What’s Up with the Presidential Debates?

By Elle Baker

November 2, 2020

Even before the first Presidential Debate came to pass, most Americans had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen: complete and utter chaos. 

The first debate took place on September 29th at the Sheila and Eric Samson Pavilion in Cleveland, Ohio. At the beginning of the debate, many spectators and reporters had high hopes for civility between the two candidates, as they are both grown and educated men. With the very reasonable rules set by The Commission on Presidential Debates prior to the start of the debate including, two uninterrupted minutes of response time for both candidates, we can assume they were to be followed. Unfortunately, this was not the case. 

To be frank, both President Trump and Vice President Biden disregarded the simple rule of allowing their opponent to speak uninterrupted for two minutes following a prompted question, however, the President violated this rule many more times than Biden did. 

At times it seemed like all you could hear was bickering between two children over who could eat the last cookie, meaning one candidate talking loudly and obnoxiously over the other, with the moderator thrown in occasionally. Honestly, it was difficult to get a straight response from either respondent as some of their time to answer the question was simply spent making crude remarks about the other candidate, as well as, that candidate’s failure to properly react to the issue brought up by the moderator.  

In regards to the actual content covered, the topics ranged from the supreme court nomination to the environment and COVID-19. Even with the wide variety of pressing current issues with questions needed to be answered from both parties, neither gave the response spectators and reporters had hoped. Trump often gave half-answers, if any at all relating to the question, more often bashing Biden for things completely off-topic. Biden gave somewhat more of a structured response most times, however, it all seemed very vague and indirect at the end of it all. 

It is really hard to say who came out on top after  this first debate, but in terms of speaking to the people, many reporters and journalists would say Biden was able to reach folks at home to sway them to vote blue than Trump did to reassure his slowly diminishing followers and supporters.

Following this disaster of a “debate”, many were wary about the next one scheduled to have been on October 15th on an online platform now well known: Zoom. The president was uneasy about having an online debate, some say because he did not like the feature where his microphone could be turned off while he is speaking. 

Trump ended up refusing to have the debate online, a format considered by the Committee only because of his newly released contraction of the novel coronavirus at the beginning of October and the anticipated format of the second debate: a town hall meeting with questions from average voters, according to AP News. Following the president’s test release, the debate had been canceled and replaced by town hall meetings held by each candidate.

The interesting thing about this solution is that Trump decided it would be a good idea to hold his meeting at the exact same time as Biden, meaning the people had to choose which stream to watch. The reasoning behind this decision was Trump wanted to increase his ratings to be higher than Biden’s. Contrary to his hopes, Trump received nearly 2 million fewer views than Biden did, even while streaming on three different channels. Not quite sure if that was the outcome he was looking for, but ok Mr. Trump, whatever you want.

The nation is to receive a final presidential debate on October 22 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. With the previous issues regarding the candidates and the overall debates themselves, there were some changes made to the format of the final debate, including, the candidate whose turn it isn’t to speak will have his microphone cut off, according to Washington Post. Now there will be a feature for the moderator to stop the microphone of a candidate who is talking over their time limit or they are interrupting their opponent.

Additionally, another new rule has been made where anyone who removes their mask after entering the debate hall will be thrown out. This was added because many members of the Trump family did in fact wear masks to the first debate, but they took them off once they entered the building. To ensure the safety of everyone in that debate room, all spectators must wear their mask, regardless of their status in the room, with the exception of the two candidates and the moderator. 

With these new rules in mind, it was safe to say that the last Presidential Debate would be significantly better than the first, regardless of all of the chaos and uncertainty surrounding the debates this year. 

Following its conclusion, the debate was notably less chaotic and less finger-pointing than the previous debate. While in  the beginning, there seemed to be some usage of the muting of microphones, however, when it was really needed, it was not used at all. The first 50 minutes of the debate were well versed and considerably more civil than the entirety of the first debate. This being said, President Trump seemed to disregard his administration’s advice for the last 40 minutes of the debate, falling back into his interrupting, talking over his time limit, and speaking over the moderator when she was trying to move onto another subject. This was the very time the spectators and reporters expected the mute function to be utilized, however, it was nowhere to be heard, or rather not heard. 

Regardless of the microphone disappointment, the debate itself is something to be noted. President Trump came into the debate  level-headed and more dialed in on policy than his expected nasty attitude, it, unfortunately, did not last. When asked about his response and responsibility for COVID-19, his finances with China and Ukraine, and his tax returns, Trump resorted to his deflecting and subject changing that we are all so accustomed to.

For instance, when he was asked about his responsibility for the impact of the coronavirus on the United States, his response was quite cynical and not surprising, “‘I take full responsibility. It’s not my fault that it came here. It’s China’s fault,’” according to the LA Times. It is quite baffling that he would blatantly agree and then deflect the responsibility in the same breath. It is unclear what his thoughts were as to why he would say something so laughable at the presidential debate that could potentially cost him his reelection. 

Aside from this response, President Trump did very little to change the minds of the American people to vote for him. Rather, he more enforced their opinions and reasons why they strongly oppose him and what he stands for. Biden came across more on the offensive side, pushing for a response on Trump’s federal tax returns among other things. Biden was able to lay out his own policy agenda, significantly more than he managed in the first debate, calling for large-scale economic stimulus spending, new aid to states battling the pandemic, and an expansion of healthcare and worker benefits nationwide, according to the NY Times. It seemed that Biden truly did no wrong, nothing that could come to haunt him in the last few days of the election.

It is safe to say Vice President Biden’s closing statement really summed up what the results of the election would stand on when he said, “‘You know who I am. You know who he is. You know his character. You know my character. Our characters are on the ballot.” The nation has all they can get at this point, aside from a few lingering rallies. They must take this final Presidential Debate and what it says about the two candidates: which one can truly represent the American people in the most, ethical, supportive, transparent, and reliable way that they are able.

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