The First Trump-Biden Debate Was Ineffective, But That Does Not Mean Presidential Debates Are


Photo courtesy of Associated Press

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden face off at their first presidential debate on Sept. 29 in Cleveland, Ohio. The debate was criticized by the media and the public for its lack of decency and control between the candidates and the moderator.

The first presidential debate of the 2020 election between incumbent President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden occured on Sept. 29 amid the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. While some voters were hoping to finalize their choice for president after the debate, the event instead became a source of confusion. 

CNN’s Jake Tapper said that the debate was “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.”

Although it is understandable for voters to feel furious after the first Trump-Biden presidential debate, they should not lose confidence in presidential debates overall. 

According to Pew Research Center, 63% of voters surveyed post the Clinton-Trump debates in 2016 considered presidential debates to be effective in determining who they should vote for.

Many voters were disappointed with Trump’s language and tone during the 2020 debate. Examples of this were his constant interruption during Biden’s speaking time and his yelling over the moderator, Fox News anchor and journalist Chris Wallace. 

In response, The Guardian reports that the Commision on Presidential Debates is in the process of revising the rules for future debates. This includes granting the moderator the opportunity to switch off a candidate’s microphone if they exceed their speaking time and taking speaking time away from a candidate if they interrupt. 

“Once [the debate] had started, it was very stressful to watch,” social studies teacher and speech and debate adviser Katie Wi said. “I was hoping that it would go better [and] that I would learn something that I didn’t know. But that was not the case.”

While former Vice President Biden also had some mishaps by failing to answer questions about court-packing and the Green New Deal, according to Fox News, he did well on topics like healthcare, the economy and violence. 

Presidential debates allow a candidate to communicate their plans and vision for the country. They also allow the American people to see what their character is like and what their values are.

— Katie Wi

“Biden clearly did better than usual in terms of not losing his train of thought whilst speaking,” Ted-Ed club president and junior Kevin Lu said. “Being a little bit more aggressive of a debater would’ve helped him, especially considering a lot of the opportunities he was given by the moderator to attack Trump.” 

Lu said that the biggest loser of the night was the American people, who “were essentially robbed of an opportunity to hear both side’s voices and opinions in an articulate and clear manner.” 

This statement falls in line with many journalists who believe that the Trump-Biden debate did not benefit the American people and that it left many voters still undecided. Nonetheless, CNN reports that not all presidential debates have spiraled out of control.

“I think that [Trump and Biden] should have actually debated more,” senior Bret Sugita said. “It was more arguing, so not a lot of techniques were even considered by the two candidates. We should really be supporting each other through the mutual desire to live and make the world a better place.”

However, voters should not claim that debates are ineffective or unnecessary because of two candidates. For example, the vice presidential debate held on Oct. 7 was calmer and more sophisticated.

Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris were able to communicate effectively with the American people because there was less interruption and yelling according to CNN.

“Before the Pence-Harris debate, I was prepared for it to be the same, unorganized and petty situation as the presidential debate,” Racial Justice Alliance club president and junior Ashley Pham said. “In some ways it was, but I also felt like this one was a little less crazy.”

Although a solid 73.1 million viewers watched the first Trump-Biden debate and a relative high of 50.7 million viewers watched the Pence-Harris debate according to Nielsen ratings, the New Times reports that there is still speculation that many Americans are skeptical of watching in the future. 

The second Trump-Biden debate has already been canceled due to Trump’s inability to cooperate with modified guidelines released by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Instead of a two-person debate, there will be two town halls broadcasted on NBC and ABC. This splits the viewership numbers and could potentially lead to a decline in ratings. Americans cannot lose confidence in presidential debates. 

“Presidential debates allow a candidate to communicate their plans and vision for the country,” Wi said. “They also allow the American people to see what their character is like and what their values are.”

Debates help voters. Voters help to elect the best possible candidates. Let’s keep that trend going forward. Tune in to the third Trump-Biden debate, which will be held on Oct. 22 from 6-7:30 p.m. and televised on all cable news channels.