Biden v Trump: First debate horror show

How the first presidential debate had the hallmarks of a primary school food fight

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The first main head to head of the candidates in the 2020 US Presidential Election seemed to go down as more of a disaster than any political commentators could have predicted. Joe Biden and Donald Trump faced off in Cleveland, Ohio in a debate which has since been pinpointed as a low point in American political history.

Heading into the debate, Biden was considerably ahead of Trump in the polls, meaning the pressure was more on the President to make up ground going into the final month before the election. Despite the lead, Biden couldn’t afford to be complacent and any mistake could have proved costly.

The major topics for the debate were touched on too little, to be replaced by petty interruptions and personal blows exchanged by both. The six topics of the debate were Trump’s and Biden’s records, the Supreme Court, the coronavirus pandemic, race and violence in cities, election integrity, and the economy. Unfortunately, this first debate will not be remembered for healthy discussions on these issues.

During the debate, Trump interrupted Biden on several occasions, bringing up Biden’s son who struggled with a drugs problem for some time. This was linked to Biden’s refusal to have a drugs test before the proceedings got underway. The frustrations from Biden reached boiling point when he told the President to ‘shut up’, this was at one of several points at which the traditionally prestigious event of a Presidential debate was lost.

Perhaps the most eye catching point of the debate was when the topic of white supremacy groups was brought up by moderator Chis Wallace. When asked to condemn the groups, Trump stalled and asked for a name. In response, Joe Biden said ‘The Proud Boys’. Trump then said “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, but I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the Left, because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing problem.”

The comment was interpreted differently in the aftermath of the debate, with some members of the Proud Boys taking it as a call to arms but other people suggesting it was simply a poorly worded response from the President.

Covid-19 was always going to be a significant part of the 2020 election campaign, and during the debate both candidates stumbled on the subject. Firstly, Biden brought up Trump’s comment of telling people to inject bleach to tackle the virus, to which the President responded that this was said sarcastically. Then the pair exchanged statements which were later confirmed to be false.

The President firstly stated that he had brought back 700,000 manufacturing jobs, but there has in fact been a net loss of 250,000 of these roles during his term in the White House. Biden then matched his counterpart’s error, stating that the trade deficit with China is higher and that violent crime is up. However, only the national murder rate has increased since Trump took office, which is still a concerning statistic, but nevertheless an error on Biden’s part.

An entire academic essay’s worth of annotations on the first debate could be written up, and there would probably still be plenty more to say. The reaction from the American media to the debate was mainly one of embarrassment, with many senior correspondents stating it was the worst presidential debate they have ever seen.

This was the first of three debates before next month’s election, with the second on October 15 and a third on October 22. The polls suggested that Biden came off better in the first debate, but to come out victorious from the mudslinging carnage was no real win.

What can be said without uncertainty is that, no matter who the winner was, the only true loser was the American public, who now have little more than a month to decide who out of two candidates fraught with failings will be get their vote on November 3.

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I am a journalist with an honours degree from Coventry University. Passionate writing about politics, culture, sport, society and more

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