Presidential candidates square off

E minus 29 – The first presidential debate took place in the Cleveland Clinic auditorium, Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio on September 29. The broadcast ran slightly over 90 minutes, starting at 9:00 PM (Eastern time), without breaks or commercial interruptions.

There were three men on stage – President Donald Trump, former Vice President Joe Biden, and moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News – plus a live audience of about 100 people who had been asked to refrain from showing any reactions other than a welcoming round of applause when the candidates arrived.

The auditorium was set up to observe social distancing standards established during the coronavirus epidemic. Most of the Biden guests were wearing face masks; many Trump guests and the three principals on stage were not. There would be a good deal of discussion later in the week, after President Trump and several other prominent Republicans came down with COVID-19, with critics implying that “it serves them right.”

The television audience was estimated at roundly 73 million, or say 20%+ of the US population (although the number who watched the entire debate was surely far lower). Total viewership was about 9 million lower than the record set by the first presidential debate (Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump) in 2016. Presidential debate viewership falls from 2016; Fox News tops ratings, Ted Johnson, deadline.com, 9/30/20.

Our report will recap the seven segments of the debate (with starting times noted to aid in navigating the
transcript), and then present an assessment. In addition, three colors of font will be used - red for Trump, blue for Biden, and black for everything else.

Moderator Chris Wallace announced that each debate segment would begin with a question that had not been shared with either candidate or the debate commission. (With one exception, Climate Change, the topics for the segments had been announced a week earlier.) The candidates would then have two minutes to respond, alternating as to who spoke first, to be followed by “open discussion for the rest of each segment.”

Supreme Court (1:40) - President Trump you nominated Amy Coney Barrett over the weekend to succeed the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the court. You say the Constitution is clear about your obligation and the Senate's to consider a nominee TO the court. Vice President Biden, you say that this is an effort by the president and Republicans to jam through an appointment and what you call an “abuse of power.” My first question to both of you tonight: Why are you right in the argument you make, and your opponent wrong, and where do you think a Justice Barrett would take the court. President Trump, in this first segment you go first.

Trump: We won the election. Elections have consequences. Judge Barrett is highly qualified, and will make an outstanding contribution to the court. There is plenty of time for confirmation. If the positions were reversed, Democrats would do the same thing.

Biden: American people have a right to weigh in on this, so the decision should be postponed until after the election. And while Judge Barrett may be a fine person, she has expressed the view that Obamacare is unconstitutional – an issue currently before the court – and if the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was stricken 100 million Americans with preexisting conditions (including women who are pregnant) would lose the healthcare insurance (HCI) rights they currently enjoy.

Trump denied that 100 million people with preexisting conditions stood to lose HCI and quoted the late Justice Ginsberg that presidents and members of Congress are elected to serve for their full terms of office, not for the period until the next election campaign begins. Also, Biden’s healthcare proposals would extinguish the rights of 180 million Americans to have private HCI.

Biden denied that his healthcare proposals would negate private HCI, saying “the platform of the Democratic Party is what, I, in fact, approved of” – versus, say, the Bernie Sanders healthcare plan. Also, 7 million Americans had contracted COVID-19 on the president’s watch, of whom over 200,000 had died; what would it mean for them going forward if the ACA was stricken?

Trump: What about the 300,000 veterans that died due to treatment delays by the Veterans Administration during the Obama administration? And there would have been many more COVID deaths if he hadn’t quickly imposed a travel ban on visitors from China.

Biden said Trump was also opposed to Roe v. Wade (establishing abortion rights), eliciting Trump’s response that “you don’t know her [Judge Barrett’s] view on Roe v. Wade.”

Wallace steered the conversation back to healthcare. The Supreme Court was going to hear the oral arguments on the latest challenge to the ACA shortly after the election, he told the president, and “over the last four years you have promised to repeal and replace Obamacare but you have never in these four years, come up with a plan, a comprehensive plan, to replace Obamacare.” Also, “last Thursday, you signed a largely symbolic executive order to protect people with pre-existing conditions, five days before this debate. So my question sir is, what is the Trump healthcare plan.”

Far from being symbolic, said Trump, his recent orders would cut drug prices by 80 or 90%.

Wallace then asked Biden whether the public option that he proposed adding to Obamacare would end private HCI.
No, said Biden, as only people so poor they would qualify for Medicaid would be entitled to the free public option.

