CHS Students Weigh in on the Presidential Debates


Galen Adolph

With the 2020 United States presidential election in only a few days, CHS students want to know what kind of people the candidates truly are, unfiltered and direct. This is the role that the presidential and vice-presidential debates play and the tradition has returned.

Many viewers who tuned in to the September 29th presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President and Senator Joe Biden, expecting an informative debate filled with policy, left revolted that this was the only representation of their country.

“Biden didn’t really have a lot of substance,” CHS senior Simon Nasser said. “He wouldn’t specify anything about policy. Trump would say something and Biden would say ‘You’re a liar!’ and that would be half of the argument.”

“I thought it was pretty messy,” CHS senior Trevor Mitchell said. “The moderator did a bad job. Trump came off as really unprofessional and outright disrespectful. The debate could’ve been handled a lot better by the moderation team to make it a lot more professional.”

The debate, held at Cleveland, was littered with interruptions, mostly from Trump, who seemed to lack self-control. Moderator Chris Wallace, who later showed regret for his performance, calling it a “terrible missed opportunity” according to the New York Times.

Both candidates had blunders and it grabbed a lot of headlines. When Chris Wallace asked Biden if he supported the idea, Biden stated that his view would become the issue later, but rather the American people should go and vote. The non-answer infuriated Trump, who pushed Biden to answer the question, where a visibly flustered Biden told Trump to “shut up.”

“Biden is almost putting himself in a place where he’s betting on the winning team, where if he wins the presidency, he’s going to encourage court-packing,” Nasser said. “He’s trying to make it a win-win situation for himself because if the Democrats lose the election, they’re going against court-packing. It’s important that he commits to one side. It’s super infuriating that he won’t.”

Trump’s most controversial remark was on the subject of white supremacy, where he told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” as a response to Wallace’s request for Trump to openly denounce white supremacist groups. This response infuriated many people, both from the right and the left. Trump later condemned the Proud Boys on Hannity, but the original comment still left a bad taste on the mouths of some viewers.

“I thought it was pretty insane that the president would ever say that,” Mitchell said. “I think at this point, if anyone supports Trump, they have to really support that statement. I think it’s pretty ridiculous that he endorsed a white supremacist group like that and not get arrested for treason or for inciting domestic terrorism.”

The COVID-19 pandemic was also a major talking point in the debate. America’s massive death toll of 215,000 (as of October 14th) has brought many to question the effectiveness of the Trump administration to handle the outbreak. Biden questioned Trump’s capability as President by pointing out the US death toll in the debate, but Trump responded to the argument by bringing up Biden’s remarks in the early stages of the pandemic, where Biden called Trump “xenophobic” the day after Trump’s implemented a travel ban on China.

Many polls indicated that Joe Biden won the debate in the eyes of Americans, with about 60% of Americans believing that Biden did better than Trump, according to CNN. On the other hand, Telemundo’s Twitter poll found that 66% of Spanish speaking Americans believe Trump won, which is a pivotal demographic for the election this year.

Unlike the first presidential debate, the vice-presidential debate on October 7th, held in Salt Lake City, was considered a lot more fluid and better handled. Both Vice President Mike Pence and California Senator Kamala Harris were much more respectful. There was considerably less interruption, thanks in part to USA Today’s Susan Page’s moderation.

The Commission on Presidential Debates implemented Plexiglass shields on the edge of the tables where both candidates faced each other. This decision was done in part after Trump’s positive COVID test, which was announced only a few days after the first presidential debate.

Pence was accused of “mansplaining” by ABC’s George Stephanopolous for his occasional interruptions of Harris. Harris carried on Biden’s attack of the Trump administration’s COVID pandemic response and the lack of efficiency that has led to countless deaths from the disease. In the midst of the tense debate, some poked fun at Pence for the fly that was on his head for two minutes, with Saturday Night Live (SNL) and actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus hopping on the mockery of Pence.

For Harris, her facial expressions went viral. She was carrying a smug smile and shaking her head during many of Pence’s comments, including her record as district attorney and how a Biden administration would push the Green New Deal, which is on the campaign’s website. Overall, the debate was a more accurate representation of what is expected in an American presidential race and did not induce the same visceral reactions from viewers as the first presidential debate.

Trump’s positive COVID diagnosis led to the Commission on Presidential Debates to make the second debate virtually, to which Trump rejected. He referred to it as “a waste of time”. Instead of having the debate on October 15th as planned, the two candidates had separate town halls with voters, competing against each other.

“Biden’s town hall felt a lot more like a conversation, which it was supposed to be,” Mitchell said. “He did a really good job, answering questions very coherently. He clarified a lot of key concerns that voters had about his past record and what he’s going to do in the future. Overall, it was an impressive town hall. Trump’s town hall felt like he really wanted it to be a campaign rally and the amount that he was arguing with the interviewer, who was asking him all these questions was very rude, disrespectful, and unprofessional. He also made some pretty concerning statements and some outright fraudulent statements, especially concerning his tax returns and debt.”

Trump ended up getting into an argument with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, after Guthrie began asking Trump a series of tough questions. Before the town hall, NBC was lambasted by many celebrities for broadcasting the town hall at the same time as Joe Biden’s, which was on ABC.

Both Trump and Biden agreed to a final presidential debate on October 22nd in Nashville, which was moderated by NBC’s Kristen Welker. The topics of the debate were published before the debate. They included the pandemic, American families, race in America, climate change, national security, and leadership. There are also changes in the rules, most notably that the microphones of the candidate who is not speaking in their time will be muted.

The tensions leading up the 2020 presidential election are higher than ever before. There’s a lot at stake and the American people will either see four more years of Trump or a Biden-Harris White House, shattering the possibility of four consecutive two-term presidents for the first time in American history. Whether the debates made a genuine impact or not is purely subjective. However its presence does add to the spectacle and the results of the debate and the campaigns in general will be seen as millions of Americans place their ballots on November 3rd, whether it is in person or by mail.

“This upcoming election is the most consequential in my lifetime,” CHS history teacher Dr. Molly Arboleda said. “I encourage everyone who can to vote!”