Credit: PBS Newshour | Courtesy

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden each took the stage on Tuesday, Sept. 29 in the Sheila and Eric Samson Pavilion in Cleveland, Ohio for the first of four debates before the election. 

Some viewers thought Trump won the debate, others thought Biden won. Some people said that the debate was “all-around disappointing.”

“This is one of the worst debates I have seen in my academic career,” Cal Poly Democrats Co-President and communication studies junior Lauren Buckley said. “Biden was able to handle Trump’s attacks, and overall, I think he was able to perform better than Trump in the debate.”

Jack Ratkovich, a taxation graduate student and Events Coordinator for the Cal Poly Republicans Club, agreed that the debate was poorly structured, but said he thinks Trump outperformed Biden.

“The debate was a bit all over the place, but if I am being completely honest, that’s what Trump’s base wants out of Trump,” Ratkovich said. “They want him to be an interesting character, and not just another neoconservative or neoliberal politician we have been seeing for the past 40 years.”

During the debate, there were six main topics for the candidates to discuss for 15 minutes each. In chronological order, the topics were the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, racism and violence in the U.S., climate change and the integrity of the election

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace moderated the debate.

The Supreme Court

The debate began with the topic of filling the vacant Supreme Court seat following the death of former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

Trump said that Republicans, as elected officials, have a constitutional duty to fill the Supreme Court vacancy.

“We won the election,” Trump said. “Elections have consequences. We have the Senate, we have the White House, and we have a phenomenal nominee respected by all.” 

Biden disagreed, and said that the seat should not be filled until after the Presidential Inauguration, since the United States is currently accepting votes for the 2020 General Election. He said that the American people have the right to say who should fill the vacancy with the current election cycle.

Buckley agreed with Biden’s sentiment, and said, “a precedent was set by Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, and they said, verbatim, hold me accountable if a Supreme Court justice is nominated right before an election, and the election is here.”

The economy

Trump said his administration increased the country’s economic growth, and said that the increase of 10.4 million jobs was a byproduct of his initiatives. Additionally, Trump promised a further expansion of the economy with a continual reopening. The debate also led into Trump’s taxes, where he denied all reports of him paying $750 in taxes in 2016 and 2017.

Biden said the individuals who have done well in the Trump economy are only the wealthy elite. Biden focused on how the economy grew substantially under the Obama administration, and Trump reversed this growth. Biden responded to Trump’s denial of tax reports by saying Trump had taken advantage of the tax code and created unfair tax cuts. 

“Millionaires and billionaires like him in the middle of the COVID crisis have done very well,” Biden said.“But you folks at home, you folks living in Scranton and Claymont and all the small towns and working class towns in America, how well are you doing? This guy paid a total of $750 in taxes.”

Racism and violent crime in the U.S.

During the topic of racism and violent crime in the United States, Biden said Trump “has been disastrous for the African American community.” Biden expressed support for law enforcement, but said it is important to hold “bad apples” accountable.

Trump’s argument centered around the call for law and order. He said he opposes Biden’s treatment of the African American community in his previous policies and actions. He said order should be installed in cities run by Democrats and blamed groups such as Antifa for creating violence in cities.

The moderator asked Trump if he would condemn white supremacy, to which he did not give a clear answer.

Trump said, “Sure, I’m willing to do that. … Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left.”

Buckley said that Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacy was a “hard endorsement for white supremacy groups.”  

Ratkovich said he believes that Trump did not handle the question particularly well, but Trump should not be painted as a white supremacist. 

He said, “Trump has directly condemned white supremacy so many times in the past but is still asked about it, even while cities are being burnt down by left wing revolutionaries.”

Climate change

Trump opened the climate topic of the debate by saying he advocates for some environmental regulations but prioritizes business growth. He called for better forest management to stop further wildfires. He said the problems of the environment are not solely from human actions, but rather poor environmental management and bad deals with other nations.

Biden pitched a plan to promote more green jobs, place limits on fracking, and end fossil fuel use. Biden also promised to rejoin the Paris Accord. He said he recognizes the impact humans have on the environment and the need to intervene.

Election integrity

Trump said that mail-in ballots are disorganized and fraudulent. 

“[The ballots] are being sent all over the place,” Trump said “They sent out one thousand ballots, everybody got two ballots. This is going to be a fraud like you have never seen.”

Trump is referencing an incident in Fairfax County, Va. where more than one thousand voters received multiple absentee ballots due to a printing error. According to the Fairfax County Registrar, fraud would not be possible in this circumstance because every ballot that’s returned is entered into an individual’s voter record indicating they have returned a ballot. The Registrar said a ballot will not be counted twice despite the error Trump referenced.

Biden said that mail-in ballots have been effective in previous elections, and urged voters to vote in any way they can — including voting by mail.  

“[Trump’s argument about voter fraud] is all about trying to dissuade people from voting, because he is trying to scare people into thinking it is not going to be legitimate,” Biden said. “Show up and vote. You will determine the outcome of this election. Vote. Vote. Vote.”

The debate concluded after an hour and a half. 

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