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  • Raghav Sand

First 2020 US Presidential debate fails to impress


The first presidential debate for the quadrennial US elections concluded in a predictable manner. It failed to give a sense of direction to the voters sitting on the fence. The debate had few discussions on policy matters as personal barbs took centre stage. There has been a lot of bad blood between President Donald Trump (Republican) and former Vice-President Joe Biden (Democratic) on a range of topics.

The topics upon which they deliberated were:

  1. The Trump and Biden records;

  2. The Supreme Court;

  3. Covid-19;

  4. The economy;

  5. Race and violence in American cities; and

  6. The integrity of elections.

Restriction for debate audience

The debate took place at Case Western Reserve’s health-education campus in Cleveland. In compliance with social distancing norms, the debate hall had special seating arrangements. Family, friends and senior advisors of both candidates had twenty seats in the front of the stage. The remaining seats, approximately 170, were half full; these numbers were 1/10th of the audience numbers in past elections.

President Donald Trump – Republican Party Presidential candidate

Supreme Court nomination

The moderator of debate Chris Wallace, a presenter from Fox News, asked the candidates to put forth their view on filling the vacancy in Supreme Court so close to the election. President Trump said: “We won the election, elections have consequences. We have the senate, we have the White House, we have a phenomenal nominee.” He added, “Therefore, we have the right to choose her.” Mr. Biden went in to the specifics and said: “We should wait and see what the outcome of the election is”.

Health care

Mr. Biden has expressed apprehension regarding Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s position on a number of issues. He warned that confirmation of Justice Comey could overturn Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. A week after election-day, the US Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a lawsuit on November 10, in which Obamacare may get struck down. As far as Mr. Trump was concerned, he did not get in to the specifics of his healthcare plan, but said: “I am cutting drug prices.”

Clown town

President Trump repeatedly sparred with Mr. Wallace, the moderator of the debate. In one instance, Wallace had to raise the tone of his voice and say: “Mr. President, I am the moderator of the debate, and I would like you to let me ask a question.”

This tactic to engage with the moderator could have been an attempt to destabilize Mr. Biden and make it difficult to have a meaningful discourse; it restricted Mr. Biden’s effort to get on the offensive. At one point, looking at the camera, Mr. Biden said: “Do you have any idea what this clown is doing?” A few moments later Mr. Biden asked President Trump, “Will you shut up man?”

Biden corners Trump on Covid-19

Mr. Biden charged President Trump of spreading misinformation and poor handling of the pandemic. He added, “The President has no plan”. In a recent interview about the US death toll from the pandemic, which has now topped 205000, Mr. Trump said, “It is under control as much as you can control it”. In the concluding remarks on this subject, Mr. Biden reminded Mr. Trump of his flip-flop on the efficacy of wearing a mask.

President Trump tried to counter Mr. Biden’s accusations by saying that the virus was a problem created by China and they along with Russia and India have been underreporting positive cases and deaths.

Former VP Joe Biden – Democratic Party Presidential candidate

Campaigning in current times

President Trump defended his position on holding rallies without paying heed to social distancing guidelines. “People want to hear what I have to say”, he said, when asked why he continues to hold rallies. Mr. Trump labelled Mr. Biden as overly circumspect.


President Trump has hailed his presidency as the greatest economy in the history. US GDP rose at a 3% rate from the year earlier in 2018; this was largely due to the tax cuts. The unemployment rate in 2019 came down to the lowest level since 1960’s. The Covid-19 pandemic erased gains in the employment numbers as the US economy shrunk at a 31.7% rate in the second quarter of 2020. After 22 million jobs were lost in March and April, employers have been able to add 11 million jobs since May.

Family and race

Both the candidates, President Trump and Mr. Biden, do not have an impressive record when it comes to members of their family being dragged in unpleasant controversies. Their position on issues of race have been well documented and has changed as per convenience. This is a topic both candidates can go on and on, forever, and they will still not reach at a conclusion. The American voters have accepted them for who they are, and see them mostly as a choice between a rock and a hard place.

Hopes from future debates

President Trump and former Vice-President Biden will have to lay out policies and purpose in the upcoming debates. By deflecting from important issues, and resorting to personal mud slinging, they will be doing great disservice to Americans.

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