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The Un-Presidential… Presidential Debates

By Mateo Gomez


Photo Credit to The Atlantic

It is hard to imagine a presidential race in the United States without presidential debates. These debates became “a thing” back in 1960 with JFK and Nixon. Because of the political unrest after JFK’s assassination and the Watergate scandal, the next debate took place in 1976 with Carter and Ford. 

Fast forward 40 years later to 2016. The U.S. witnessed three brutal debates with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Three debates that were criticized by opposing T.V. news networks and ridiculed on Saturday Night Live.  

Fast forward 4 more years later to present day. On Sept. 29, America and the rest of the world had a front seat to the first Joe Biden versus Donald Trump debate. It took place in Ohio, a state that many political analysts, academics, and experts consider to be a swing state in this election. 

Photo Credit to CNN

These debates require a lot of preparation. The Commission on Presidential Debates must choose the format, the moderators, the length of each segment and how much time a candidate has to answer the questions, and all the way to the height of the podium. Candidates also have to prepare. They study the opposing candidate and even have someone role-play their opponent in a mock debate. 

First Debate

The first presidential debate of 2020 was a single moderator debate. Chris Wallace from Fox News was the moderator. Many on social media, on political programs and in print media criticized his moderating of the event. 

Photo Credit to The Washington Post

Visibly, he lost control of the debate within the first ten minutes. The main focus was the new U.S. Supreme Court nomination and it ended up focusing on the Affordable Care Act. 

Wallace spoke with the New York Times the next day. It was a “terrible missed opportunity,” he said. 

According to the New York Times and CNN, around 73 million people watched the debate --  11 million less than the most watched debate in history was the first debate of Trump versus Clinton in 2016 with 84 million views. 

Based on many scholars, debates can change the outcome of an election, but it is not very common. The campaign trail spans two years, if not more. By the time the first debate in September occurs, most voters have already decided.

What debates actually do is solidify the perception of a viewer and potential viewer. Many party followers tend to watch debates in order to cheer on their favored candidate. 

The Vice-Presidential Debate… with three members

That is what many said during the Vice-Presidential debate. The viewpoints about both Senator Kamala Harris and current Vice President Mike Pence stemmed from their past performances.

Graphic Credit to CBC

The real conversation that emerged after the Vice-Presidential debate took place in Utah on Oct. 7 was the third member – a fly. For 123 seconds, or 2 minutes and 3 seconds, a fly remained on Vice President Mike Pence’s head. Within minutes, memes circulated the internet.

Flies are actually becoming part of the debate tradition. During the second debate in 2016, Hillary Clinton was also visited by an insect. President Trump and President Obama have both had special moments with insects, as well. 

Presidential Debate 2?

On Oct. 2, President Donald Trump tweeted that he tested positive for COVID-19, exactly 3 days after the first Presidential Debate. This tweet was in the early morning, so some may say it was two days after, since he was tested on Oct. 1. 

The public and media started asking a question – what about the second debate?

Graphic Credit to Melissa Manohar

The second debate was slated for Oct. 15 in Miami, Florida at the Adrienne Arsht Center. This debate was important because it was a town hall style debate. Voters in Miami would have had the chance to ask the questions they cared about – like healthcare, immigration, and climate change.

On the morning of Oct. 8, the Commission announced that this debate would be staged virtually. Thirty minutes later, President Trump stated that he refused to attend. 

Graphic Credit to Melissa Manohar

Instead of the debate with President Trump, Joe Biden agreed to a town hall event in Philadelphia on Oct. 15 like the one at which he appeared in Miami on ABC. President Trump will have another town hall in Miami on the same night on NBC.

The final presidential debate is slated for Oct. 22 in Nashville, TN.

Graphic Credit to Melissa Manohar