The first Presidential Debate of 2020 was held on Tuesday, September 29, 2020 at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. The debate was moderated by Chris Wallace of FOX News Sunday and sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
As both men took to the stage, greetings were exchanged in what appeared to be a traditional Presidential debate. However, it didn’t take very long for things to liven up — and then immediately devolve into a yelling match.
The truth is, for many Americans, the first Presidential Debate of 2020 was challenging to get through and is emblematic of the political polarization plaguing our nation. From the coronavirus pandemic to social justice and even natural disasters, the American people were desperately looking for answers from their perceived and prospective leaders. Unfortunately, the candidates would never get around to answering these questions. Trump yelled and hurled insults while Biden tried to defend himself and not get dragged into a screaming match. No one wants to see a sitting President portrayed in a bad light, but at times our current President makes it very difficult not to — and this debate was one of them. Even if he made a valid point — the rudeness, bullying, and constant arrogance were too much for most to stomach. At times, Biden was forced to yell back at Trump to get a word in edgewise.
Yet again, on a national stage, Trump refused to denounce white supremacy and far-right extremist organizations. Instead, he stumbled over his words and chose to deflect blame onto what he called “a left-wing problem.” According to independent fact-checkers, while most of Biden’s claims were at least based on some semblance of truth, Trump had outright lied several times that night. The debate was a victory for the Biden campaign for two main reasons. The first is that Trump’s behavior made him look bad and further alienated left-leaning voters and many independents. The second reason is likely more significant and pivotal to the election itself. Biden presented himself as extraordinarily Presidential, being tough when he had to be and remaining well-spoken and within his social graces even when his opponent couldn’t.
This debate did not likely change the minds of voters who were leaning one way or the other already, as there was nothing new to be learned from the event. Both Trump and Biden were exactly who the American people already perceived them to be before they took that stage.
COVID-19 has made its way into the political arena a lot this year, and the first debate was no different. According to Chris Wallace, before the debate he had a heated exchange with Steve Cortes, Trump reelection campaign advisor, over the first family’s refusal to wear face masks and social distance. Cortes defended the families actions, according to Wallace, saying that everyone in the room had been tested and that the Trump campaign believes in some element of personal freedom and individual choice.
This incident takes on a whole new level of importance as President Trump subsequently announced that he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for COVID-19, just four days after the debate. Consequently, Trump would spend a weekend at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for observation and treatment. He has since returned to not just the White House, but the Oval Office.
For Biden’s part, his reserved Presidential persona served him well as he removed any negative campaign ads and sent prayers and well wishes to the Trump family during their time of need. Trump contracting the coronavirus creates new problems for the second Presidential Debate, scheduled to be held on Thursday, October 15, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.
The Commission on Presidential Debates has introduced new safety measures going into the next debate, including measures such as distancing the candidates twelve feet apart instead of seven and enforcing masking policies as well as other health-based safety protocols. According to the commission, there are likely to be further rule changes to the underlying format in an attempt to limit excessive outbursts and interruptions.
Trump and his aides have signaled that they will reject these changes and may refuse to participate in future debates if the campaign’s demands are not met. Biden’s camp wants to participate in future debates as long as President Trump has a clean bill of health. There is no telling with the most explosive President in United States history what the next Presidential Debate, if there even is one, will bring.
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