Sifting Through the Bickering: 2020 Presidential Debate

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The night of Tuesday, September 29 President Donald J. Trump and Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden Jr. faced the nation in the first presidential debate of the 2020 election. According to the rules of the debate, there were supposed to be six fifteen-minute segments, with each candidate having the opportunity to speak for two minutes on each question. The topics and questions discussed were chosen in advance by Chris Wallace, Fox News Anchor and debate moderator. 

The first topic of discussion was Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barret following the death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Trump nominated Barret on September 26, with only 38 days until the election. Biden argues that this action of President Trump is an abuse of power. Wallace asked both candidates to defend their position of why they are right.  

Trump, the first to speak on that matter, argued that “we won [the 2016 election], we have the right.” Under the Constitution, Trump is not wrong. Under Article II of the United States Constitution, the President has the authority to nominate a person to fill the vacancy. The nomination is then referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the nomination is either accepted or rejected.  

However, Biden brought up the notion that because of the increase in mail-in ballots this year, the election has already started, and therefore “we should wait”. He also brought up that the American people have the right to vote for their representation, especially considering what is at risk. If Barret were to be nominated, the court would be leaning right with six conservative justices. This would put left leaning bills like the Affordable Care Act, which insured almost 23 million Americans under the Obama Administration, in jeopardy. 

The first question of the night was roughly the only coherent question of the night. 

Straight from the get-go, President Trump came out as the aggressor, by speaking over Biden before he could respond fully to the first question. Chris Wallace, who before the debate stated he hoped to remain as “invisible as possible,” immediately had to interject. He then had to plead with the President, “you’re debating him, not me”.  Eventually, Wallace moved onto the next question in order to try and regain control of the debate. 

According to the Trump Administration believes that “Obamacare is hurting American families, farmers, and small businesses with skyrocketing health insurance costs.” Oftentimes Trump has spoken about replacing Obamacare, but has never put forth a definitive plan for the American people. The second question of the night was directed at the President asking him, “What is the Trump healthcare plan”? 

Trump claims that under his plan, prescription drug prices will drop. He never outlined a specific plan but he claimed that drug prices will be “cheap, it’s like water,” and promised the country “big stuff” under the unexplained healthcare plan.  According to, in theory, if he replaces Obamacare his new plan will “force insurance companies to compete for their customers with lower costs and higher-quality service”. 

Biden, who helped draft the Affordable Care Act as Vice President under the Obama Administration outlined a plan to build off of Obamacare. Biden explained that he wants to create a new public option similar to Medicare to help extend coverage to more working and lower income Americans. Although, Biden was never able to finish outlining his plan within his two minutes without Trump once again taking control of the debate. 

After numerous insults, incoherent arguing between Trump and Wallace, Biden turned to the camera and simply stated, “you have any idea what this clown is doing?” Biden managed to show his exasperation with the President, just sixteen minutes into the debate. 

On the issue of COVID-19 Wallace begged for both men to take the segment seriously. Suddenly a somber tone hit the stage when Wallace asked both candidates, why should we trust them with the responsibility of President during a global pandemic?

Biden took the obvious approach of outlining Trump’s current failures. Biden looked directly into the camera and spoke to the American people and pointed to the President, “He knew it was deadly… he panicked.” Biden put an emphasis on how Trump still doesn’t have a plan to combat the virus, while he had a plan laid out as early as July. Biden’s tactic is simple: “fund what needs to be done” according to his statement on Tuesday night.  

Trump immediately took the defensive and blamed China. He claims that “millions” would have died under Biden and that governors in hotspots said, “Trump did a phenomenal job.” According to Trump, he has done a better job with a COVID-19 vaccine than Biden did during the H1N1 2009 pandemic. He also said that far fewer people are dying because he got “the [medical] gowns and more ventilators”. Referencing the efforts of his administration in retrieving more PPE equipment and ventilators for American hospitals in April. The familiar argument of “fake news” was to blame for the bad coverage of Trump’s handling of the pandemic.  

Both men bickered before Wallace once again moved onto the next question to regain control. But this failed once Biden dropped the word “smart” in reference to trusting the experts when it comes to COVID-19. 

