First Presidential Debate 2020 (Biden vs. Trump)

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Ruby Hoffman, Staff Writer

By Ruby Hoffman

The first 2020 Trump vs. Biden Presidential Debate on Sept. 29 was unprecedented on many fronts; but, most notably, it evidenced a vast and deliberate separation from collaborative political processes across party lines. 

In 1960, the first nationally televised presidential debate was held between Democratic Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy and Republican Vice President Richard M. Nixon. Major topics included the fears of the Cold War and threat of Communism abroad in the USSR, China, and Cuba. Restrictions on interruptions and unsubstantiated contradictions were adhered to.

By contrast, in last week’s debate, interruptions and unsubstantiated contradictions were levied by both nominees, although, such commentary was most frequently inserted by the Republican nominee, incumbent President Donald J. Trump. On this account, many of the points touched on became incoherent due to unintelligible speech from either side. 

The moderator of last week’s debate was Fox News reporter Chris Wallace, who outlined six major topics that he aimed to draw the candidates to cover in the debate: the coronavirus, the economy, the supreme court, race and violence in American cities, Trump’s and Biden’s records, and the integrity of the election. 

Many Americans liked the idea of a need for frequent fact checking in order to assist in the identification and denunciation of unsubstantiated and/or false claims on sites such as www.factcheck.org  , www.politifact.com , and www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker.

The Coronavirus  

Wallace (Moderator): “We have had more than seven million cases of coronavirus in the United States and more than 200,000 people have died. Even after we produce a vaccine, experts say that it could be months or even years before we come back to anything approaching normal. My question for both of you is: Based on what you have said and done so far, and what you have said you would do starting in 2021, why should the American people trust you more than your opponent to deal with this public health crisis going forward?” 

Trump: 

“It’s China’s fault. It never should have happened … 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. We’re doing therapeutics already. Fewer people are dying when they get sick. Far fewer people are dying. We’ve done a great job.” 

Biden: 

“We should be providing the money the House passed in order to go out and get people the help they need to keep their businesses open. Open schools cost a lot of money. You should get out of your bunker and get out of the sand trap in your golf course and go into the Oval Office and bring together Democrats and Republicans and fund what needs to be done now to save lives … I know how to get the job done.” 

-Vaccines, mask wearing, and political rallies emerged as points of dissension in this segment. 

The Economy 

Wallace: “The economy is, I think it’s fair to say, recovering faster than expected from the shutdown in the second quarter. The unemployment rate fell to 8.4 percent last month. The Federal Reserve says the hit to growth, which is going to be there, is not going to be nearly as big as they expected. President Trump, you say we are in a V-shaped recovery. Vice President Biden, you say it’s more of a K-shape [where different sectors of the economy improve at different rates]. What difference does that mean to the American people in terms of the economy?”

Trump: 

“So, we built the greatest economy in history. We closed it down because of the China plague. When the plague came in, we closed it down, which was very hard psychologically to do. … A lot of people, between drugs and alcohol and depression, when you start shutting it down… you take a look at some of your Democrat-run states where they have these tough shutdowns. … They think they’re hurting us by keeping them closed. They’re hurting people. … This guy will close down the whole country and destroy our country. … ” 

Biden:

“ The difference is millionaires and billionaires like him in the middle of the COVID crisis have done very well. Billionaires have made another $300 billion because of his profligate tax proposal, and he only focused on the market. But you folks at home, you folks living in Scranton and Claymont and all the small towns and working class towns in America, how well are you doing? … They’ve done nothing to help small businesses. Nothing. They’re closing. One in six is now gone.” 

-Taxes (specifically the allegations of tax fraud by President Trump) emerged amid this discussion and led to the topic of records of the candidates. 

Trump’s and Biden’s Records 

Wallace: “Mr. President, as you know, there is a new report that in 2016, the year you were elected president, and 2017, your first year as president, that you paid $750 a year in federal income tax each of those years. Is it true that you paid $750 in federal income taxes each of those two years?” 

