News/Op-Ed: President Trump And Former V.P. Biden Spar In Newly Formatted, But More Conventional, Debate

by Joshua Hernandez, Editor-In-Chief

On Thursday night, President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden clashed in the first debate since September 29th and the President’s COVID-19 diagnosis, with new regulations set by the Debate Commission in order to prevent the difficult conundrum and vitriol faced in the first debate. 

US President Donald Trump and Democratic Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden clash during the final presidential debate at the Curb Event Center at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on Thursday, October 22, 2020.

Since the first presidential debate on September 29th in Cleveland, Ohio, the campaigns of President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have embarked on two completely different paths as the country nears Election Day. Just two days after the first presidential debate, on October 1st, President Trump, his wife Melania, and youngest son Barron all tested positive for COVID-19. After roughly two weeks of recovery and a controversial stay at Walter Reed National Medical Center, the President has gone back to holding campaign events and downplaying the virus in order to maintain a stranglehold on his base of support. 

On the flip side, former Vice President Joe Biden has continuously tested negative for COVID-19, while exhibiting extreme caution and hosting either socially distanced or virtual campaign events as he holds on to a national lead in the polls and in various battleground states. 

While the campaigns of both candidates have continued to operate in their usual different ways, both President Trump and former Vice President Biden have taken outside hits with alleged corruption scandals. On the Democratic side, Vice President Biden has faced a myriad of criticism from the President and the GOP after reports that his son, Hunter Biden, received $3.5 Million dollars from Russian and Ukranian shady business deals, which Vice President Biden allegedly knew about, though reports are conflicting, with former intelligence officials believing the scandal – first reported by the New York Post – to be Russian disinformation.

Meanwhile, President Trump has had his fair share of corruption accusations and scandals levied against him in the past few weeks. Recently, a report from the New York Times revealed that the President had a Chinese bank account, which resulted in the President paying almost $200,000 in taxes to the Chinese government. Furthermore, Rudy Giuliani, the former Mayor of New York City and a member of President Trump’s legal team, has been mired in controversy after he was egregiously caught making a seemingly obscene advance toward a woman in a scene from the mockumentary comedy film “Borat 2”, as well as delving heavily into the investigation of Hunter Biden’s purported Ukranian corruption.

On Thursday, October 22 at the Curb Event Center at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, the collected and settled Biden and the unpredictable, unorthodox Trump sparred once again in a much more controlled debate due to changes made by the Debate Commission three days before the debate. The Debate Commission, after the chaotic first debate, ruled that the two candidates would have their mics muted while the other candidate delivered their two minute opening remarks to each one of the questions from the six debate topics, as well as any interruptions made by either candidate counting against their allotted speaking times. 

In the actual debate itself, the American people received what they didn’t in the first debate – a decent and controlled debate in which both candidates were able to debate policy and visions without hapless, cynical remarks and interruptions. The moderator, Kristen Welker of NBC, did a fantastic job handling the two personalities and ensuring each candidate was able to speak in their allotted times. 

In turn, the mere atmosphere of the debate for every American viewing at home was much less polarizing and contentious, and most certainly less of an anomaly than what Americans saw unfold last month in the first debate.

In every facet, the debate commissions rule changes, as well as moderator Kristen Welker’s conviction to uphold those rules, revitalized, even if in a very small way, the integrity of the debates, and allowed the American people to sit back, relax, and listen to the two candidates debate policy rather than deliver ineffective, mudslinging one-liners. 

The egregious debacle faced by Moderator Chris Wallace in the first debate was quelled by the compliance of the two candidates, the commission’s formatting changes, and Welker’s upholding of the integrity of the event. 

While critics may contend that the debate commission needing to make such changes is reflective of how traditional debate etiquette has gone awry, it may be a format the commission may continue to employ in future years to limit on-stage mudslinging, which may galvanize candidates into debating policy rather than engage in political food fights.

Most notably, President Trump appeared much more controlled and reserved than he was in the first debate, while former Vice President Joe Biden once again cleared the very low bar set on him by the President and right-wing media outlets by speaking directly to the American people and discussing his policies in detail. 

Despite the foregoing compliments on both candidates, it is imperative to understand that while the debate was controlled, it did not come without intensity and mudslinging. At the very beginning of the debate, when moderator Kristen Welker asked the candidates about COVID-19, President Trump instead touted the economy while also promising a vaccine to be distributed by the military “within weeks” while also saying that the virus is “going away”, to which the former Vice President responded by saying that the President does not hold himself accountable, nor does he have an adequate plan to reopen the economy, combat the virus, and put America back on track. 

Much like the first debate, there was a clear difference in rhetoric between the two candidates, with President Trump blaming Democrat Governors and “blue states” such as New York for their “failures” in controlling the virus, while the former Vice President said that he does not see the states as “red” or “blue”, but as simply the United States of America. 

Then, when it came to talks of foreign policy and protecting the elections from foreign interference, the mudslinging truly began, even if in a much more controlled manner than in the first debate. 

The former Vice President stated that if he were President, Russia and Iran would pay the price for interfering with American sovereignty and meddling with elections, while calling out President Trump for his ineptitude in responding to Russia and Vladimir Putin’s interference in the 2016 election. In response, President Trump erroneously claimed that Russia and Iran did not want him to win reelection, basically hinting at the fact that if the election results were meddled with, it would be skewed in favor of Vice President Biden, not him.

Furthermore, President Trump levied an attack on the former Vice President as well as his son, Hunter Biden, on the aforementioned purported claims that the former Vice President used his position of power in order to benefit his son and the rest of the Biden family, receiving millions of dollars from Russia for shady business deals. 

One of the highlights of the night came when President Trump was talking about his great relationship with the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un and touting his foreign policy handlings because there “is no war” and there hasn’t been any nuclear tests, to which Vice President Biden responded, “We had a good relationship with Hitler before he invaded the rest of Europe.”

The difference in vision was evident, with the President once again promising a health care plan that has seemingly gone astray throughout the President’s first term, while attacking Obamacare and saying that the former Vice President is turning to “socialized medicine.”

Nearing the end of the debate, President Trump slightly loses his cool, bringing up New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for their Environmental and Health Care plans, to which the former Vice President responded that the President is running against him, not them. 

The final question of the debate from Kristen Welker asked both candidates what they’d say to Americans who didn’t vote for them on Inauguration Day in January, and both candidates answered in a way that has reflected the way each has campaigned in 2020 and have spoken to the American people rhetorically throughout their political careers.

Vice President Biden responded by saying he would be sure to highlight that he is an American President and will represent all Americans in every state, while being a President who unifies by choosing hope over fear and science over fiction. President Trump responded by saying that success would bring people together, but still did not provide words of unity, continuing the divisive rhetoric he has relied on throughout his Presidency and campaign.

The presidential debate cycles are over – if there is anything to take from them, it’s that both candidates were galvanized to speak policy when it mattered most, engendering them to make a last push for the votes of the American people and secure the Presidency. 

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