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Analyzing the First Presidential Debate

In the words of CNN’s Jake Tapper, the latest presidential debate was “A hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck”. Essentially, the Presidential debate was filled with copious interruptions, talking over one another, a lack of debate etiquette, and many personal attacks. There were many topics covered, so here’s a brief overview of what happened.

  1. First, Chris Wallace opened the debate by introducing the subject of Amy Coney Barrett’s supreme court nomination. Wallace also stated Biden and Trump’s opinions on this nomination, stating that “You say the Constitution is clear about your obligation and the Senate’s to consider a nominee to the court” (USA Today Debate Transcript) in regards to Trump position. For Biden’s position, Wallace stated “Vice President Biden, you say that this is an effort by the president and Republicans to jam through and an appointment and what you call an ‘abuse of power.’” (USA Today). Wallace then went into the question, asking why each thought they were right in their argument and why the other was wrong, and where they thought Justice Barrett would take the court. Trump believed Barrett was a “phenomenal nominee” who was going to be “fantastic”, and he had the right to choose her (USA Today). Biden though, believed the American people should have more of a say in who is nominated, and that “we should wait and see what the outcome of this election is” (USA Today). Biden also dove into some of Barrett’s views, explaining her opposition to the Affordable Care Act and the repercussions that people with pre- existing conditions would face if the act was shut down. This when all of the arguing and cutting-in started, with remarks about Obamacare, Roe vs. Wade, and the cost of healthcare. 
  2. The next topic was Covid-19, and Wallace asked why the American public should trust one person more than the other to deal with the public health crisis moving forward. Biden was first to respond, and argued that the “president has no plan…he knew all the way back in February how serious this crisis was…he didn’t tell us or give people a warning of it” (USA Today). Biden elaborated by saying protective gear and money needs to be distributed to those who need it, to help small businesses and schools especially. Biden then chastised Trump by saying “you should get out of your bunker” (USA Today). Trump’s response was largely defensive, again saying “it’s China’s fault” and that many Democratic governors said Trump did “a phenomenal job” (USA Today). He disagreed with Biden’s remarks about PPE, saying “We got the gowns, we got the masks, we got the ventilators” and we’ve done “a great job” (USA Today). Trump also associated negative comments about his pandemic response to fake news. He also believed Biden “could never have done the job we did” (USA Today). The conversation next went to the potential Covid-19 vaccine, Biden stated that he did not trust Trump’s vaccine and would only trust science. Trump responded by iterating the companies working on the vaccine, and how it could possibly be produced for November. Biden argued that scientists said it might be until next year for the vaccines to be given out. Some of the personal attacks started at this point too, with Biden telling Trump that a lot more people are going to die unless Trump “gets a lot smarter” (USA Today). To this, Trump claimed that Biden forgot the name of the college he attended, and therefore Biden shouldn’t use the word “smart” with him (USA Today). He also said, “there’s nothing smart about you, Joe. 47 years, you’ve done nothing” (USA Today). Mask wearing was also discussed, with Wallace asking Trump if he questions the effectiveness of masks. In his response, Trump stated that he wears one when needed, but went even further and mocked Biden, saying “He could be speaking 200 feet away from me, and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen” (USA Today). 


