First presidential debate quickly goes off the rails


President Donald Trump gestures while speaking during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Zach Yearwood, Managing Editor

Misleading statements, personal attacks and incomprehensible yelling in Tuesday night’s presidential debate gave people a glimpse of what the lead-up to Nov. 3 will look like — and reminded us that the campaigns will likely get uglier.

In what was more akin to an incoherent shouting match than a debate, both presidential candidates spent more time trying to speak over the other than talking about substantive policy to move the country forward.

Both candidates came into the night with their own strategies. Mr. Trump’s plan was to appear tough and like a strongman, which led to him interrupting often and name-calling.

 Biden largely tried to ignore Trump’s rhetoric and bring focus on the point that the current president does not appear to have a plan. He did, however, end up calling the president a clown, a liar, and a racist.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden gestures while speaking during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The moderator of the first presidential debate, Chris Wallace, had to cut off both President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden multiple times to remind them that the “American people would rather hear about more substantial subjects.”

Although he did call out both candidates for interrupting one another, Wallace had to spend more time getting the president to be quiet, which he even said himself.

In that segment, you each are going to have two uninterrupted moments. In those two interrupted minutes, Mr. President, you can say anything you want,” Wallace said. “…But I think that the country would be better served, if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions. I’m appealing to you, sir, to do that.”

After Mr. Trump contested Wallace’s statement, the Fox News host said “Well, frankly, you’ve been doing more interrupting than he has.”

The night began with the first of Wallace’s six topics — the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, the president’s Supreme Court replacement for the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg — but quickly veered off toward multiple tangential issues including the Affordable Care Act and Roe v. Wade.

Both candidates were asked the same questions and given two minutes uninterrupted to respond, then the floor would be open for back-and-forth debate. At least, that was how the debate was intended to be conducted.

Instead, viewers got to watch Chris Wallace try (and rarely succeed) to interrupt the verbal squabble like a teacher separating two children fighting on the playground.

The other segments included COVID, the economy, race relations in the United States, the Trump and Biden records and the integrity of the election.

Some key moments from the night include President Trump not only refusing to denounce white supremacy, but also telling Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” Another came when Biden said, “right now, I am the Democratic Party,” when speaking about where the party currently stands on healthcare.

Donald Trump’s attacks on Joe Biden got personal. When Biden was speaking about the president’s record of disrespect toward the military, he brought up his deceased son, Beau, who served.

The president attacked the former vice president’s other son, Hunter, falsely claiming that he was dishonorably discharged from the military for cocaine use. 

“I don’t know Beau. I know Hunter. Hunter got thrown out of the military. He was thrown out, dishonorably discharged… For cocaine use,” Trump said.

Arguably the most difficult job of the night was for live fact-checkers, as both candidates gave numerous false or misleading claims.

The first presidential debate served as an excellent lesson for students in speech or debate classes on how not to conduct a debate. In a way, it also highlighted the extent of the polarization that this country has undergone in the last several years.


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