Biden debates Trump: fact vs. fiction

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden engaged in the first presidential debate on Tuesday, Sep 29. The debate quickly turned disastrous though as Trump consistently interrupted both Biden and the moderator, Chris Wallace.

Sophie Grand

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden engaged in the first presidential debate on Tuesday, Sep 29. The debate quickly turned disastrous though as Trump consistently interrupted both Biden and the moderator, Chris Wallace.

Sonali Rao, Contributing Writer

The Presidential debate is a time when both candidates get the chance to tell the American people why they would be the best future leader for this nation. It is the event the nation has been waiting for, and with it comes the power to sway crucial on-the-fence voters in swing states. 

With all these expectations upon the event, one would expect a certain level of decorum to be observed. However, as CNN’s Jake Tapper so eloquently put it, the recent presidential debate can best be summed up as “a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck.”

President Donald Trump was the primary cause of the debate’s chaotic nature, frequently talking over the Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, and stopping Biden from talking about his policies. He also squabbled with the moderator, Fox News’ Chris Wallace, repeatedly speaking over Wallace’s questions and flouting the debate rules. In addition, Trump also failed to condemn white supremacy when asked directly by Wallace, saying instead to the violent far-right group The Proud Boys: “Stand back and stand by.” The extremist group has since taken this as a battle cry and proclaimed the President’s approval of their movement. I expect the members of this group to engage with even more enthusiasm in voter intimidation and voter suppression in the election as a result of President Trump essentially endorsing them. 

Trump behaved very poorly, and to see this type of behavior from a sitting president was astounding. Since the President was diagnosed with COVID-19 a few days after the debate, in hindsight, the illness may have made his brain tired and less sharp. His family also took off their masks once inside, which was against the debate rules. This was a very childish thing to do, as so many people worked so hard to make this debate happen safely in the middle of a pandemic. This comes off as having immense disrespect towards doctors and the organizers, and endangering everyone in the building.

Biden, on the other hand, tried his best to maintain a calm demeanor in the face of Trump’s overly aggressive one. Biden frequently addressed hard-hit groups in his speech, such as people who have lost loved ones due to the pandemic, and people in his hometown of Scranton, Pa., and Claymont, Del., as well as other working-class towns that are on the front lines of this pandemic and need help to fight it. Biden also took a few jabs at Trump, saying, “It’s hard to get any words in with this clown,” and “You’re the worst president America has ever had.” However, Biden was much more civil than Trump, and generally obeyed the debate rules. Biden did his best to answer the questions asked, and referenced his policies on the major issues as much as he could, such as his alternative for the Green New Deal. I was very surprised at how calm Biden was in responding to Trump, but I guess that is to be expected since he’s been in Washington for so long (36 years as senator from Delaware, 8 years as vice president). It’s no wonder Biden’s up in the polls after the face-off.

Wallace had a difficult time keeping Trump in check. He eventually had to re-explain the rules to get the candidates to stop talking over each other, and even that did not work well. Wallace was slow in correcting Trump’s behavior, and not having control over the candidates’ microphones was a big part of it.  Wallace should have pounced on Trump’s behavior earlier instead of so late in the debate. Wallace basically allowed the Trump-based chaos to take over the debate. He obviously couldn’t have predicted the disaster that transpired, but Wallace came in seriously underprepared for the potential of a chaotic debate. In the next Presidential and Vice Presidential debates, it would be worth giving the moderator the power to turn the participants’ microphones off when their time is up to prevent interruptions from occurring again. In response to the debate, The Commission on Presidential Debates issued the following statement: “The Commission on Presidential Debates sponsors televised debates for the benefit of the American electorate. Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues. The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly. The Commission is grateful to Chris Wallace for the professionalism and skill he brought to last night’s debate and intends to ensure that additional tools to maintain order are in place for the remaining debates.”

Trump’s team may not agree, and have stated they don’t want to change the rules mid-game, but it is laughable that they even thought any rules were being followed by their candidate, or by his mask-free family, during the first debate. Their tactics are in line with Trump’s derogatory comments about military service people being “suckers” and “losers.” For Trump and his team, it seems anyone who follows any rules or abides by any limits is a “sucker” and a “loser.” It’s definitely not going to be Trump or his team following the rules.

Overall, this debate was stomped all over by Trump and handled poorly by Wallace and the debate organizers. It reflected the instability we’ve seen in 2020. With so many catastrophic events happening simultaneously, we’ve all become a bit jumbled up inside. Unfortunately, the tone of the debate mirrored and expanded that chaos and instability rather than convincing viewers that President Trump could be an anchor to hold us steady in stormy waters and pull the U.S. together to face and solve the current racial divisions and unrest, devastating pandemic, and economic losses the country is suffering.

Trump will certainly win over the white supremacist vote from this debate, but that does not make up a significant demographic of voters, and it represents a group Trump was likely to succeed with before the debate occurred. Trump will also likely do well with workers in the oil and gas industries, but that was already a given, because Trump does not support environmentally friendly energy initiatives. He’ll probably take Florida, but parts of the rest of the country are somewhat uncertain especially since Biden has a 14 point lead on Trump now, post-debate. Trump’s decline in popularity also probably stems from his rude behavior in the debate, and contracting COVID due to not taking the necessary steps to prevent infection (not wearing a mask) and not acknowledging it as a major problem, at one point even stating, “like a miracle, it’ll disappear.”

Biden will probably get most people who are already covered by, and those who support, the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare, and he’ll win over most people who have supported the recent Black Lives Matter movement. For now, he and Kamala Harris are sitting pretty. As long as there isn’t any interference with the ballots, which I don’t think there will be much of, they should have this election in the bag.

With the first vice presidential debate coming up on Oct. 7, hopefully the organizers will learn from their mistakes, and the vice presidential candidates will be able to uphold some semblance of civility, address actual issues facing the country, and give the people a debate based on issues, policy, and political philosophy rather than on shouting, aggression, and attempts to bully the opponent.  My hope is that the V.P. candidates can, in the words of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”