After a slight tangent from Trump, Biden was faced with the question: “why are you more reluctant to open up the country?” The question wasn’t really answered. Biden immediately pointed the finger at Trump, saying, “he doesn’t have a plan.” The constant interjections began to get to Biden and both of them were attacking each other. Trump made fun of Biden for always wearing a mask, while Biden defended the effectiveness of them. Biden called Trump’s rallies “irresponsible” due to their size and lack of social distancing, and Trump claimed “we’ve had no negative effect.” Even though according to The New York Times, CNN, and the Washington Post, the surge of COVID-19 cases in Tulsa “most likely” was linked to Trump’s Tulsa rally two weeks prior. The two very opposite opinions on handling the virus were highlighted by the sheer lack of organization and slander of each other. 

Wallace, obviously desperate, moved onto the economy and Trump’s taxes, which were leaked by the New York Times just the day before the debate. Wallace wanted to clarify to the American people, “Is it true that Donald Trump had only paid 750 dollars in income tax in the 2016-2017 tax year?” 

According to Trump, “I paid millions of income tax” and “we go through laws– that’s what it is.” He claims that he is incredibly smart for exploiting the tax code and that there is nothing wrong with the President of the United States paying less in taxes than the common American. Biden had released his own tax returns just hours before the debate, showing that he and his wife, Jill, paid more than 300,000 dollars in federal income tax last year (for comparison). 

On the issues of race, Biden and Trump also differ drastically. When asked about racial injustice in America today, Biden answered simply with the premise of “Equity and Equality” under our Constitution. And when asked if the acquittal of the officers who killed Breonna Taylor was a sign of systematic racism, Biden answered with the “bad apple” argument. He also clearly stated that he is opposed to defunding the police, and he instead wishes to provide more assistance.   

Trump, on the other hand, never truly addressed the issue of race in America. Instead he referred to the people protesting as “super predators”, and that his deployment of the National Guard on protests “got back Seattle.” Nevertheless, Trump used the issue of race to enhance his position of law and order, but he never addressed why protestors are out on the streets in the first place. 

Climate change was another point of massive disagreement. According to Trump we have the “lowest carbon, crystal water and air”. The fires in California were caused by the lack of forest management and not a deep rooted issue of climate change. 

Biden has a more developed plan to deal with the crisis of climate change. Biden’s goal is to create more jobs in a clean energy economy, and bring down the costs of renewable energy so it is more accessible to the common American. Biden’s plan is different from the Green New Deal, but in ways they are similar by making the economy safer through a new green infrastructure. He wants to come up with the money globally by rejoining the Paris Agreement that Trump backed out of in 2017. Biden also wants to install more car charging stations throughout the country and develop only energy efficient homes and businesses throughout his presidency. But Biden made it very clear, “I support the Biden Plan… It is different from the Green New Deal”. 

The last segment of the debate revolved around the new election process we are experiencing in the year of COVID-19, mail-in ballot voting. Trump claims that the process is fraudulent and that the official count could take “weeks” to complete. Biden disagrees and encourages the American people to vote in a way that makes them feel safe. Wallace asked the candidates if they would accept the results of the election. 

Biden was very clear, “I will accept the results.” He then reiterated the importance of voting. He also encouraged his supporters to stay calm while ballots are being counted.

Trump repeated the familiar narrative that mail ballots are a disaster and fraudulent, but solicited ballots are okay. He claims that some people have received multiple ballots, or that ballots with his name on them have been found in trash cans across the country– there is no evidence to back those statements up. Trump also has urged his supporters to keep an eye out for fraudulent voting and never specifically told them to stay calm.  

The next presidential debate is scheduled for Thursday, October 15 at 9:00 PM EST. 

Because Trump tested positive for COVID-19 the Friday after the debate, there was a question of how and when the debate will happen. As of today, Sunday October 11, Trump is refusing to take part in a virtual debate, claiming that the format is “unacceptable.”  Biden will be holding a town hall with ABC News on October 15. The Biden campaign called to have a town hall style debate with Trump on October 22 instead so that Trump cannot “evade accountability.”