An In-Depth Look at the First Presidential Debate of 2020

Last Tuesday at 8 p.m. CST, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden faced off under moderator and Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace for the first presidential debate of 2020. The chaotic, tense disputation covered many of the major issues and current events that voters are concerned about. For those who may have missed it, here is a summary of the candidates’ points.


Supreme Court and healthcare. As Trump recently nominated Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court opening left following the death of Associate Justice Ginsburg, he claimed that it is his right as president to pick her prior to the election, as he is still serving out his term. In contrast, Biden said that the American people deserve a say in that decision, which would manifest in their votes on November 3. He also pointed out that neither Barrett nor Trump supports the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) or Roe v. Wade, the ruling that gave women the right to a legal abortion. When asked directly, it is worth noting that Biden refused to answer whether or not he would pack the Supreme Court if Barrett were to be sworn in. He also stated that his plan is to expand Obamacare, which is in direct opposition to Barrett and Trump’s intention. Trump does not currently have a plan to replace Obamacare.


Coronavirus. The president almost immediately cited Biden’s tweet calling him xenophobic regarding his coronavirus response, claiming that Biden would not have shut the country down at all for fear of looking xenophobic. As it may be unclear which portion of Trump’s statement Biden was responding to, readers can interpret the post for themselves. Paradoxically, he theorized that the Democrats want to keep the country shut down as a political ploy. Trump alleged that the only reason why America is number one in COVID-19 cases and deaths is because other countries are underreporting, and that his performance has only been criticized because the “fake news media” are biased against him. He characterized his coronavirus response as “saving lives” and “doing a phenomenal job.” When asked about his vaccine estimate and other information juxtaposing that of health experts, Trump doubled down on the stance that they were “confused” and a vaccine would be available earlier than this summer. Conversely, Biden claimed that Trump has failed and never generated a definitive plan to handle the pandemic. He cited Trump’s comment about injecting bleach. Additionally, the former vice president asserted that he was only hesitant about reopening businesses because of Trump’s inability to manage the situation.


Racial inequity, police brutality, and protests. Trump restated his claim that he has done more for black Americans than any other president “except maybe Abraham Lincoln.” He cited Biden’s “predator” rhetoric as racist toward African-Americans, despite the fact that he mixed Biden’s comments up with Hillary Clinton’s. The president also defended his use of the National Guard and U.S. Marshals to control crowds. Biden was quick to resurface Trump’s Charlottesville “very fine people on both sides” remark. Although Trump refused to denounce white supremacists in the debate by instead telling them to “stand back and stand by,” it is worth noting that his Charlottesville comments were taken out of the aforementioned context. Joe Biden also brought up the church photo op visit, in which police forced through a crowd of George Floyd protestors with riot control agents so that Trump could take a picture. The former vice president clarified his stance on law enforcement, saying that most police officers are “good decent people,” but the “few bad apples…have to be held accountable.” He condemns violence but supports peaceful protesting and does not want the National Guard involved. Biden also opposes defunding the police and wants increased funding for law enforcement, as well as additional help from mental health professionals or members of the community.


Economy. Trump referred to the U.S. economy as the “greatest economy in history,” viewing strict shutdowns as gratuitous and “unfair…almost like being in prison.” He hypothesized that a tax increase for corporations would drive them away and invoke an economic depression. Conversely, Biden replied that “you can’t fix the economy until you fix the COVID crisis,” and businesses need preparations – such as financial assistance – to reopen safely. He wants a four trillion dollar increase in taxes for corporations and billionaires. The former vice president claimed that the economy and job market boomed after Obama inherited it under depression, and that Trump has not followed through with his trade deal promises.


Climate change. Mediator Wallace addressed Trump’s previous lack of belief in climate change, removal from the Paris Agreement, and roll-back of Obama’s environmental protection policies. He cited the reason for the policy rollbacks as exorbitant cost. While he refused to say whether or not he believed in climate change as a whole, the president did express a desire to purify the air and water, as well as increase the use of electric cars to reduce pollution. He also claimed that the Green New Deal would cost way too much to be implemented and forest fires would not be happening if there was more “forest management.” Biden, in contrast, proposed a plan with two trillion dollars in green jobs, new limits on fracking, the elimination of oil and fossil fuels by 2035 and gas emissions by 2050, lowered costs of renewable energy, a federal fleet of electric vehicles, weatherized buildings, and the rejoining of the Paris Agreement.


Misc. scandals and controversy. Trump denied the claim that he only paid $750 in federal income tax for the year of 2017, purporting that he paid “millions” and that people “will get to see it.” He also claimed that he gets tax breaks and that “private people go through the laws.” Biden demanded the tax returns and claimed that he would get rid of certain tax-cut loopholes that Trump used. He referred to Trump’s alleged comments about veterans and said that his deceased son Beau “was in Iraq. He spent a year there. He got the Bronze Star. He got the Conspicuous Service medal. He was not a loser. He was a patriot, and the people left behind there were heroes.” The president opportunistically brought up Biden’s other son, Hunter, regarding the Ukraine counter-probe and ties to Moscow.


A multitude of interruptions, ad hominem attacks, and topic deviations marked the end of the contentious first 2020 presidential debate. These remarks should clarify each candidate’s position so that voters can solidify their choice for best candidate. Time will tell how the next debates, and the election, will play out. The vice presidential debate, with Senator Kamala Harris versus Vice President Mike Pence, will be held on Oct. 7 at 8 p.m. central.