Last week in this column, I wrote about how important the debate between two presidential candidates can be, not only for the United States election but also for the country’s standing around the world.
Besides being one of the critical junctures of the long U.S. election campaign process, the debates are also a presentation of the presidential candidates to the world.
Because of this, millions around the world either watch or follow the debates. On Tuesday the first of these debates took place in Cleveland between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. It was something more than anyone could have expected from a presidential debate.
Election observers, U.S. politics historians and veteran journalists all agree on one thing about
Tuesday’s debate: It was the worst debate ever to have taken place between two presidential candidates since the beginning of televised debates in 1960.
Throughout the last 60 years of the debates, “unpresidential moments” were frequently mentioned, including George H. Bush checking his watch and Al Gore sighing during the debates. What the Americans witnessed on Tuesday was nowhere near the “presidential” standards set by previous presidential debates.
In addition to the constant interruptions and accusations, the viewers watched extremely “unpresidential moments” of yelling and in some instances insulting each other during the so-called conversation.
Although everybody was expecting Trump to be “too hot” during the debate, not many people were expecting Biden to call the sitting president “a clown,” “liar” and “Putin’s puppy.”
Personal attacks, including the allegations that Trump made in regards to Biden’s son Hunter Biden, were prevalent during the 90 minutes. It seemed that during a majority of the debate the candidates preferred to attack each other’s records to make the other lose their nerves instead of responding to the questions asked. The moderator Chris Wallace was given the hardest job of keeping the debate in order, which he also failed to do.
Throughout the debate, the candidates failed to provide convincing responses to the pressing issues in the U.S. today. Most of the questions in regard to current challenges of U.S. society and economics, including the response to the COVID-19 crisis, the road map to end the economic crisis and the way to handle the health care issue remained unanswered.
Trump failed to condemn white supremacists, and his response to that specific question made headlines the following day. Biden also avoided direct questions about Antifa and other groups on the left. Both candidates avoided alienating the more radical segments of their voting base.
The polls in the aftermath of the debate demonstrated mixed results. For some Biden was more successful than Trump. But a large part of this perception was due to the low expectations from Biden mostly because of Trump’s campaign’s constant attacks on Biden’s health. This low expectation became the biggest challenge for Trump.
The polls revealed that the debates did not change the minds of the small number of undecided voters. It may even discourage them to go vote in the elections. In the aftermath of the debate, there was a hashtag campaign calling for a cancellation of upcoming debates.
Originally the next debate – which was to focus on issues of foreign and national security policies – was planned for Oct. 15. However, following the news that Trump tested positive for COVID-19, there are too many unknowns about whether there will be a debate, and if so, what the format will be given the risks of the pandemic. Maybe it is best for the U.S. not to have another such terrible debate.
[Daily Sabah, 3 October 2020]