Trump motivates base while Biden fails to lure undecided voters in first debate

The presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump was exactly what I expected it to be—a mess. Both candidates shouted and hurled insults at each other, and seldom answered the questions that were given to them.

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The presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump was exactly what I expected it to be—a mess. Both candidates shouted and hurled insults at each other, and seldom answered the questions that were given to them.

Jack Dennison '21, Broadcast Director

The presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump was exactly what I expected it to bea mess. 

Both candidates shouted and hurled insults at each other, and seldom answered the questions that were given to them. As ABC commentator George Stefanopoulos said at the end of the debate, “That was the worst presidential debate I’ve ever seen in my life.” If there were any winners of the debate, it would be the calm, affable and unbiased Chris Wallace (and even he was falling apart towards the end). 

And so the question becomes not who won, but who did worse?

At first glance, the obvious answer is Trump. One major headline came out of the debate: Trump telling the far-right group Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” He was obviously unprepared for Chris Wallace’s question regarding condemning white supremacy, and didn’t want to make a definitive statement without the clearance from his advisors.

However, while this mistake was bad, it will only be bad for the short term.

Biden, on the other hand, made four mistakes that will cost him longterm with undecided votes.

The first mistake he made was telling the audience to assume that everything Trump was saying was a lie. Early in the debate, while the candidates were making their opening statements, Biden says “The fact is that everything he’s saying so far– it’s simply a lie. I’m not here to call out his lies; everybody knows he’s a liar.” 

While this initially sounds fine, the fact is loosely discrediting everything the opposition is saying is a very weak tactic, because it puts into question whether Biden is lying himself with those general accusations.

The second mistake he made was one of the most remembered parts of the debate. After Trump repeatedly pressured Biden to answer whether he would pack the court if he gets elected, Biden responded with “Will you shut up man?”

This was praised by Democrats as “saying what all Americans are saying.” But for independents, it showed a level of immaturity on the level of Trump. One of the main appeals of Biden is that he appears to be a much more mature and put together person than Trump. Telling the opposing candidate to shut up displays the belief that both candidates are equally as childish as each other, which is not a good look for undecided voters.

The final blunder that Biden made was another memorable quote. Seemingly out of nowhere while discussing taxes, Biden told Trump “You’re the worst president America ever had.”

Maybe this is just me, but I believe that this is a very exaggerated claim made by Biden, who is supposed to be viewed as the reasonable counter-candidate to Trump. He obviously knows, as a history major that the claim he made isn’t true, but he assumed, correctly, that his base would believe what he said was the truth. 

The fact is that the claim is not only wrong, but almost offensive. Biden implicitly said that Trump is worse than Andrew Jackson, who was behind the Trail of Tears, James Buchanan, whose inaction on slavery directly led to the Civil War, and Andrew Johnson, who did very little to punish the south for losing the Civil War. Say what you will about Trump, but he didn’t force Native-Americans out of their lands or cause a Civil War (yet).

Now, you may ask, why does it matter? Trump did just as bad, if not worse than Biden. But here’s the thing, Trump did exactly what everyone expected him to. He routinely attacked Biden, as he did with Clinton four years prior. He’s likely not going to lose much support from this, because his base is notoriously devoted.

The same can not be said for Biden, however, as many people were expecting him to be the more mature candidate in the debate. Instead, he came off as angry and as senile as Trump. To undecided voters, this could be very discouraging. It can give an impression that both of the candidates are as bad as each other, which can dissuade people from voting because there is no point to doing so. This would be a disaster for Biden, as Hillary lost because she couldn’t get enough independent voters. Democrats could fall into the same trip this year as they did four years ago.