The presidential debate in Cleveland on Tuesday has widely been considered to be a fiasco. Following Monday’s shocking New York Times exposé on President Trump’s taxes, in which it was revealed that Trump paid only $750 in income taxes in 2016, both Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden and Republican Party incumbent Trump were especially combative. This debate was especially crucial for Trump since he has been trailing Biden in national polling by around seven or eight percentage points. Daily updates of polling averages can be found on FiveThirtyEight.
The nature of Tuesday night’s debate was much different from previous years: due to coronavirus restrictions, Trump and Biden forwent the standard opening handshake and invited only a few guests to the crowd, which totaled around 80. Its disorder was also especially unusual, as the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, had a hard time controlling the flow of the debate. The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which has conducted the debates since 1987, has proposed to adopt changes to future debates in order to create more structure. These changes have been contested by the Trump campaign.
Notable events during the tumultuous debate included Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacists, specifically the Proud Boys group. Trump has received backlash from many members of his party after he said “The Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” rather than condemning them like he was asked.
From the beginning of the debate, which started with a question about SCOTUS nominee Amy Coney Barrett, Trump and Biden clashed. Following late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death in mid-September, there has been widespread disagreement as to fill the seat before the November election. Following a battle over healthcare, Biden lost his cool and exclaimed, “Will you shut up, man?” The debate then transitioned to the economy and the COVID-19 crisis, as Trump touted his positive impact on the economy as his building the “greatest economy” in American history. This has been fact-checked as false according to Al Jazeera, as annual economic growth during Trump’s tenure has not been the strongest on record. Biden countered Trump’s assertion with another bold statement: “You’re the worst president the country has ever had.” Biden then made the false claim that the Trump administration has no coronavirus plan. While many have expressed displeasure with the plan, PolitiFact found that the Trump administration has in fact had coronavirus planning, with the most recent proposal for vaccine distribution having come out in September. Biden and Trump also clashed over law enforcement, racism, and mail-in ballots, with Trump frequently interrupting Biden. Trump also bashed Biden’s son Hunter’s business dealings in Russia and brought up Hunter’s past battles with drug addiction.
The next presidential debates are October 15 and October 22, with the vice presidential debate occurring on October 7. October 5 is the last day to register to vote, and there are 32 days until Election Day as of publication.