Trump said Bernie Sanders had suggested otherwise in “the manifesto. Biden denied the existence of such document and accused Trump of being a liar. “You just lost the left,” said Trump, “you agreed with Bernie Sanders on a plan.”

Biden charged that 10 million Americans had already lost their HCI due to Trump’s recession, 20 million more would do so if the ACA was stricken, and “he won’t ever look in your eye and say that’s what he wants to do.”

Trump said the biggest problems with the ACA had been fixed by repealing the individual mandate [Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, 2017] and confirming that HCI would not be denied based on pre-existing conditions, but the system was still too expensive so he wanted to fix it.

Biden said Trump hadn’t lowered drug prices or done anything else constructive, didn’t have a plan, and didn’t know what he was talking about.

Wallace noted that many Democrats had expressed their determination to repeal the Senate filibuster rule and pack the Supreme Court with additional justices if Judge Barrett’s appointment was confirmed. He asked what Biden’s position was on doing this,
and the latter repeatedly ducked the question.

COVID-19 (17:00) – [There have been] 7 million cases of coronavirus in the United States and more than 200,000 people have died. Even after we produce a vaccine, experts say that it could be months or even years before we come back toward anything approaching normal. My question for both of you is based on what you have said and done so far and what you have said you would do starting in 2021, why should the American people trust you more than your opponent to deal with this public health crisis going forward. In this case, the question goes to you [Biden] first. Sir, two minutes uninterrupted.

Biden blamed Trump for the pandemic. The president didn’t have a plan. He knew how serious the virus was, but downplayed it – supposedly to avoid panicking the public but actually because he panicked himself. He didn’t even ask President Xi to permit US experts to check out the virus in Wuhan, China, but instead praised Xi for being so transparent.

Biden claimed to have laid out a plan of “exactly what we should be doing” several times, most recently in July. This involved “providing all the protective gear” and also “the money the House has passed in order to be able to go out and get people [the] help they need to keep their businesses open, open schools that cost a lot of money.” So Trump should get out of his bunker [secured location in emergency situations] and focus on the job at hand.

Trump took credit for the international travel bans and other measures that had supposedly averted a COVID death toll in the millions. The Trump administration had worked with the governors, providing great support. Gowns – ventilators – therapeutics – “now we’re weeks away from having a vaccine.” As for unfavorable press coverage, “I’ve gotten used to it.”

If Biden had been in charge, things would have been far worse. Look what happened during the swine flu outbreak during the Obama administration, it was “a disaster.”


Biden shot back that there had been 14,000 deaths, and no economic shutdown, during the swine flu. He quoted the CDC director that “we could lose as many as another 200,000 people between now and the end of the year – or maybe “just wear a mask” and “save half those numbers.” As for “the whole notion of a vaccine . . . I don’t trust him [Trump] at all, and neither do you [the American people], I know you don’t. What we trust is a scientist.”

Wallace asked Trump to explain why he had “repeatedly either contradicted or been at odds with” top government scientists, such as Dr. Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control, who said “it would be summer before the vaccine would become generally available to the public.” And “Dr. Slaoui, the head of your Operation Warp Speed, has said exactly the same thing.”

Trump referenced conversations with pharmaceutical company executives, who said “they could go faster than that by a lot, and suggested that the government estimates involved a lot of politics. He also mentioned recent discussions with Dr. Slaoui, in which the latter had agreed that “it’s a possibility that we’ll have the answer [a vaccine] before November 1.” And if so, the military was set up to handle the distribution logistics “very quickly.”

Biden agreed that one or more vaccines might possibly be ready by the end of the year, but said the distribution thereof wouldn’t occur until “sometime beginning or the middle of next year [sic] to get it out.”

Wallace asked Biden about a comment by his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, that Trump wasn’t simply less reliable than the scientists but might muzzle them.
Maybe, said Biden, but there were too many scientists involved for Trump to get away with it.

Trump said he had spoken to the scientists in charge, and “they will have the vaccine very soon.”

“Do you believe for a moment what he’s telling you?” asked Biden, reprising his claim that Trump misled the American people in February by not advising how dangerous the virus was. So “a lot of people died, and a lot more are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter.”

Trump shot back that there was nothing smart about his opponent, who had spent 47 years in politics “doing nothing.”

