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The Un-Presidential… Presidential Debates

By Mateo Gomez


Background

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.