The Worst Presidential Debate in History

Carter Gramiak, Columnist

This election is, without a question, one of the most contentious elections in modern United States history. Ever since Joe Biden was the clear Democratic nominee, the onslaught of negative campaigning against both sides has been relentless. Even before the debate, it was clear that the division that has been stroked in the public would be immensely present on the stage in Cleveland, Ohio. Nobody, however, could have imagined how big of a, to quote Jake Tapper, “hot mess inside of a dumpster fire inside of a trainwreck” it would be. 

For those of you who had the immensely painful experience of witnessing that debate, you’ll agree: it was… a spectacle. Going into this debate, I was excited to see Trump exposed for the many lies that he has been caught in on the campaign trail. Whether it be his active tax evasion, or his total and complete lack of a new and improved health care plan (after YEARS of promising one), I really thought that a new lack of shelter from the little criticism he faces from his base would pose a major problem to his campaign. I was sorely mistaken. 

Right out the gate, President Trump was acting as if moderator Chris Wallace was not even there. Before the debate, both campaigns agreed upon a set of rules that both candidates agreed with, which specifically outlined when, and how long, both candidates could talk. As consistent with many of the other facets of his life, Trump disregarded those rules and, in essence, broke the agreement. For the length of the debate, President Trump spoke out of turn, interrupted, ignored debate prompts and was completely disrespectful towards both Chris Wallace and Vice President Biden. The most common rebuttal I have heard from Trump supporters is that the total and complete lack of decorum was, in fact, Biden’s fault, as he was the one that “sparked” all of the interruptions because “he did it first”. When I hear this, my rebuttal is simple. If someone breaks a window at a house, and then someone burns down that house, you can’t blame the person who broke the window for the house being destroyed. That’s just not how it works. Trump had every opportunity to return the respect to the debate stage; it’s very clear that he actively chose not to. From that moment on, it became abundantly clear that the consistent blatant ignorance of the rules was a strategy, an attempt to seem powerful and in charge, while simultaneously trying to throw Biden off of his game.

This strategy is very on-brand for President Trump. His campaign is about shaking up the norms, “draining the swamp,” and turning Washington on its head. A debate, however, is absolutely not the place for this sort of mindset. While Vice President Biden was attempting to make his points and answer Wallace’s questions, President Trump would continuously interrupt him. Oftentimes, when Trump would interrupt him, his interruption was to try to diminish the often very important points that Biden was making. In the few moments when he was able to speak a complete sentence, he made excellent points. It makes sense why Trump would want to constantly interrupt him. To me, there is no greater way to disrespect someone than steamrolling over what they have to say, constantly. The way that Biden was able to maintain his composure, albeit with a clownish exception (haha get it?), is absolutely incredible. The American people, evidently, agree with that too. The overwhelming majority of the post-debate polls showed, with almost no faltering, that Trump was defeated handily. According to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, a compilation of polls, 2/3 of those polled believed that Biden won the debate. Biden also saw a roughly 2 point boost in the general election polls when compared to polls taken before the debate. If there’s one takeaway from what we saw at the debate, it’s this; Joe Biden’s behavior looked presidential and professional, Donald Trump’s did not.