A High Schooler’s Analysis of the First Presidential Debate

John Beggs, Staff Writer

There was nothing good about the first Presidential debate. President Trump was mean. Joe Biden was not coherent. Who won? Nobody. Who lost? America. It’s sad that one of the two men will take the reins for the next four years. Neither seems to have a solid reason for running other than thinking that they’re at least better than the other. I took away three things from the debate. First, Vice President Biden was not as prepared as President Trump. Second, President Trump went way too far with the interrupting. And finally, Chris Wallace, the moderator, was ill-suited to the task of controlling the candidates.

Photo via Getty Images

It was expected that both candidates would have a casual relationship with the truth. President Trump is well known for it, and Joe Biden didn’t seem to know exactly what was going on half the time. But beyond all of the lies, when a fact or two would sneak its way into the conversation, Vice President Biden was not as well prepared as he should have been. President Trump was. First came the topic of the Supreme Court. The President recently nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the high court to the Democrats’ chagrin. When asked about it by Chris Wallace, the President said plainly that if the other side had the power, they’d have done the exact same thing. In President Obama’s words, elections have consequences. Vice President Biden had no real comeback to this. He couldn’t deny it, so instead he spoke of the things the Supreme Court might decide. In fairness to Biden, this issue really couldn’t have been one on which he could capitalize.

The other area in which Trump was obviously more prepared was the economy, which also touched on the subject of the pandemic. Trump echoed what he has said throughout his entire Presidency: greatest economy in our history, lowest unemployment rates, etc. But his command of the facts when it came to manufacturing and trade were the bright spots of his answers. The 700,000 jobs that he brought to the United States is sure to be an important factor when people head to the voting booth, as is the current economic recovery. The Federal Reserve has said that the recovery they projected is being well surpassed. Is that the President’s doing? It doesn’t matter. Presidents get more credit than they deserve, and the same goes for blame.

“Will you shut up man?” “China took your lunch, Joe.” Both of these soundbites will surely be played for a long time, just as “There you go again” and “You’re no Jack Kennedy” have been. As far as style goes, President Trump is aggressive to the point of being mean. His supporters may like it, but the rest of the country? Not so much. Voters were incredibly dismayed by the constant interrupting done by the President. Biden did it, too, but Trump took it to a completely different level. It demonstrated a lot about the President’s temperament, but here’s the thing — everybody already knew that about him. You either like it or you don’t. The President didn’t seem to be trying to convince anybody to vote for him. Instead, he seemed to tell people why they shouldn’t vote for Joe Biden. He went about it viciously, going after Hunter Biden and the Vice President’s record. His arguments might have stuck if he would have just stopped talking. But of course he didn’t do that. 

Fox News’ Chris Wallace moderated the debate. Well, is “moderate” the correct term? He didn’t seem to bring either candidate to the point of moderation. He allowed Trump to not answer questions. He allowed Biden to do the same. In essence, Wallace did not do a good job. In 2016, his performance as moderator during the Trump-Clinton debates was praised as fair and decisive, but there was no showing of that during this first debate. By the time he did finally try to corral the two, his credibility was gone. Trump was under the impression that the debate was two against one and Biden wanted to prevent Trump from lying even more.

Past those takeaways, there were many key moments that have the media in a frenzy at the moment. Notably, the issue of when Trump was asked about white supremacy. Rather than speculate on what the President was trying to say, the transcript of the exchange is below, verbatim.

WALLACE: Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups…

TRUMP: Sure…

WALLACE: And to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha, and as we’ve seen in Portland?

TRUMP: Sure, I’m prepared to do it, but I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing not the right wing. I’m willing to do anything, I want to see peace.

WALLACE: Then do it, sir.

BIDEN: Do it, say it.

TRUMP: What do you want to call them? Give me a name.

WALLACE: White supremacists and right-wing militias.

BIDEN: Proud boys

TRUMP: Proud boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left.

Everybody will draw their own conclusions from that heated moment. The transcript doesn’t do the tone of the President’s voice any justice, nor Wallace’s. The right will point out the things that support their point of view: “Sure” and “I’m willing to do anything, I want peace.” The left will do the same: “Proud boys, stand back and stand by.” But did the President answer Wallace’s question? That’s the important part. If you look at the transcript, the answer is unequivocally yes. The first four lines show that Trump did in fact answer the question by saying that he would condemn the groups. The sticky part comes from when Wallace and Biden both said “do it.” Wallace asked the President to tell the groups to “stand down.” The President said “stand back and stand by.” The gray area in Trump’s answer has Democrats in a frenzy. In the end, the judgement will be made individually. It’s up to voters to determine how the President answered the second part of the exchange.

All around the country, people are asking, “Are there really going to be two more of these?” It’s a fair question, because last night was not a good showing for the President or the Vice President. The question everybody should be asking is if there is still any value in these debates. If anybody changed their mind after last night, it would be very surprising. Regardless of opinion, it’s fair to say that Americans want more out of their next President than what was shown last night, and if two more debates will bring some constructive conversation between them, it’s a positive thing.