Wallace asked Biden why he had been more reluctant than Trump to back reopening the economy, sending children back to school, etc.

Trump didn’t have a plan, said Biden, and things would be going much better if he [Biden] were in charge. He seemed to believe that the real solution was to appropriate more money to provide COVID-19 relief. “Nancy Pelosi and Schumer -- they have a plan. He won't even meet with them. The Republicans won't meet with them in the Senate.”

Biden wanted to shut down the economy, said Trump, but we already did that – early on, when we didn’t know much about the virus – and now it was time to start reopening. More COVID deaths might result, but other health hazards were also involved, e.g., neglect of non-COVID medical issues and substance abuse. The real objection to reopening was political, namely Democrats wanted to continue the shutdown until after the election.

Wallace raised two related topics, wearing masks (which Biden has done more than Trump, as Trump derisively pointed out) and scheduling of large political rallies (which Trump relishes and Biden has avoided). In both cases, Trump’s position would be called into question by the subsequent COVID outbreaks.

Economy (33:00) - Gentlemen, can we move on to the economy. The economy is, I think it's fair to say, recovering faster than expected from the shutdown much in the second quarter. The unemployment rate fell to 8.4% last month. The Federal Reserve says the hit to growth which is going to be there is not going to be nearly as big as they had expected. President Trump, you say we are in a V shaped recovery. Vice President Biden you say it's more of a K shape. What difference does that mean to the American people in terms of the economy. President Trump, in this segment, you go first.

Trump: We built the greatest economy in history, and then had to shut it down. Tough thing to do, but it saved lots of lives. Now we’re reopening and doing record business, 10 million people rejoining the workforce in a 4-month period. There’s no need to keep things closed, people know what to do now. Social distancing – wash their hands – wear masks. “We don't need somebody [e.g., Biden] to come in and say let's shut it down.”

Biden: Funny thing, it’s the millionaires and billionaires who are prospering during the pandemic. This guy [Trump] paid a total of $750 in federal income taxes [per a report in the New York Times that may or may not be accurate and has been denied]. Meanwhile the folks on the front lines have been getting the shaft. He’s going to be the first president in American history who leaves office when there are fewer people with jobs than there were when he took office. And with coronavirus cases rising in a number of states, this isn’t a good time to send people back to work. Why not fix the COVID problem first? They aren’t supplying masks to students and teachers, not a national emergency they say, or doing a darned thing for all the small businesses that have been forced to close.

Wallace grilled the president about his taxes. Was it true that he had paid only $750 in federal income taxes for 2016 & 2017, and if not how much had he paid?
Trump’s answer was “millions of dollars,” and he promised that his tax returns would be provided at some point but didn’t say when. He also observed that anyone who paid more income taxes than they owed under the tax laws was stupid, so perhaps the questions should be directed to members of Congress (like Joe Biden for many years) who had passed the tax laws.

Biden slammed the Trump tax cuts enacted at the end of 2017 (taking effect in 2018 et seq.), saying he planned to eliminate them. He also labeled Trump “the worst president America’s ever had,” at which point Trump shot back that he had done more in 47 months than Biden had accomplished in 47 years.

Wallace said it was time to talk about future plans for the economy and asked Biden to explain his agenda. Big government – big spending – some $4 trillion in new taxes over 10 years on corporations and individuals with taxable income of over $400 thousand per year. Trump said the new taxes would hurt the economy when it was just coming out of a recession, did he have a point?

Biden began to talk about an “analysis done by Wall Street firms” which supposedly showed that his own economic plan would create 7 million more jobs than Trump’s, plus creating an additional $1 trillion in economic growth because it would be about buying America. Wallace interjected that his question was about the taxes, not the associated spending.

At this point, Biden seemed to be floundering. “Well, by the way, I'm going to eliminate a significant number of the tax. I'm going to make the, the corporate tax 28%, shouldn't be 21%. You have 19 companies--91 companies, federal, I mean in the fortune 500, who don't pay a single penny in tax making billions of dollars.”

“Why didn’t you do it when you were vice president with Obama?” asked Trump, effectively bailing Biden out. He went on to brag that his administration had gotten the tax cuts done, and “our economy boomed like it’s never boomed.”

Pivoting to Trump, Wallace requested confirmation that his free market approach continued to be “lower taxes, more deregulation.” He added that the economy had been booming under Obama, as shown by the fact that in Obama’s final three years as president “a million and a half more jobs [were created] than in the first three years of your presidency.”

