The long-awaited day has arrived, and the incumbent President Donald J Trump faced off tonight against opponent former Vice President Joe Biden. Both came to the stage with much at stake. Biden could not afford a sloppy performance, and Trump could not afford Biden to do well. Biden held the advantage going into the debate, but Trump was hot on his heels.
The Showdown Starts
Chris Wallace introduced himself as the tension built in the room. From audience members to political commentators, the air of anticipation was high. Wallace opens with the information that he decided the topics and the questions in each topics, and he promised that neither the commission nor candidates received the candidates ahead of time.
As the candidates approached the podium, Biden said to the president, “how are you doing man?” and Trump responded, “doing well.”
The first question was about the Supreme Court. Wallace asked Trump about his choice to nominate Amy Coney Barret. The first question: “why are you right, and the argument you make, and your opponent wrong? and where do you think a justice Barret would take the court?”
Trump, looking calm and confident, responded, “I will tell you very simply, we won the election. Elections have consequences. We have the senate; we have the White House. And we have a phenomenal nominee.” Trump went on to say that Barret is endorsed by liberals. “She’s going to be as good as anybody that has served on that court.” The president continues, “by the way the democrats wouldn’t even think of not doing it. The only difference is, they’d try to do it faster. They had Merrick Garland, but they didn’t have the election, so they were stuck.”
Biden, smiling and cool, responded, “First of all, thank you for doing this. I’ve looked forward to this Mr. President. The American people have a right to have a say in who the Supreme Court nominee is. That say occurs when they vote for senators and president. They’re not going to get that chance now because we’re in the middle of an election already. Tens of thousands have voted. So we should wait. wait and see the outcome.”
Biden is composed, eloquent, and deliberate in his speech. Trump is still confident, smiling. The former VP said he is not opposed to Barrett as a person, just as a nominee. Trump is glaring, shaking his head, and glowering when Biden speaks.
The Affordable Care Act Becomes a Point of Contention
Biden then leans on his record with the Affordable Care Act., trying to explain the positive outcomes from the Obamacare effort. Trump retorts with several inaccurate numbers. The president then interrupts and accuses Biden of picking socialist healthcare. Biden ignores Trump’s attempts to rile him. Wallace has to stop the president who won’t stop interrupting, and Biden laughs.
Biden hinted that Roe V. Wade is on the ballot as well.
Trump says, “you don’t know it’s on the ballot, why is it on the ballot?
Biden, incredulously, hits back, “it’s on the ballot in the court. Donald would you be quiet for a minute?”
Wallace interrupted the exchange, Biden looking angry, and Trump looking flustered. The pair argued back and forth about healthcare before Biden throws up his hands and changes tactics.
“Everyone Knows He’s a Liar”
Biden composes himself and says, “I’m not here to call out his lies, everyone knows he’s a liar.”
Trump sneers and shoots back, “…you finished last in your class…”
Wallace, flabbergasted, raises his voice to the president and says, “Would you let him finish?”
At one point, Biden snaps, “will you shut up man, this is so unpresidential.”
Next, Wallace turned to COVID19, asking each candidate why the American people should be confident in their potential presidency in dealing with the pandemic.
Wallace continued to press both candidates on their COVID-19 plans, and Trump turns to personal attacks against Biden, insulting his intelligence. Wallace asked why Trump was continuing to hold large rallies during the pandemic, and the president offered basically a shrug. The moderator pushed Trump on recent reports claiming that the president had only paid $750 in income taxes on 2016 and 2017. Trump avoided answering directly.
Biden added, “Look the tax code that put him in a position that he pays less tax than a school teacher.. … is because of him, he says he’s smart because he can take advantage of the tax code and he does take advantage of the tax code. I’m gonna eliminate the trump tax cuts… …people out there need help.”
Trump snickers and asks, “why didn’t you do it [as VP]…?”
Biden smiles and responds, “Because you weren’t president screwing things up. You’re the worst president America has ever had, come on.”
