“Will you shut up, man?”: The First Presidential Debate
October 1, 2020
The first Presidential debate of 2020 on Tuesday could be summed up with one word: chaos. The moderator, Fox News’ Chris Wallace, had to repeatedly tell both candidates to stop interrupting each other and had to re-explain the rules to which both campaigns agreed when President Trump would not comply, saying, “Your campaign agreed that both sides would get two-minute answers, uninterrupted. Well, your side agreed to it, and why don’t you observe what your campaign agreed to as a ground rule?”
Trump and especially former Vice President Biden repeatedly told each other to stop interrupting, with Biden asking the President the now infamous line: “Will you shut up, man?”
This kind of mayhem is unheard of in an American Presidential debate. Professionalism and politeness are usually key to appealing to voters, but that was all out the window during last night’s debate.
Many insults were hurled, and not at all subtly, with Joe Biden calling Trump “the worst president America has ever had,” and the President claiming that Biden “could never have done the job we’ve done.” Biden even called Trump a “clown” before correcting himself and calling him “President”.
Biden used The New York Times report on Trump’s taxes as ammunition, saying that “the tax code put him in a position that he pays less tax than a schoolteacher. He says he’s smart because he can take advantage of the tax code and he does take advantage of the tax. And that’s why I’m going to eliminate the Trump tax cuts and make sure that we invest in the people who, in fact, need to help people out there need help.”
Biden criticized Trump for reportedly calling fallen military service members “losers” and “suckers.” He brought up his son, Beau Biden, a veteran and attorney general who died of cancer in 2015. Trump pivoted by accusing Biden’s other son, Hunter Biden, of collecting millions of dollars from oversea interests, claims that have been said of Trump’s own sons. Biden called this accusation a lie. Trump also accused Hunter Biden of being kicked out of the military because of his cocaine addiction. Biden confirmed this. “My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem,” Biden said. “He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him.”
In a pivotal point during last night’s debate, Wallace asked Trump if he was willing “to condemn white supremacists and militia groups”, a softball question in most debates, but one that Trump refused to answer outright. He then said, “Proud Boys stand back and stand by,” referencing the alt-right, neo-fascist militant group that often promotes political violence. Later that night, the group reportedly celebrated what they took as a suggestion from Trump to be prepared to possibly inflict violence onto people depending on the outcome of the election.
The spectacle was more discord than debate. There was nothing surprising policy-wise, only in regards to the behavior of the two candidates. The Presidential Debate Commission later declared that they would look into possible changes to the debates going forward to encourage them to be more civil. It has also been speculated that the two remaining debates will not take place after Tuesday’s fiasco. It will be certainly interesting to see what happens to this year’s debates and debates going forward.