[Wallace’s point appears to be dubious. According to Department of Labor statistics, total civilian jobs (seasonally adjusted) rose by 4.5 million from 12/31/13 to 12/31/16 and by 4.8 million from 12/31/16 to 12/31/19.]

Trump responded that this had been the slowest recovery since 1929 and predicted dire consequences if corporate taxes were hiked again.

Biden claimed the Obama administration had inherited “the worst recession short of a depression in American history,” led an economic recovery, and left a “booming economy” after which Trump “blew it.”

Trump said it wasn’t enough to just look at total jobs, China had been eating our lunch and he had started bringing back manufacturing jobs. That’s what a booming economy looked like. And he segued into how Hunter Biden had profited from questionable business dealings in China, Russia, etc., prompting furious denials from Hunter’s father. The conversation grew increasingly chaotic, and Wallace lost control for several minutes.

Race and Violence (49:00) - Let's please continue on. The issue of race. Vice President Biden you say that President Trump's response to the violence in Charlottesville three years ago, when he talked about very fine people on both sides, was what directly led you to launch this run for president. President Trump, you have often said that you believe you have done more for black Americans than any president with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln. My question for the two of you is why should voters trust you, rather than your opponent, to deal with the race issues facing this country over the next four years? Vice President Biden, you go first.

Biden accused Trump of walking away from racial issues, e.g., by saying “there were very fine people on both sides” during the Charlottesville protests in 2017, rather than denouncing the white supremacists, and by having troops clear out peaceful protestors with tear gas in front of the White House so he could walk across the park to hold up a bible in front of a church. “This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division.”

Trump said Biden had worked on the 1994 crime bill that was based on the concept that blacks were “super predators,” and “you’ve called them worse than that.” As for his own record, Trump had just been endorsed by 200-250 military leaders, not to mention almost every law enforcement group in the United States.” For his part, Biden couldn’t even say the words law enforcement, because “if you say those words, you're going to lose all of your radical left supporters.” Most big US cities are run by radical left Democrats, and “they've got you wrapped around their finger, Joe.”

Prompted by a question from Wallace, referencing the Brianna Taylor case (Louisville, KY), Biden said he believed there is “systemic injustice” in this country. Sure, most police officers are doing a good job, but there are “bad apples” and they need to be held accountable. And as president, he would call together “an entire group of people at the White House” (civil rights groups, police officers, etc.) “to work this out.” Biden added that “violence in response [to racial injustice] is never appropriate,” all protests should be peaceful.

Trump confirmed that he had directed federal agencies to discontinue “racial sensitivity training that addresses white privilege or critical race theory.” His reasoning was that the training was itself racist, and that it made no sense to pay trainers “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to teach people "to hate our country.”

Biden said Trump was the racist. Racial insensitivity exists, and “people have to be made aware of what other people feel like, what insults them, what is demeaning to them.” Consider “how this guy and his friends looked down on so many people. They look down their nose on people like Irish Catholics like me who grew up in Scranton.” We can “defeat racism,” but we have to “do it together.”

Hearkening back to the Obama administration, Trump said there had been racially-related division then too, e.g., in Baltimore. “Frankly, it was more violent than what I'm even seeing now.” It seems that the Democrats who run these cities don’t want to talk about law and order. By the way, Joe, you still haven’t said whether you’re in favor of law and order.

Biden claimed violent crime had gone down 15% or so during the Obama administration, but was now up on Trump’s watch.

Wallace acknowledged a recent spike in homicides, but claimed it had also occurred in Republican-run cities like Tulsa and Ft. Worth. Trump continued to insist that violence was a partisan issue, citing Chicago and New York, even though there might be a couple of examples on the other side. Biden wouldn’t even say the words “law and order,” for fear of losing his radical left supporters, and if he won the presidency then there would go the suburbs as well.

Biden said the suburbs were largely integrated, this wasn’t the 1950s, and the racial dog whistles wouldn’t work anymore. The problem in the suburbs was mishandling of environmental issues, not racial justice.

Asked whether he supported defunding the police or the Black Lives Matter movement, Biden equivocated. He was in favor of helping the police deal with their problems, e.g., by getting back to community policing and having trained psychologists along on responses to 911 calls who would “be able to talk people down.” And hadn’t the Trump administration submitted a budget proposal calling for a $400 million cut in local law enforcement assistance grants?

