A Tale of Two Debates


Chris Thomas, Staff Writer

As defined by Merriam-Webster, a debate is a regulated discussion of a proposition between two matched sides. These discussions occur in classrooms, competitions, family rooms and more across the nation. In the United States, our most popular debates are our political debates, we even have our own national commission for them. These debates are typically 90-minute events in which a moderator alternates questions between the two nominees and open discussion is held.


Given our current political climate, it is not surprising that our most recent presidential debate did not appear to follow these norms very well. On Sep. 29, President Trump and Vice President Biden faced off in what is now widely considered the least presidential presidential debate in U.S. history.


Both campaigns had agreed to an in-person formatted debate that would cover Covid-19, the Supreme court, each candidate’s record, the economy, race and violence and the integrity of the election. In spite of his agreement, the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, was in for a long night. During the first open discussion segment, president Trump took the privilege of first interruption. Biden had been discussing his healthcare policies that would allow citizens to retain their private healthcare. Apparently, the sitting president took issue with this and he decided to let Biden, and the world, hear about it.


It was only downhill from there. Trump’s interruptions became more and more frequent and Biden, clearly aggravated by this, also began to lose some of his debate etiquette. There was eye rolling, name calling and personal attacks throughout. You name it, and one of them did it. The content of their arguments took second place to their behavior in the media coverage.


It is clear that Trump was on the offensive and Biden responded to a certain extent, but undecided voters from mainstream media outlets gave Mixed reviews. It is not clear that either side achieved their desired result.


The Vice-Presidential debate was a return to normalcy compared to what we witnessed the week before. When Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris faced off in Salt Lake City, UT on Oct. 7, they had agreed to a similar format as their running mates. The difference was that both vice-presidential candidates more or less adhered to these rules. Susan Page of USA Today, the moderator, had a much easier job than Wallace.


Excluding a boisterous interruption by Pence near the halfway mark and a fly that found its way onto his head, the night was uneventful in terms of theatrics. 


The VPs went through 9 topics: Covid-19, the role of the VP, the economy, climate change, China, SCOTUS, racial justice, the integrity of the election and the polarization of the political climate. I will spare you the details of each argument presented, partly because both candidates often alleged what the other said was untrue and also because this article would drone on forever. As it turns out, when debates are done properly, both candidates are able to present a wide range of arguments, opinions and disputed facts.


Senator Harris opened by condemning the Trump administration’s handling of Covid-19 as the greatest failure of any presidential administration in U.S. History. This prompted a response from Pence, in which he credited the sacrifices made by the American people and criticized the Obama administration, where Biden had served as vice president, for emptying The National Stockpile and mishandling the swine flu.


Pence noted that more American citizens contracted the swine flu and Senator Harris had already mentioned that Covid-19 had taken more lives, but scientifically speaking, comparing the two diseases is apples to oranges.


Toward the middle of the debate, the candidates inevitably shifted to the Green New Deal. Pence criticized the deal as too large for your economy and claimed that Biden and Harris had flip flopped on environmental issues, such as fracking and fossil fuels in the past. Harris retorted that the green new deal would not result in tax increases for the middle class and reasserted her ticket’s current policy stance by stating that they intend to reenter the Paris Climate agreement.


In possible anticipation of a highly contested debate, the final question gave the candidates an opportunity to speak about the political divide. Both candidates chose not to attack, or even mention the other in their final words.  Pence discussed the late Justices Ginsburg and Scalia and their close relationship, despite opposing philosophies. Harris brought up Biden’s work across the aisle and his plan to reunite the country after Charlottesville and similar flashpoint events.


In the end, their spouses joined them on stage, and they waved to the crowd and each other. This was a civil end to a civil night.


Less than 20 days out from the election, the rest of the debates are now in jeopardy due to disagreements over how the president’s Covid-19 diagnosis should affect the format. The debate, scheduled for today, Oct. 15, has already been canceled.


A town hall, which is essentially a Q&A between citizens and candidates, will be held for both President Trump and Former Vice President Biden as a replacement. These separate town halls are scheduled to start at the same time, so the candidates will compete for viewership at 8 p.m. EST tonight.