Clarion reacts to 2020’s first Presidential debate


Ali Beatty

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden squared off in 2020’s first Presidential debate on September 29th.

Liam Mathews, Paul Proteau, and Ava Kopecky

On Tuesday, September 29th, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden engaged in the 2020 Presidential Elections first debate, at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. The debate was moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News. In a debate marred by interruptions, and a complete disregard for the rules, which had already been agreed upon by both parties, Trump and Biden sparred over issues such as the Coronavirus pandemic, race, the economy, climate change, the Supreme Court, their experience levels, and the election’s integrity. Below is a breakdown of the debate, divided by section.

SCOTUS: Given the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which has become a new key issue on the campaign lines, Wallace chose to kick off the debate on the topic. Wallace asks both candidates the simple question on why they were right in the vacancy argument. Trump takes a very calm approach at first, mainly discussing how Republicans won the 2016 election (as well as making gains in the Senate during the 2018 midterms) which he uses as justification to push Barrett through the Senate onto the court. Trump also discusses how qualified his appointee, Amy Coney Barrett, is while citing a Notre Dame professor. Trump takes a slight jab at Democratic lawmakers but nothing over the top, Biden’s response argues that the Senate should wait until after the election. The debate is fine for about two more minutes, Biden then takes the attack to Trump on his view of the Affordable Care Act, this is where it begins to get chaotic. 

This is where Trump begins to brandish Biden as a “socialist”, it’s typical Trump rhetoric at this point to pick on Democratic opponents with this narrative. It’s rhetoric that makes gains for Trump in certain areas, as it allows him to attack the left-ward shift in the Democratic party toward socialized medicine and some support for getting rid of private healthcare. Though I find it to be propaganda and cringey at times, it’s one of his best strategies. By calling Biden a “socialist”, Trump opens up two paths for Biden to take.

It’s no secret that the Democratic nomination was a battle between socialism and moderates and I believe Trump is right when during the debate he said it best with:

”If [Elizabeth Warren (MA-D)] would have [Dropped out of the race] two days early you would have lost every primary,” Trump said,”On Super Tuesday, you (directed at Biden) got very lucky.” 

Though I don’t believe he would’ve lost every primary, I believe he would have had less success or even lost some states that night such as Maine, Massachusetts, and even Texas. 

Repeatedly calling a Biden a socialist forces Biden to take a rebuttal against it, rather than embracing it, Biden pushes it off. This will help him with moderate voters but could take a toll on the left-wing of the Democratic party. 

This segment as a whole is constantly filled with interruptions from Trump and sparring between him and Wallace. This was the point in the debate (not even a third of the way into the debate) when I realized this was going to turn into a shouting contest in a little while. 

As the debate continues, the healthcare issue remains a prevalent theme of this segment. This is a front on which the Democrats tend to do a decent job with, I think Biden did a good job with taking the debate to an issue that hits closer with the voters instead of taking an approach of attacking the GOP-controlled Senate for their double-standard on filling a Justice vacancy in an election year. The healthcare issue was a big hit for the Democrats in the 2018 midterms. Two congressional seats in our surrounding area (IL06 and IL14) were flipped into Democratic control because both Democrat nominees hit hard on the healthcare issue. 

Biden however deflected the questions of court packing and ending the filibuster. 

COVID-19: The COVID-19 Pandemic has greatly changed the nation and the world over the last seven months, so it is understanbly a major issue in this election. While there was a specific section dedicated to the candidates strategies for dealing with Coronavirus, that issue spilled over into many of the other topics. Biden continually attacked Trump on his handling of the pandemic, specifically how long it took for Americans to have access to PPE equipment and his quickness to bring the country out of lockdown. Biden also cited the over 200,00 COVID deaths in the U.S., blaming Trump for the massive loss of life. The former Vice President looked directly into the camera, and asked Americans about how they had been affected by COVID, attempting to convince them that re-electing President Trump would only make things worse.

How many of you got up this morning and had an empty chair at the kitchen table because someone died of COVID?” Biden said.

Throughout the debate, Trump attempted to avoid questions about the pandemic, constantly attempting to shove blame to Biden. The President often presented a hypothetical situation where Bidens’ policies would have resulted in more deaths had he been President. Trump also claimed that if Biden is elected, he will ruin the economy by sending the country back into lockdown, and claiming that the former Vice President, “doesn’t have a plan.”

