Breakdowns, Bickering, and Bewildering: The First Presidential Debate Unpacked

No matter what side of the aisle you are on, what beliefs you hold, or which presidential candidate (if any) you are supporting, the prospect of sitting down to watch Vice President Biden and President Trump talk over each other for an hour and a half can feel daunting. I have decided to boil it down and summarize it in as fun and painless a way as possible. 

First of all, moderator Chris Wallace had to interrupt the candidates several times to bring order back. He cut Trump off in one instance and insisted, “I am the moderator of this debate and I’d like you to let me ask my question?” Trump replied, “I guess I’m debating you, not him.” He prompted Trump to finish one of his points with a simple, “We’re done, sir.” 

Overall, the debate was painful to watch. Commentators referred to it as simply “the shouting in Cleveland.” Both candidates interrupted each other frequently, as well as moderator Chris Wallace. Both men questioned the morality of the others’ families, as well as each other’s honesty, intelligence, and capability to hold this office. After bickering back and forth, Biden surmised that this should not be, “About my family or his family, it’s about your family.”

President Trump addressed The New York Times dropping an unofficial copy of his tax returns, revealing he only paid 750 dollars in federal taxes for the first time. He denied this claim and insisted he pays “millions of dollars” in federal taxes each year. Biden insisted that this behavior is unacceptable and that as President he will, “Eliminate Trump tax cuts.”

In response to Trump’s claims about his son’s involvement with Russian government officials, Biden continued to repeat, “That is simply not true...that report is totally discredited.” In response to Trump’s interruptions, Biden announced, “He doesn’t wanna let me answer because he knows I have the truth.” After a particularly frustrating talking point, Biden asked of Trump, “Will you shut up, man?”

“You make up a lot of things,” insisted Trump in response to Biden quoting one of his stances. He also insisted Biden had “lost the left” by telling the American people that they could keep a private health insurance option. Biden countered this claim by announcing, “I am the Democratic party.”

Trump defended his Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, saying she is “good in every way...as good as anybody who has served on that court” and that “we won the election and therefore we have the right to choose her.” Biden responded with, “we should wait and see what the outcome of this election is.”

While answering the question of climate change policy, Trump deflected the question and blamed it on “California’s forest management” and Biden set forth a plan containing policy: “I will rejoin Paris accord.” He went on to explain that, “nobody’s gonna build another coal or oil plant in America...there will be 500,000 charging stations on the new roads we will build” and that “we can get to net zero in terms of energy production by 2035, creating millions of good paying jobs.”

When asked, Trump refused to condemn white supremacy. In turn, Biden called him out for his comments in Charlottesville. He announced, “all these dog whistles and racism don’t work anymore.” Biden also called out the rhetoric Trump uses about veterans, proclaiming, “the people left behind were not losers, they were heroes” and Trump followed this statement up by asking, “Are they?”

Towards the end of the debate, Trump and Biden discussed their legacies and why the American people can trust them. Trump claimed, “There has never been a president who has done more than I have done in 3 ½ years” while Biden emphasized the COVID 19 deaths under Trump’s administration, saying, “We've become weaker, sicker, poorer, more divided.” He added, ”We inherited a recession and we fixed it...he caused a recession.”

Finally, the presidential candidates argued the role of mail-in ballots in the 2020 election. Biden instructed people to make a voting plan and emphasized that mail-in ballots are legitimate and must be voted in via mail. He added that this is the way Trump votes. “Show up and vote, you will determine the outcome in this election,” Biden urged the viewing public. 

Trump countered by calling the mail-in ballots “a disaster.” He claimed that these ballots get lost and are a disadvantage to him. Also, he claimed that Democrats “cheat.” Biden was asked if he would wait to accept the results until verified and without hesitation, he agreed. He asked the American people, of Republicans mailing in their ballots (including President Trump), ''Why is it for them not fraudulent?” 

Admittedly, both candidates are flawed and far from perfect. However, it seems that even the most undecided of voters could get a glimpse into where each man would take the presidency, and hopefully, that will make their decision easier.