President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Joe Biden took the stage last night for their first presidential debate of the 2020 election cycle.
Throughout the debate, candidates covered topics including the COVID-19 pandemic, health care, economic recovery plans, climate change initiatives, racial tension, and the legitimacy of mail-in ballots.
After the nominees were introduced and took their places behind the podium, Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News wasted no time diving into topics filling the news cycle this week, beginning with the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
Each candidate was given two minutes to express their stance on whether or not the vacant seat on the Supreme Court should be filled prior to the November election. It became evident within the first 6-minute segment window that this would be a debate like no other.
As Biden attempted to answer one of the questions posed by Moderator Chris Wallace, President Trump frequently interrupted the Vice President – culminating in the most meme-worthy moment of the debate, when an obviously distracted Biden said “would you shut up, man?”
This volley between the President and Vice President continued throughout the evening, leaving little room for substantive discussion or productive debate.
Domenico Montanaro, NPR Senior Political Editor/Correspondent commented “People who hate Trump will say he’s a bully. People who love him are likely laughing. If you’re an independent, you probably don’t like Trump’s tone, but perhaps Biden looks soft.”
The take-away from this debate may not have been the substance of the discussion, but rather the performative nature of President Trump – commanding the stage and even at times directly addressing the moderator and attempting to steer the conversation into new territory.
Vice President Biden struggled to make his points in between the chatter, frequently turning toward the camera to directly address the American people, emphatically encouraging viewers to vote.
Neither candidate made especially strong points about policy or goals for their presidential term if elected. This debate reflected the stark reality of our current political polarization as both President Trump and Vice President Biden leveled snarky remarks at each other.
If you left the debate with a headache, in a daze of general confusion, consider yourself not alone. While President Trump seemed to have used more airtime than Vice President Biden, it is difficult to assess if either candidate truly won this debate.
The network commentary following the debate did not help to clarify the question of candidate strength, with many show hosts commenting on the chaotic nature of the event. George Stephanopoulos of ABC news said, “I have to speak personally here, as someone who’s watched presidential debates for 40 years, as somebody who’s moderated presidential debates, as someone who’s prepared candidates for presidential debates, as someone who’s covered presidential debates, that was the worst presidential debate I have ever seen in my life.”
The next debate will take place on October 7th between vice presidential candidates, current Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris. If you wish to view the debate in its entirety, it is available for free via PBS NewsHour.