Candidates Spar in Explosive First Presidential Debate


Candidates Spar in Explosive First Presidential Debate 

The Presidential race heated up Tuesday night as President Donald J. Trump and Former Vice President Joe Biden met for the first of three debates of the 2020 campaign.  The event was sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates and was held on the campus of Case-Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.  The debate moderator, Chris Wallace, decided the roughly six topics covered in 15 minute segments and at times, seemed to struggle to maintain control.  COVID-19 health and safety protocols prohibited the candidates from shaking hands as they walked onto the stage, and there seemed to be no love lost.

The first question of the night was about President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett.  Barrett is a federal appellate judge, Notre Dame law professor and has Memphis ties as a Rhode’s College graduate.  Moderator Wallace asked Trump about his decision to nominate Barrett this close to an election and Trump responded,”I will tell you very simply, we won the election.  Elections have consequences.  We (Republicans) have the Senate.  We have the White House, and we have a phenomenal nominee, respected by all…in fact some of her biggest endorsers are very liberal people.”  To that, Biden responded, “The American people have a right to have a say into who the Supreme Court nominee is, and that say occurs when they vote for a United States senator or when they vote for the President of the United States.  They are not going to get that chance now because we are in the middle of an election already.  The election has already started.  Tens of thousands of people have already voted.”  That may have been the most cordial exchange between the two candidates for the rest of the night as the debate quickly spiraled into chaos with both candidates interrupting each other countless times during the night. 

The second question of the night dealt with healthcare and how the Trump administration and 18 Attorneys General are seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.  Frustration was evident when President Trump argued with Wallace as he struggled to ask his question on details of Trump’s plan to replace it.   Trump shot back with, “First of all, I guess I’m debating you, not him, but that’s ok.  I’m not surprised.”  Trump touted his stance on cutting prescription drug prices and Biden mentioned his plan to promote Medicaid expansion.  After the first of many contentious exchanges between the two candidates, Biden asserted,”Here’s the deal, the fact is that everything he’s saying so far is simply a lie.  I’m not here to call out his lies, everybody knows that he’s a liar.”

Trump’s strategy in the debate seemed to not only frustrate Biden at times, but also the moderator.  At one point, Wallace seemed to scold both candidates and specifically call out Trump, “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.”  Trump responded, “And him too?” To which Wallace answered, “Well, frankly you’ve been doing more interrupting.” 

The debate continued to be an argument for the rest of the night on vital topics like the American response to COVID-19, the economy and racial unrest.  There was more name-calling than details on policy as both candidates seemed angry and frustrated for the one and a half hour debate.  It was difficult to declare a clear winner in this first debate, the New York Times describing it as:  “Both he (Donald Trump) and Joe Biden lobbed personal attacks and expressed a level of acrid contempt for each other unheard-of in modern American politics.”  Biden slammed, “You are the worst President that America has ever had,” and Trump returning, “Let me just say this, Joe, that I’ve done more in 47 months than you have done in 47 years.”  

Biden’s campaign announced that it raised $3.8 million between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Tuesday night, breaking its single-hour fundraising record.  The latest fundraising numbers are from National Public Radio on September 20, 2020 and show Biden has raised $990 million to Trump’s $1.33 billion.