Vice President Joe Biden against incumbent President Donald Trump. Fox News hosted the debate at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, moderated by Chris Wallace.
The two presidential candidates were given 15 minutes to discuss six pre-decided topics of debate: the Supreme Court, COVID-19 health crisis, the economy, racial tensions, election integrity and candidates’ records. The assistant advisor to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, Philippe Reines, predicted that Donald Trump would act as an aggressor and Joe Biden would attempt to appeal to the audience prior to the debate. CBS correspondent Nikole Killion had more specific opinions, believing Trump’s main argument would be asking Joe Biden why he didn’t use his 47 years of political experience to make the change he was advocating for — and indeed this argument was a key component of his end of the debate.
The debate started with a question regarding Amy Coney Barrett, who was nominated by President Donald Trump last weekend to succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. Wallace asked the candidates to explain why the other was wrong regarding the situation and their own beliefs on the future Barrett could have in her position.
Supreme Court Nomination
Wallace prefaces the question with Biden’s criticism of the nomination as filibustering and label of it as an “abuse of power.” Trump justifies the decision by stating that “elections have consequences” and that Amy Coney Barrett was a phenomenal choice, giving accolades to her academic background, and believes her support stretches across parties. He believes she would be outstanding and “as good as anybody to serve on that court.” He states that as the Republicans won the election, they had the right to put her in — and that the Democrats would’ve done the same.
Biden counters Trump, stating he should’ve waited and that it would’ve been more fair had they waited until after the election for a nomination. He states Trump is in the Supreme Court to “get rid of the Affordable Care Act,” and while he acknowledges Barrett may be a good person, he implicates that she is a Republican tool for eliminating the Affordable Care Act, which he states is an offense towards women’s rights. Trump’s argument against this stems down to the Affordable Care Act existing as an opponent to private healthcare, which Biden simply states isn’t true.
Accidentally stumbling into the next question with their argument regarding healthcare, Wallace moved the two candidates onto the next question by asking Trump how he is replacing Obamacare. Trump had promised over the past four years to repeal Obamacare but Wallace claimed he hasn’t made a comprehensive plan to replace it, though Trump argues he has. Trump states he is going against “Big Pharma” and criticizes Biden for not lowering drug prices during his 47 years of politics, also claiming that he is lowering the price for insulin.
Wallace asked Biden whether his healthcare proposals were a threat to private insurance. He states they aren’t because only the especially poor are affected — “anyone who qualifies for Medicaid would be automatically put into the public option.” Biden tossed aside Trump’s accusations of the Democrats going socialist.
Chris Wallace had begun to request President Donald Trump to let Joe Biden speak, acknowledging his frequent interruptions which were a staple of his performance at the debate.
Moving onto the threat of filibustering, Biden believes Americans need to vote more, but is criticized by Trump as dodging the question, bolstering his previous argument that the Democrats would pack the courts the same as the Republicans.
The second subject was then addressed: with more than 7 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States and over two-hundred thousand deaths, the candidates were asked why the American people should trust them over their opponent in dealing with the COVID-19 health crisis.
COVID-19 Health Crisis
Biden took the stand and condemned Trump, “The President has no plan. He hasn’t laid out anything,” attacking Trump’s decision to slowly reveal the threat COVID-19 presented as to not panic the American people. Trump blames China for the COVID-19 case and questions the validity of China’s (alongside Russia’s and India’s) statistics regarding COVID-19 fatalities. Trump also brought up Biden’s (or more appropriately Obama’s administration) mishandling of swine flu as reasoning for why he wouldn’t be the right candidate to deal with the health crisis.
Wallace stated in his next question that Trump “has frequently contradicted or been at odds with [his] government’s top scientists” and asked him to explain the reasoning for these contradictions. Trump states that the COVID-19 vaccine could be available a lot sooner than claimed by scientists, and condemns the Democrats for turning the vaccine “very political.” He states that he doesn’t want the issue of the vaccine to be partisan. Biden brought up Trump’s promise that the virus would be gone by Easter.
Trump attacks Biden’s character by claiming he graduated among the lowest of his college class and that “nothing about [him] is smart.” Numerous outbursts of ad hominem occurred throughout the debate: Biden had called Trump a racist, “Putin’s puppy” and the “worst President in history,” whereas Trump called Biden’s son, Hunter, a “junkie” and challenged the former VP’s intelligence.
Nearing the end of the second subject, Wallace asked Trump whether he questioned the effectiveness of masks, to which Trump stated no but critiqued Biden for wearing a mask too often or in egregious situations; “200 feet away from him and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”
Biden tried to lean the topic toward how he’d help businesses but was redirected back towards the question of masks by Wallace. Biden claims that the CDC stated that one hundred thousand lives could’ve been saved had masks been more diligently worn from January onward. Overall, it had seemed that the two of them believed the other hadn’t taken enough action or wouldn’t take enough action in the future regarding COVID-19.