Wallace turned to cities where protests had turned violent with some regularity, and asked Biden whether he had ever called the mayor of Portland to suggest that it was time to call in the National Guard or whatever to restore order.

The answer was apparently “no,” but Biden wouldn’t say so. The Oregon authorities could deal with things, he suggested, if the president would “just stay out of the way.” Also, a former Trump spokesperson – probably Kellyanne Conway - had said riots and chaos and violence helped Trump’s cause. “That's what this is all about.”

Without permitting the president to respond to this claim, Wallace asked whether – having criticized Biden for not calling out Antifa and Black Lives Matter – Trump was willing to denounce white supremacist groups, e.g., the Proud Boys.

After considerable back and forth, Trump volunteered the following statement: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I'll tell you what, I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem.”

[There would be much discussion after the debate as to whether this statement was sufficient, e.g., what was meant by “stand by”? Meanwhile, no one was talking about Biden’s silence re Antifa and Black Lives Matter.]

Trump/Biden Records (1:06) - When the President [seeks] a second term, it’s generally a referendum on his record. But Vice President Biden you like to quote your dad's sayings. [one of which] is “Don't compare me to the almighty, compare me to the alternative.” And in this case, sir, you are the alternative. Looking at both of your records, I'm going to ask each of you, why should voters [prefer] you [as] President over your opponent. In this segment, President Trump you'll go first. 10 [sic] minutes.

Trump unreeled a string of purported successes, which had been accomplished in only 3 and one-half years despite the impeachment hoax. The greatest economy in history, before COVID came in, and now we’re building it back up again. Rebuilding of the military, including the space force – fixing the Veterans Administration – approximately 300 judges appointed, including, hopefully, three great Supreme Court justices.

Biden: When I was vice president, “we inherited a recession. I was asked to fix it, I did. We left a booming economy, and he caused the recession.” And in general, the country has become “weaker, sicker. poorer, more divid[ed] and more violent.”

With regard to being weaker, “I've gone head to head with Putin and made it clear to him we're not going to take any of his stuff. [Trump is] Putin’s puppy. He still refuses to even say anything to Putin about the bounty on the heads of American soldiers.”

Sicker due to COVID. Poorer because millionaires and billionaires are getting richer, but no one else is. When we were in office, there was 15% less violence in America than there is today. He's president of the United states. It’s on his watch. And with regard to being more divided, the nation can't stay this way.

“And speaking of my son, the way you talk about the military, the way you talk about them being losers [and] suckers. My son [Beau Biden] was in Iraq. He spent a year there. He got the Bronze Star. He got the Conspicuous Service Medal. He was not a loser. He was a patriot. And the people left behind there were heroes.”


A reprise followed of the shouting match that had developed at the end of the Economy segment, supra. Again, Hunter Biden was Trump’s principal target.

Climate Change (71:30) - You know, I'd like to talk about climate change. Okay, the forest fires in the West, are raging now. They have burned millions of acres. They have displaced hundreds of thousands of people. When state officials there blame the fires on climate change, Mr. President, you said, “I don't think the science knows.” Over your four years, you have pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord. You have rolled back a number of Obama environmental [measures]. What do you believe about the science of climate change? And what will you do in the next four years to confront it?

Trump: I believe in crystal clear water and air. And if you look at our carbon emission numbers right now, we are doing phenomenally. But I haven’t destroyed our businesses, and the Paris accord was a disaster from a US standpoint. As for the forest fires, it’s time to practice proper forest management because the forest floors are loaded up with dried, combustible materials.

Wallace: What do you believe about the science of climate change? Not satisfied with a comment about clean air and water, plus talk about a project to plant a billion trees, he wanted acknowledgment that “human pollution, greenhouse gas emissions contributes to the global warming of this planet?

Trump: To an extent, yes, but then a lot of things cause global warming. And then he started talking about better forest management again, and how this activity is better handled in Europe.

Wallace: But sir, if you believe in the science of climate change, why have you rolled back the Obama Clean Power Plan, which limited carbon emissions in power plants? Why have you relaxed fuel economy standards that are going to create [reduce?] pollution from cars?

T
rump: The Clean Power Plan was driving energy prices through the sky, and the mileage standards didn’t make that much difference when you consider that they resulted in less-safe cars and encouraged Americans to hang on to their older cars.

