An unprecedented presidential debate

Noah Metz, R1 News Editor

On Sept. 29, the first debate for the upcoming 2020 presidential election took place: Republican nominee President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee former Vice President Joe Biden went head to head at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. The debate was moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace. The preset topics, in order, were the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, income tax, race, the Trump and Biden records, and voter integrity. Between the interrupting, name-calling and lying, many, including WHS Social Studies Teacher Daniel Farabaugh, considered it the “Worst presidential debate [he] had ever seen.”

Nobody won, both guys gave a horrible performance of just yelling at each other.”

— Russell Cohen '21

Within the first minute of the debate, the nominees went off-topic and started yelling over each other. At times, it became difficult to understand what was being discussed, as Trump and Biden did whatever necessary to get their points across. 

Additionally, the debaters delivered many personal insults. Toward the end of the Supreme Court segment, after he was constantly interrupted, Biden asked Trump, “Will you just shut up, man?” Biden later called Trump a racist, clown, and “The worst president ever.” After going off-topic and mentioning Biden’s university grades, Trump said, “There is nothing smart about you, Joe.” Trump also attacked Biden’s son, Hunter, by mentioning his struggle with drug addiction in the past. This prompted an emotional reaction from Biden, as he said, “My son like a lot of people at home had a drug problem. He’s overtaking it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him, I’m proud of my son.” These comments were just the tip of the iceberg for what became a long, arduous night for many viewers.

One of the defining moments of the debate came when Trump was asked by Wallace “To condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down.” 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.” Many viewers interpreted this as a direction to take action to the Proud Boys, a far-right neo-fascist group. The group embraced this comment as a show of support from the President. President of the WHS Democrats Club, Henry Stewart believes that Trump’s rhetoric will lead to violence in the near future. Stewart said, “White supremacists will be the ones committing violence after the election. The fact that he told them to stand by makes them very excited.”

Trump was disruptive throughout the debate, making many misleading and false claims. For example, Trump said that he is getting “Insulin so cheap, it’s like water.” Insulin is a high demand drug for those who suffer from diabetes, as it helps cells absorb sugar to use as energy. The current cost is around $275 per vial. Trump also said that he is paying millions of dollars in federal income tax, which disputes a report from The New York Times, that stated Trump paid only $750 in federal income tax in 2016 and 2017.

Biden, who has held national office for more than 40 years, pivoted many high-pressure questions, giving misleading answers at times during the debate. When Wallace asked Biden if he would support ending the filibuster or adding more justices to the Supreme Court to offset its current conservative majority, Biden did not answer the question, saying “Whatever position I take on that, that’ll become the issue… I’m not going to answer the question.

Wallace was shameful and weak. He failed to get control of the debate especially during key moments for each candidate.”

— Enrico Basso

Additionally, Biden stated during the debate that he did not support the Green New Deal, a plan to combat climate change that could cost tens of trillions of dollars. However, Biden’s campaign website itself says that the Green New Deal is “a crucial framework” in fighting climate change.

While Trump and Biden’s antics stole the show, many were also underwhelmed by Wallace’s performance. Some on the right thought Wallace sided with Biden and interrupted Trump. Others on the left felt Wallace did not do enough to control Trump. U.S. History and AP Government Teacher Enrico Basso said, “Wallace was shameful and weak. He failed to get control of the debate especially during key moments for each candidate.”

Usually, after a debate, viewers and newscasters alike decide who they thought won or performed the best overall. Despite the divisive nature of modern politics, most Americans agreed on the fact that there was no clear winner in this debate. Jake Tapper of CNN called the debate a “Hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.”

 Similarly, Senior Russell Cohen said, “Nobody won, both guys gave a horrible performance of just yelling at each other.”

After an unmanageable first presidential debate, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that “additional tools to maintain order are in place for the remaining debates.” The next debate is scheduled to take place on Oct. 15.