  1. The next topic was the economy, and Wallace asked about economic recovery. Trump responded first, and explained how “we built the greatest economy in history” and we closed it because of the “China plague” (USA Today). Trump believed Biden would just shut down the economy again if in power, and will therefore “destroy our country” (USA Today). Biden then responded to Wallace’s questions about a K vs. V shaped economy by talking about the continued success of millionaires. Biden also criticized Trump’s continued reopening of states, when Covid-19 cases are still rising. Biden believed Trump was putting economic success over the success of the pandemic. The conversation then switched to Trump’s taxes, with Wallace asking if it was true that Trump only paid $750 in taxes in 2016. Trump responded by saying he has paid “millions” which Biden responded by saying “show us your tax returns” (USA Today). Biden argued that Trump can “take advantage of the tax code, but that’s why I’m going to eliminate the Trump tax cuts” (USA Today). Also in regards to Biden’s future plans, Biden explained that his plan would create “7 million more jobs than his in four years” (USA Today). 
  2. The next topic was the issue of race, and Biden started by going back to events in Charlottesville three years ago. According to Biden, a woman even died, and Trump responded by saying “there were very fine people on both sides” (USA Today). Biden also condemned Trump’s actions after George Floyd’s death, and claimed that Trump has been “disastrous for the African American community” (USA Today). Trump refuted by saying Biden has treated African Americans as bad as anybody, saying he once called them “super predators.” (USA Today). They discussed Breonna Taylor next, with Biden saying police officers need to be held accountable. Wallace also questioned Trump about his decision to end racial sensitivity training, which Trump simply said he ended because it was rascist. The discussion of race continued with the topic of Portland, Oregon, and the Proud Boys, who Trump told to “stand back and stand by” (USA Today).
  3. Climate change was discussed next, and Wallace asked if Trump and Biden believed in the science of climate change, and what they would do about it. Trump started by claiming we have lower carbon emissions now, people are happy about what’s going on in the environment, and the forests are the issue for wildfires. Trump also claimed to believe in climate change to an extent, but Wallace pointed out that he had rolled back some of Obama’s measures. Biden talked about his $2 trillion dollar plan for green jobs, fracking limits, and ending fossil fuel usage. He also stated he would rejoin the Paris accord. Trump argued that it would cost “100 trillion… that’s more money than our country could make in a hundred years” (USA Today). Biden argued that even though his measures are expensive, they will create thousands of jobs. 
  4. The final segment was centered on the mail- in ballots. Biden started by encouraging people to vote, and claimed “there’s no evidence at all that mail- in ballots are a source of being manipulated and cheating” (USA Today). Trump argued that “this is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen” and “it’s a rigged election” (USA Today). Trump was also concerned that counting the mail- in ballots could take months. He also urged his voters to go to the polls and “watch very carefully” (USA Today). 

Politifact released a fact checking article on the first Presidential debate. Some quick hits are as follows:

Trump Fact-Checking:

  1. “If you had good forest management you wouldn’t be getting … calls (that California is on fire)”. This claim is decidedly false, as climate change is largely responsible for making California more susceptible to forest fires. Although forest maintenance does play a role in managing fires, Climatologists and environmental experts cite climate change as a huge factor.
  2. “(Biden) Wants to shut down the country”. This claim, according to politifact, requires added context. Biden has stated in interviews that he would be willing to do whatever it takes to limit the spread of COVID, stating, if it was deemed best, he would listen to scientists and “Shut it down”.
  3. “I’m getting (insulin) so cheap, it’s like water”. This is deemed mostly false, as, although Trump signed an executive order on insulin at the end of July, the scope was limited. This meaning it represented less than two percent of relevant outlets.

Biden Fact-Checking:

  1. Stated that Trump suggested “maybe you could inject some bleach in your arm and that would take care of (the coronavirus)”. This requires more context – although the President didn’t explicitly encourage bleach injection, he did want to explore the impact of disinfectants on the Coronavirus.
  2. Trump is “the only one defunding” police. His budget “calls for a $400 million cut in local law enforcement assistance”. This is deemed mostly true – Trump’s FY budget plan for 2021 sought to reduce spending on state and local law enforcement.
  3. “We have a higher deficit with China now than we did before”. This statement has been assessed as mostly false, as, using goods and services as a metric, the U.S. trade deficit with China in 2019 was actually smaller than it was under the Obama administration.

Any curious readers should investigate the full scope of the article for themselves, and continue to diligently fact-check over the course of the presidential election.

The next debate will be between Vice President Mike Pence and his Democratic opponent Kamala Harris, on October 7th at 9:00 pm. Make sure to watch!