Trump: 

“I paid millions of dollars in taxes, millions of dollars in income tax. … I paid $38 million one year, I paid $27 million one year.”

Biden:

“Look, the tax code that put him in a position that he pays less tax than on the money a school teacher makes is because of him. He says he’s smart because he can take advantage of the tax code. And he does take advantage of the tax code. That’s why I’m going to eliminate the Trump tax cuts. … And make sure that we invest in the people who in fact need help. People out there need help.” 

-Unsubstantiated allegations against Biden’s son Hunter in dealings with Ukraine and Trump’s failure to release his personal tax returns to the American public emerged as points of dissension in this segment. 

The Supreme Court 

Wallace: “President Trump, you nominated Amy Coney Barrett over the weekend to succeed the late Ruth Bater Ginsburg on the Court. You say the Constitution is clear about your obligation and the Senate’s to consider a nominee to the Court. Vice President Biden, you say that this is an effort by the President and Republicans to jam through on an appointment in, what you call, ‘an abuse of power.’ My first question to both of you tonight: Why are you right in the argument you make, and your opponent wrong? And where do you think a Justice Barrett would take the court” 

Trump: 

“. . . We won the election and therefore we have the right to choose her; and very few people would knowingly say otherwise.”

Biden:

“The American people have a right to have a say in who the Supreme Court nominee is, and that say occurs when they vote for the United States Senators and when they vote for the President of the United States. They’re not going to get that chance now because we’re in the middle of an election already. … ” 

– The Affordable Care Act and Obama Care emerged as points of dissension in this segment. 

Race and Violence in American Cities  

Wallace (Moderator): “Are you willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland?”

Trump: 

“Proud Boys stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right wing problem; this is left wing.” 

Biden (Post-debate): 

“My message to the Proud Boys and every other white supremacist group is ‘Cease and desist.’ That’s not who we are; this is not who we are as Americans.” 

-Direct condemnation of racism and white supremacy emerged as points of dissention in this segment. 

The Integrity of the Election 

Wallace (Moderator): “How confident should we be that this will be a fair election, and what are you prepared to do over the next five plus weeks? … What are you prepared to do to reassure the American people that the next president will be the legitimate winner of this election?” 

Trump:

“… there has been no transition from when I won. I won that election. And if you look at crooked Hillary Clinton, if you look at all of the different people, there was no transition because they came after me trying to do a coup. … On Nov. 3, you’re watching, and you see who won the election. I think we’re going to do well because people are really happy with the job we’ve done. But you know what? We won’t know. We might not know for months because these ballots are going to be all over … It’s a rigged election.”

Biden:

“… this is all about trying to dissuade people from voting because he’s trying to scare people into thinking that it’s not going to be legitimate. Show up and vote. You will determine the outcome of this election. Vote, vote, vote. … When the votes are counted, and they’re all counted, that will be accepted. If I win, that will be accepted. If I lose, that will be accepted. But, by the way, if in fact he says that he’s not sure what he’s going to accept, let me tell you something. It doesn’t matter, because if we get the votes, it’s going to be all over. He’s going to go. He can’t stay in power. It won’t happen. It won’t happen, so vote. He cannot stop you from being able to determine the outcome of this election. … you have it in your control to determine what this country is going to look like for the next four years.” 

-Alleged voter fraud and failure to commit to peaceful transfer of power emerged as points of dissension in this final segment. 

In the aftermath of the 90-minute debate on Tuesday night, CNN reporter Jake Tapper asserted: “That was a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck. That was the worst debate I’ve ever seen; in fact, it wasn’t even a debate.” 

By contrast, many Trump supporters stand by the assertion that Trump won the debate, unequivocally, with the slight caveat of having been ‘too hot’ in his attacks on and interruptions of the former vice president. 

Following the events that unfolded therein, the non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates has put out a statement indicating that the manner in which the debate was conducted would necessitate debate reformatting before the second and third debates of 2020. 

As of this writing, Vice Presidential nominees Mike Pence (R) and Kamala Harris (D) are scheduled to take the stage for their first 2020 debate on Wednesday, Oct. 7.