COVID-19 and the economic repercussions leaves the need to address the economic recovery, and with unemployment dropping along the Federal Reserve’s statement that the hit to growth wouldn’t be as big as expected, the two candidates were asked their views on the future recovery of the economy.
Trump commended himself for “building the greatest economy in history” and then stated it was closed down because of the “China plague,” and he critiqued Biden as not wanting to close the country, purporting this would’ve resulted in possibly 2 million deaths. He observed the problem of another shutdown through a personal lens, asking Wallace and the audience to look at “the drugs, alcohol, depression” as a result of “tough shut-downs” in blue states. He expressed his belief in the American people to follow protocol and “wear masks or wash their hands.”
Biden expressed that the economic recovery has only benefited millionaires and billionaires, and addresses his audience, “You folks at home,” asking them how much the market’s boost had helped them. Biden attacked Trump for dodging taxes but Wallace stopped Trump from immediately responding. Biden finishes his time by justifying his reasoning for a longer shutdown: “You can’t fix the economy until you fix the COVID crisis.”
While explaining the tragedy of the shutdown and how people want their schools and restaurants reopened, Trump calls himself “the one who brought back football” but is forwarded toward confronting the validity of the statement that he paid $750 a year in federal income tax. Trump stated that he paid millions of dollars in income tax. Trump, despite saying this, states that during his career as a businessman that he “went through the laws” like any “business person, unless they’re stupid,” and blames Biden for passing the tax laws that allow such manipulation of income taxes.
Biden stated he will eliminate the tax codes that Trump manipulated, and Trump critiqued him not already doing this during his time as a senator. Trump attacked Biden’s work ethic and stated “I have done more in 47 months than you have in 47 years.”
With the question of work ethic and inherited problems in the air, the two candidates were taken to the next subject regarding the increasing racial tensions in America.
Race & Violence
At this point in the debate, Chris Wallace acknowledged that “the American people would be better served if you speak uninterrupted,” and the point of their constant interrupting each other is poignant. Wallace asked the candidates why the voters should trust them over their opponent in dealing with race issues.
Biden’s first point was Trump’s statement during the Charlottesville rally that there “were very fine people on both sides” was a statement which glorified neo-Nazis and racists. His second point was that peaceful protests as a result of George Floyd’s death were broken up by Trump with tear gas, displaying his divisive nature. Despite this, he later refers to the cops involved with Breonna Taylor’s death as “bad apples,” an argument often utilized by more right-leaning individuals.
Trump highlights Biden as being a hypocrite with statements from 1994 declaring black youths as “super-predators” and then critiques Biden’s lack of police support. He then attacks the “radical lefts” for the forest fires in Portland and for alienating law enforcement. Later, he blames Democrat mayors and governors for increasing violence and homicides in cities.
A concern to many, however, is when Trump was asked by Wallace to condemn white supremacists, that the incumbent President did not explicitly make a statement on them and instead deflected the blame of protest violence onto Antifa. A lesser concern, though notable for left-leaning individuals, is that Biden explicitly does not plan to defund the police.
Their views were perhaps most drastically different regarding race and violence, with Biden even branding Trump a racist. However, the acknowledgement of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at a presidential debate is significant to the future development and exposure to police brutality in the US.
The Presidential debate on Tuesday night is only the first of three, and thus only a taste of the name-calling, off-topic discussions and topic avoidance to come. Donald Trump debated similarly to his 2016 style with an aggressive, interruptive and confident attitude. Joe Biden attempted to connect to the audience while remaining stoic to any personal attacks to avoid seeming weak. The effectiveness of their individual styles is up for debate, but with countless people joking online that they’re considering voting for Chris Wallace, the general consensus is that the debate was rather feverish.
One first-year student, Bryce Allen, stated that he thought the debate was “a mess on both sides,” while a senior, remaining anonymous, stated he “already knew who he was voting for,” capturing the attitude that many young voters have towards these debates. People are seeing Joe Biden and Donald Trump yell at each other for an hour, and according to CBS, 41 percent of viewers watched the debate solely for the entertainment value.
It seems that young voters already have their minds made up and that these debates are being seen as some sorts of high-stakes reality TV. With 1.3 million people already having voted too, the question of how much of an impact this debate is really having is significant. Regardless of whether the debate has swayed anyone, the importance of voting is inarguable and all eligible individuals should register to vote as soon as possible.
The next presidential debate will be hosted at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County in Florida on Oct. 15.