Trump and Biden struggle to stay civil and on topic as they face off in the first 2020 presidential debate

“Will you shut up man!”


President Donald Trump (left) and former Vice President Joe Biden (right) go head-to-head in the first of three scheduled presidential debates on Sept. 29, 2020. The Commission on Presidential Debates at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland hosted the event and Fox News’ Chris Wallace moderated. (CNN screenshot)

On Sept. 29 in a small auditorium adorned with red, white and blue patriotism, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden ascended to the star-spangled debate stage for the first of three presidential debates preceding the Nov. 3 presidential election. 

The debate was split into six roughly 15-minute segments, with an initial question and a two-minute response, without interruption, awarded to each candidate. However, the candidates did not follow the rules and much of the messages of their platform may have gotten lost on some viewers; the following is a guide to help you understand the issues and key takeaways from the first presidential debate. 

The first question of the night asked by moderator Chris Wallace, of Fox News, was regarding the recent decision of the Trump Administration to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The Biden team has outspokenly opposed this decision saying that the decision should not be made before the presidential election. 

“We won the election and elections have consequences,” Trump said.

Biden said that he believes that the nomination and appointment of Barrett are undemocratic and that the decision should be postponed until after the election so that constituents have a chance to first elect a president.

The rules of order for the debate had already been violated with Trump interrupting Biden’s two minute answer time and refusing to listen to Wallace when asked to be quiet until it was his time to speak. These interruptions continued throughout the debate from both Trump and Biden.

Biden brought up the Affordable Care Act and criticized Trump about his healthcare plan. 

This resulted in Trump reverting to his common strategy of trying to equate Biden’s healthcare plan to that of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders proposed plan of Medicare for all and ultimately led to Trump calling Biden and the Democratic Party “socialists,” claiming that his plan would eliminate single-payer health insurance and that Biden had been influenced by Sanders’ “manifesto”.   

Biden disagreed with Trump’s assessment of the Democratic party and his healthcare in reference to his direct influence in crafting the ACA.

Wallace regained control of the debate stage after pleading with both candidates and asked a follow-up question to Biden asking him if upon his presidency would he “pack” the court, adding more judges to the Supreme Court and eliminating the filibuster.

“Whatever position I take on that, that will become the issue, the issue is the American people should speak,” Biden said.

Trump jumped on this opportunity to call out Biden for not answering, interrupting him.

“Are you gonna pack the court?” Trump repeated. 

This comment disrupted Biden and led to one of the most arguably memorable quotes of the night.

“Will you shut up man,” Biden said. 

The time had run out in this segment requiring Wallace to reign in the heated candidates and move on. 

Wallace’s next question for the candidates was, why should the American people trust you more than your opponent in regards to handling coronavirus?

Biden began his argument by criticizing Trump’s handling of the pandemic claiming that he has no plan and said he has been underplaying the virus since February. 

Trump responded to the argument with claims that “millions would have died” if Biden had been in charge during the early days of the pandemic. He also was very quick to mention that he believes that the virus is “China’s fault” but a vaccine is coming very soon. 

Both of these statements do not reflect information provided to the public by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as most major media organizations, and the head of Trump’s Operation Warp Speed, Monsef Slaoui.  

Biden said that the vaccine will not be available until some time next year.

As this section came to a close and the debate continued, Wallace asked a question focused on the economy and the differences between the proposed economic recoveries that could come out of the pandemic. Trump has proposed a ‘V’ shaped recovery while Biden says he believes it will actually be more ‘K’ shaped. Each candidate was asked to defend their position.

Biden said that this year millionaires and billionaires have done very well, while the middle class has suffered. 

“You can’t fix the economy until you fix the COVID crisis,” Biden said.

Biden then said his economic plan will create seven million more jobs than Trump’s and said he will increase corporate tax to 28%.

Wallace again reigned in the candidates and pleaded with them to follow the rules of the debate and asked why should voters trust you rather than your opponent to deal with race issues?

“It’s about equity and equality, it’s about decency. It’s about the constitution,” Biden said.

Biden criticized Trump’s treatment of peaceful protestors and claimed that Trump’s words are like dog whistles that generate racist hate.

Trump responded by criticizing Biden for his passing of the Crime Bill and claimed he is doing better with Black voters than any president before.

Trump also said the radical left is responsible for the violence that has come out of the George Floyd protests and claimed that Biden wants to defund the police. 

“This man, this man is the savior of African Americans? This man cares at all? This man has done virtually nothing,” Biden said in response calling out Trump again for his handling of the pandemic and how it has disproportionately impacted Black lives. “You have to look at what he did and what he did has been disastrous for the African American community.”

Wallace later asked Trump if he would be willing to condemn white supremacists and his response was indirect.  

“Proud boys stand back and stand by, but I’ll tell you what I’ll tell you what somebody’s gotta do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem,” Trump said.

Biden responded calling Trump a racist and said that police officers need to be held accountable noting systemic injustice is found in education and law enforcement. 

“I support the police having the opportunity to deal with the problems they face, I am totally opposed to defunding the police officers,” Biden said. 

During the next segment of the debate Wallace asked the candidates, why should the voters elect you president?

Trump claimed no president has ever accomplished as much as he has in the past three and a half years, citing that he has rebuilt the military, created the Space Force, fixed the Veterans Association and has nominated nearly 300 judges. 

“Under this president, we become weaker, sicker, poorer and more violent,” Biden said.

In the final segment of the debate, Wallace asked, how confident should we be that this will be a fair election with a legitimate winner? 

“As far as the ballots are concerned it’s a disaster,” Trump said. “This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen.”

Trump claimed that many ballots have been found around the country dumped in rivers and garbage cans and some have even been sold. Because of this Trump said he is counting on the Supreme Court to decide the election in the case of fraud.

“I’m encouraging my supporters to go into the poles and watch very carefully,” Trump said. “I’m urging them too.”

Biden said that there is no evidence that mail-in ballots are inherently fraudulent and that Trump is just trying to scare people.

“He’s afraid of counting the votes because of the outcome,” Biden said.

Biden said he is also afraid of any possibility a court would settle the election and instead said people should be able to sort out any discrepancies on their own.

After a long night of interruptions, this segment brought the debate to a close. The next presidential debate is scheduled for Oct. 15, however, it is unclear on whether or not this will happen in person or at all, and is contingent on Trump’s full recovery from COVID-19, which was diagnosed days after the first debate.