This section was particularly volatile, as Trump continued to speak over both Biden and Wallace, and level baseless attacks against his opponent.

Economy:  One of Trump’s greatest accomplishments pre-COVID was his economy. Though it has been recovering just as Wallace says, Biden challenges the economy by bringing in new ideas and addressing social issues within the economy. 

Trump uses his China rhetoric, referring to COVID-19 as the “China Plague”, which isn’t much of a surprise to anyone. While Trump took the attack to Democrats on shutting down the economy, Biden took a shot at the president for leaving small businesses in the dust, citing that one of six small businesses shut down during the outbreak.

The conversation moves his way into the recent report concerning Trump’s taxes, where Biden doesn’t hold back on attacks. While criticizing the Trump tax cuts, Biden asks a question to the working class.

“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?” Biden said. 

Trump and Biden then get into a sparring match on new reports indicating Trump had only paid $750 in income tax in 2016 and 2017. Trump refutes saying he paid $27 and $38 million, respectively, for those two years. This argument goes on until Biden refers to Trump as, “the worst president America has ever had”. Trump rebuttals by saying he has done more for the country in 47 months than what Biden has done in 47 years in politics. 

Biden then makes the comments about how he intends on raising the corporate tax from 21% to 28%, so that companies will pay their fair share in taxes. 

The economy segment was similar to the Democratic talking points made in the primaries concerning how not every American was sharing in the prosperity of the economy. All the while Trump stands by his economy saying it’s working for the American people. This segment was one of the lesser controversial subjects and it was an area where both candidates seemed to draw. No candidate gained here, Biden mentioned raising taxes which will make conservatives, people in the corporate sector, and some moderates feel uneasy, but it should help with the liberal wing of the party. As for Trump, he has a lot of brag about the economy, where a lot of voters feel like he has handled it well. 

Race: As the nation erupted with outrage due to the recent victims of police brutality, it was relevant for Wallace to bring up the topic of race, city violence, and law enforcement. As Biden addresses the situation, he brings up the values of equity and equality, and that he firmly believes in the systemic racism deeply rooted in the education system, the law enforcement system, and other systems in the country.

In my opinion, this was probably one of Biden’s strongest points of the debate, mostly because you could hear him speaking without Trump talking over him.

When Biden was asked if he believed in defunding the police, Biden went on to talk about how he does not want to defund the police, however, he wants to increase funding in order to provide other services, such as psychologists, to relevant situations

I think Biden essentially agrees with the people who want to defund the police, because what they want is to defund them in order to provide other services. From what it seems like, Biden would include them as a part of the law enforcement, evidently increasing their funding. 

Trump was then questioned on why he discontinued race sensitivity training, and he answers, because it was “racist.” Biden comes for Trump’s statement, saying that talking about cultural and racial diversity, and training officers how to deal with what makes certain groups of people comfortable is important.

As Trump talks over Biden for a good few minutes, Wallace then asks Trump if he condemns white supremacy, which is where things start to take a turn.

Trump essentially says that he will condemn them, but to “stand by on that.” As he goes on to say, “Somebody needs to do something about ANTIFA and the left.”

My initial reaction was like wow, did he really just say that? It would have been so easy to say that you condemn them first and foremost. My final take away just assumed he thinks the left wing is a bigger problem than white supremacy groups, I guess. And he essentially said it on television loud and clear. If he thought white supremacists were a problem, which was the initial question, why try and one-up them on ANTIFA, when ANTIFA and the left had nothing to do with Wallace’s question? It just does not make sense.

Biden then goes on to defend the left, and they obviously, go back and forth endlessly.

Experience: Though Trump attacks Biden on experience with the “47 years vs 47 months” comment during the economy segment, the experience segment can be seen as a climax of the debate. Not even for the topic at all but for what was said concerning the candidates family.

 Trump went over his accomplishments, VA reform, confirming judges, rebuilding the military, creating a space force, etc. This prompts Biden to go on the offensive, attacking the Trump presidency.

“Under this president, we’ve become weaker, sicker, poorer, more divided, and more violent.” Biden said.

Biden then goes on to back his record as Vice President for his handling of The Great Recession. Biden then refers to Trump as Putin’s puppet. Trump attempts to snap at him but is held back by Wallace. 

