Chaos spells confusion for undecided voters in first presidential debate


President Donald J. Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden spar on the stage at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH, on September 29, 2020. AFP via Getty Images – PHOTOGRAPHER


     That’s the only appropriate word to characterize what transpired at the first presidential debate on September 29, 2020. ABC News’ Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl called the showdown “a mess of interruptions [and] petty insults…” 

     This seemed to be the universal consensus following a night of frustration. 

     Broadcasted live from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, this debate differed greatly from debates of the past. With the threat of COVID-19 ever present, the moderator, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, explained that a variety of precautions were in order to ensure the safety of the event. These precautions included a limited capacity audience, strict social distancing, and mandatory masks and negative COVID-19 tests for attendees. Most notably, the candidates were forced to forgo the handshake of mutual respect that traditionally occurs before the debate. 

     President Donald Trump and former Vice President (VP) Joe Biden sparred over a variety of contentious issues, with a strong focus on the recent Supreme Court vacancy, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the fate of the Affordable Care Act. Wallace opted not to fact-check throughout the course of the night, an unorthodox decision. 


Supreme Court Nomination

     The night began with a question regarding President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. President Trump was asked to defend his position on confirming her seat so close to an election, and was also asked to comment on where he anticipated she would take the Supreme Court in the future. He responded by emphasizing his trust in her abilities, citing her record and highlighting her success as both a student and a professor at Notre Dame Law School. 

     Former Vice President Biden turned the conversation to focus on Coney Barrett’s stances on the issues, ranging from her criticism of the Affordable Care Act to her opposition of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Biden argued against her confirmation, referencing the thousands of ballots that have already been cast as indication that the winner of the election should determine the nominee. 



     The conversation quickly turned to the Affordable Care Act. President Trump accused former VP Biden of planning to eliminate private healthcare, which Biden vehemently denied.

     In response, former VP Biden highlighted a growing reliance on the Affordable Care Act throughout the pandemic and argued that expanding affordable healthcare would allow for lower income populations to receive higher quality care.



     Despite these initial battles, the key topic of debate was the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. When asked why the public should trust him in handling the public health crisis, former VP Biden touched on the statistics behind COVID-19 and its spread in the United States, criticizing President Trump for his response to the pandemic and suggesting that COVID-19 relief funds need to be allocated to small businesses and public schools. 

     President Trump responded to former VP Biden’s remarks by shifting blame to China and posing questions as to the validity of data gathered from other East and South Asian regions. He also defended his stance on reopening the economy.


     Throughout the rest of the debate, topics such as climate change, racial injustice, and violent protests were probed as well, but constant interference and aggressive banter led those conversations to few meaningful results. 

     Highlands senior Ellie Rowland reflected on the debate. “If I were a voter, I’d be upset because I came to the debate wanting to hear issues discussed that mattered to me as a voter, and I feel like that was hard to separate from the other commentary and made our political system look like a joke.”

     The role of moderator Wallace was scrutinized heavily as well. 

     Sophomore Eyan Martinez remarked, “I felt like [Wallace] was kind of biased towards one of the candidates, and he would interrupt one candidate more than the other… I think if they would’ve chosen a better moderator or if he had done a better job, the debate would’ve run smoother overall.”

     While the role of the presidential debate is to persuade undecided voters, many in the political sphere have pondered the efficacy of this year’s debate based upon the polarized state of the nation. Frequent interruptions only reinforced this query, as policy discussion often devolved into personal attacks. 

     Government teacher Megan Boimann-Hennies questioned whether or not the debate would serve its purpose in swaying undecided voters.

     “I think at this point in the 2020 election, the number of undecided voters is relatively low, and so this debate probably just confirmed what people were already feeling was going to be the person that they were going to vote for. If anything for undecided voters, I think it’ll bring up the question of what we expect personality-wise from our presidential candidate.”

     In essence, it was difficult to decipher the candidates’ positions on the issues, but their respective personalities shone through. With votes already being cast, it is up to voters to decide which candidate best represents them and their beliefs. The next presidential debate will be held in Miami, Florida, on October 15 and broadcast live at 9 P.M.