“Stand Back and Stand By”
Wallace is forced to break up several attempts by the president to interrupt Biden, at several points shouting to try to reclaim the microphone. Wallace then turned to a segue into one of Trump’s favorite subjects: law and order. Wallace asked, “In many cities that have turned violent… …Mr. Vice President, you say that people who commit crimes should be held accountable. … as the democratic nominee… …have you ever called the democratic mayor of Portland or the democratic governor of Oregon and say, ‘hey you’ve got to stop this?’”
Biden shrugs, responding, “I don’t hold public office now. I am a former vice president. I’ve made it clear in my public statements that the violence should be prosecuted. Anyone who commits it should be prosecuted. … he doesn’t want to calm things down… what’s he do? He just pours gasoline on the fire. Constantly.”
In one of the most stunning exchanges of the night, Wallace then turned to the President. “Mr. President, you have repeatedly criticized the vice president for not specifically calling out antifa and other left wing extremist groups but are you willing to condemn white supremacists… and other militia groups to say they need to stand down and not add to the violence?”
Trump shrugs, waffling, “Sure, I’m willing to do that but… I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not the white wing….give me a name, who do you want me to—“
Wallace presses, “White supremacists …and Proud Boys, et cetera.”
Trump, stunning viewers, responded, “Proud Boys stand back and stand by. … someone has to do something about antifa…” The Proud Boys have since embraced, “stand back and stand by,” as their slogan.
From there, Wallace had questions about climate change, which Trump continued to dance around. Biden pressed his, “Biden Plan,” and Trump continued to refer to his plan as the Green New Deal, which is inaccurate.
Finally, Wallace turns to the last segment; “Final segment: election integrity. …how confident should we be that this will be a fair election and what are you prepared to do… to reassure the am people that the next president will be the legitimate winner of this election?”
The former VP shrugged, “Prepare to let people vote. We’re going to make sure that the people who want to vote in person can vote … he cannot stop you from being able to determine the outcome of this election… when the voters are all counted, that will be accepted. If I win that will be accepted…if I lose that will be accepted…if we get the votes, he’s gonna be all over. He’s gonna go. He can’t stay in power. It won’t happen… you have it in your control to determine what this country’s going to look like the next four years. Is it going to change or are you going to get another 4 years of these lies?”
Trump Leans on Claims of Voter Fraud
Trump, shifting in agitation, responded, “When you talk about a transition…there’s been no transition since I won. … the ballots are a disaster. Soliciting [a ballot] is okay… ..if you have an unsolicited– they’re sending millions all over the country, they’re finding them in creeks…this is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen. …I think we’re going to do well… we might not know for months because these ballots are going to be all over. … it’s a fraud and it’s a shame. and can you imagine where they say you have to have your ballot in by November 10th…”
Wallace then looks to calm voter fears, asking, “…Will you urge your supporters to stay calm during this extended period[of voting counts]…and will you pledge tonight that you will not declare victory until the election has been independently certified?”
Trump shrugged, “…I hope it’s going to be a fair election… but if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.”
Biden, by contrast, answered directly, “Yes. And here’s the deal. Count the ballots. As you pointed out…some of these ballots can’t be opened until election day…I will accept it, and he will too. You know why? Because once the winner is declared after all the votes are counted, that’ll be the end of it. If it’s me, in fact fine. If it’s not me, I’ll support the outcome. And I’ll be a president not just for the Democrats. I’ll be a president for Democrats and Republicans.”
The Rumble Comes to an End
At this point, Wallace takes a deep breath and chuckles, calling it, “an interesting hour and a half.”
At several points during the debate, Trump seemed to make wild stabs personally at Biden, hoping to rile him up. For the most part, Biden didn’t take the bait. It’s been rumored that a lot of Biden’s prep work has included practicing not rising to Trump’s attempts to fluster him. Trump blustered, shrugged, rolled his eyes, bullied the moderator, and interrupted nearly constantly near the middle of the debate. His inability to commit to accepting the election results and decry white supremacy will leave an uneasy feeling in the stomachs of voters tonight. While Biden’s performance wasn’t overwhelmingly good, at times the former VP faced the camera and directly addressed the American people in moments that were powerful and encouraging.
Unfortunately, whoever your candidate is, most people can agree that the losers in this debate were the American voters. It wasn’t overwhelmingly good for anyone, and for Trump is was uncomfortably bad. The next few days will show if it has any effect in the polls.