Trump eventually made his way to attacking Hunter Biden in a very brutal attack. Hunter Biden has been made a target by some Republicans over his life choices such as shady business dealings (some conspiracies and some true), substance-addiction, and having a child with an Arkansas woman (whom he had while in a relationship with his late-brother Beau’s widow.)

Trump struck and struck hard at Hunter. Firstly, he accused Hunter of being dishonorably discharged from the US Navy. This was a false claim made by the president. Though it is true Hunter Biden failed a drug test for cocaine a month before being administratively discharged. 

“Hunter got thrown out of the military. He was thrown out, dishonorably discharged for cocaine use,” Trump said.

This was probably the lowest attack Trump could’ve made against Biden, attacking Biden’s son over his addiction. This was a very classless attack, sure it may have inflicted some damage on some of Biden, but overall it was a very inappropriate remark made by Trump. To add more fuel to the fire, Trump seemingly snubbing Biden’s other son Beau, who was the former Delaware attorney general and an Iraq War veteran, was also another harsh moment of this segment. 

That was the big jaw-drop of the night. Though it may have helped Trump fire up the core base with this rhetoric, it was a very classless attack that may have upset moderates and moderate-Republicans alike. By going after a former drug addict, Trump’s attack might help Biden in certain key states such as New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, two states hit hard with the opioid epidemic. 

Climate Change: Wallace transitions by saying that he would like to talk about climate change, with the West Coast struggling with forest fires, he asks Trump, “What do you believe about the science of climate change and what will you do in the next four years to confront it?”

Trump begins by talking about how he wants crystal clear air and water, and elaborates on how he thought the Paris Accord was a disaster from the start. He touches briefly on the science of climate change, saying that “he believes it to an extent.” Alright then… 

Trump begins to talk about how he thinks we need forest management, in order to clear out dead trees and plants which essentially aid in the spreading of the fires.

Wallace asks Trump on why he rolled back on the Obama Clean Power Plan, which limited carbon emissions in power plants. Trump responds by saying that it was bad for the economy because it was driving energy prices through the sky.

After Trump gets done talking about the economy yet again, Biden is asked about his $2 trillion proposal in new green jobs. He highlights what he is going to do for the state of our climate, proposing new ideas such as charging stations for electric cars, and emphasizes that the first thing he is going to do is rejoin the Paris Accord.

When Wallace asks Biden about where Trump has drawn the line, it inspires basically unintelligible talking over each other, Trump claiming that Biden’s plan will destroy the country, arguing back and forth, saying: “That’s not true!” “Yes it is!” and you know, the usual.

Wallace closes off by asking Biden if he supports the Green New Deal, to which Biden responds: “No, I don’t support the Green New Deal. I support the Biden plan that I put forward.” 

He elaborates: “The Biden plan, which is different than what he [Trump] calls the radical Green New Deal.”

Election Integrity: In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic many voters feel unsafe casting their votes in person, and will elect to vote by mail. President Trump has continually and baselessly attacked mail-in voting, and continually mentioned ballots being stuffed in garbage cans and thrown in rivers during the debate. While the President questioned the legitimacy of mail-in voting, Biden defended it. 

“No one has established at all that there is fraud related to mail-in ballots, that somehow it’s a fraudulent process,” Biden said.

During this section, Wallace asked the candidates if they would urge their supporters to remain calm while awaiting election results, as well as pledge not to declare victory early; while Biden promised to do so, Trump seemingly avoided the question.

“I hope it’s a fair election. If it’s a fair election, I’m 100% on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that,” Trump said.

This section, like pretty much all of the others, was marred by yelling, and Trump repeatedly talking over Biden. Frankly, the fact that this section was so contentious is absolutely ridiculous, there is absolutely no evidence which indicates that mail-in voting legitimizes the results of an election, the President was simply pulling information out of thin air.

While moderator Chris Wallace attempted to keep this debate civil, it often spilled over into yelling, as Trump continually talked over Biden, which prompted the Democratic nominee to call Trump a “clown” on multiple occasions, and plead with Wallace to get him to stop talking. Due to the constant interruptions, and contentious nature of the debate, many have called into question whether the remaining debates, scheduled for October 15th and 22nd, should even take place. CBS news reported that, if the remaining debates happen, the Commision for Presidential Debates will implement strict new rules, including giving the moderators the option to mute the candidates microphone if they disregard the rules. This debate clearly did not go as planned for either candidate, and it doesn’t seem that anyone won, but maybe America lost.