This past Tuesday — Sept. 29, 2020 — marked the first presidential debate of the 2020 election. The debate was broadcast live both online and on television and saw the face-off between Republican nominee President Donald Trump and Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, though apparently the Democratic nominee, former Vice-President Joe Biden, was also present.
To say that this debate was a disaster would be an understatement, but that is the extent of the language this publication allows for. The constant bickering between the candidates made the broadcast an incomprehensible and ultimately unproductive mess.
Much of the blame for this falls onto President Trump, who seemed utterly blind to the standard turn-based rules of a debate. “He made a statement, I have to respond,” was President Trump’s typical excuse to continually interrupt Biden’s two minutes of speaking time. Chris Wallace, who served as the mediator for this debate struggled throughout the night to keep both men under control and on topic, though he was largely ineffectual in his attempts.
So what was the debate actually supposed to be about? The first topic posed by Wallace was in relation to President Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a Supreme Court justice.
President Trump argued that, as the sitting President, the Constitution of the United States gives him the power to nominate a Supreme Court justice should the need arise; this justice would then need to be approved by the Senate, currently controlled by the Republican Party.
Biden attempted to counter this by stating that “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 United States Senators and when they vote for the President of the United States.” He goes on to explain how this say in the nomination process has been denied since the Presidential election is already underway via mail-in and early voting.
While this is a charming argument it does not negate the fact that, as President Trump put it, “[Republicans] won the election. Elections have consequences.” A president is allowed to nominate a justice at any applicable point during their 4-year term — 25% of which is an election year. In 2016, following the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, President Obama attempted to nominate Merrick Garland as a replacement. Biden’s argument that it is an injustice against the people for a justice to be nominated during an election year was disproven while he was vice president.
Immediately following this both men launched into a raucous argument — a running theme of this debate — about healthcare. Wallace then asked President Trump to dive into his failed promise to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and replace it with his own comprehensive plan.
Trump responded to this by stating that he got rid of the individual mandate, which required that all Americans purchase health insurance or suffer tax penalties, citing it as the worst part of the Affordable Care Act. Wallace then stated that this was neither a comprehensive plan, nor did he ask for the President’s thoughts on the matter. It was quite refreshing to see that Chris Wallace, a Fox News anchor, showed very little patience for the president’s belligerent behavior during the debate.
At the very least he stood his ground more than Biden, who constantly looked like he was in need of an adult. In what was clearly a PR move meant to make Biden look like the more sensible adult, he would often surrender the stage when Trump attempted to force his way into speaking.
This is pure speculation, but it is possible that a secondary goal of this was simply to let the President throw himself under the bus, which he certainly did at times. What this primarily accomplished, however, was making Biden look weak and underprepared.
One particular standout was President Trump cutting off Biden’s discussion of the COVID-19 pandemic by saying, “Let me shut you down for a second, Joe” — and then Biden actually let him do it. In summary, this debate painted President Trump as a bully and former Vice President Biden as a coward; neither qualities one would hope to see in the next leader of the free world.
What was perhaps the most controversial section of the debate, Wallace asked if the president was willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups, which the President failed to do. To what was perhaps the gentlest softball, the perfect lay-up, the easiest task of the debate, condemning white supremacy, President Trump responded “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 a left-wing…”
Yes, our President considers anti-fascism, not white supremacy, to be the prevailing threat to safety right now. In addition, for those of you who are unaware, the Proud Boys are a far-right, white supremacist group that promotes political violence. Now, “stand back and stand by” is far from typical language for condemnation; it more so implies that the group should be patient rather than stop what they are doing right now.
If you read our editorial last week, or have been on the Internet at all, you would know that Biden’s win in the Democratic primary proved to be a huge upset to a large number of Democrats. This makes it a bit ironic when Biden declared, “The party is me. Right now, I am the Democratic Party.”
While Biden is undeniably and irreprably the Democratic nominee, in no universe does he represent interests of the whole Democratic party. Of course, Biden represents a percentage of democratic voters, but there is a whole section of voters who want more radical change to the existing systems than Biden is willing to provide: voters who would never dream of having Kamala Harris — The pro-policing former attorney general of California — as vice president of the country.
To echo existing sentiments, neither men won the debate. Perhaps points could be awarded to Joe Biden’s “bigger man” routine or to President Trump’s ability to get his message across, but in reality, both men lost. And when both presidential candidates lose a debate, it is the American people who really lose. But I think we already knew that.