Biden: On being invited to join in the conversation, the vice president began by saying that the president was “absolutely wrong,” as during the Obama administration “I was able to bring down the cost of renewable energy to cheaper than, or as cheap as coal, and gas, and oil. Nobody's going to build another coal fire plant in America. No one's going to build another oil fire in America.” The future belonged to renewable energy, and we can get to net zero in terms of energy production by 2035 while creating millions of prevailing wage jobs. Rejoin the Paris Climate Accord - protect the Brazilian rain forest (all the nations of the world have to do is pony up $20 billion a year)

Wallace: What about the president’s argument that you have to balance environmental interests and economic interests?
To which Trump added that the issue was the Green New Deal, and the cost wasn’t “2 billion or 20 billion as you said, it's $100 trillion.”

After considerable back and forth, Biden wound up denying that he supported the Green New Deal. “I support the Biden plan that I put forward.” [However, according to the text of said plan: “Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face.”]

Election Integrity (82:00) - As we meet tonight, millions of Americans are receiving mail-in ballots or going to vote early. How confident should we be that this will be a fair election and what are you prepared to do over the next five plus weeks, because it'll not only be the election day but also counting some ballots, mail-in ballots after election day. What are you prepared to do to reassure the American people that the next President will be the legitimate winner of this election? In this final segment, Mr. Vice President, you go first.

Biden - Americans should go to Iwillvote.com, decide how and when they’re going to vote and then follow through. The Homeland Security and FBI directors have said there’s no evidence that “mail-in ballots are a source of being manipulated and cheating.” Because of COVID, millions of American’s will be voting by mail – even Trump. But we also need to ensure that people who want to vote in person can do so safely. Poll watchers – social distancing – polls open on time and “stay open until the votes are counted”[?].

All the scare talk about an illegitimate election is to try and suppress voter turnout. Win or lose, I’ll accept the result. And if Trump loses, he’s going to leave. So rest assured that you have it in your control to determine what this country is going to look like for the next four years. Will it change, or will we get “four more years of these lies?”

T
rump – After I won the election in 2016, they came after me trying to do a coup – and it’s all on tape. You [Biden] gave the idea for the Logan act charge against General Flynn. And President Obama knew about it too, so don't tell me about a free transition. [This passage isn’t a reaction to Biden’s debate statement; it was apparently prompted by previous discussion as to whether Trump was prepared to gracefully accept an election loss.]

As far as mail-in ballots are concerned, solicited absentee ballots are OK. But various states are sending our millions of unsolicited ballots, and that’s an invitation for disaster. Ballots found in creeks – ballots with the name Trump in waste baskets – in one Democratic area everybody got two ballots. This could lead to “fraud like you've never seen.”

After Election Day on November 3, we may not know who won for months because the ballots will be all over the place. Take a look at what happened in Manhattan – New Jersey – Virginia – other places. “They're not losing 2%, 1%, which by the way is too much. *** They’re losing 30 and 40%.” And can you imagine where they say, “you have to have your ballot in by November 10,” which means 7 days after the election. Buckle up!


Wallace: Over a quarter of the votes were cast by mail in 2018, and millions of mail-in ballots had been sent out already this year. So what are you ]Trump] going to do about it? And are you counting on the Supreme Court, including a justice Barrett, to settle [any] disputes?

Trump seemingly agreed that the Supreme Court might have to get involved in the ballot counting phase, but he didn’t offer any specific approaches to minimize the problems.

Biden: No worries, you don’t have to solicit the ballot, it’s sent to your home automatically. All the states are saying is there has to be a postmark by election day, even if the ballot comes in a little late. He’s just afraid of counting the votes because . . .

Trump: He’s wrong, he’s wrong.

Wallace noted that a lot of mail-in votes get wind up getting disqualified due to paperwork irregularities, and asked Biden if he had any concerns about the Supreme Court with Justice Amy Barrett settling matters.

Biden: “I’m concerned that any court would settle this,” because these ballots have affidavits and that should provide a sufficient basis to count them. [There was no discussion of reports that the Biden team has recruited hundreds of attorneys to participate in election disputes around the country.]

Wallace: Final question, bearing in mind that eight states don’t permit mail-in ballots to be opened, let alone counted before election day, would the candidates urge their supporters to stay calm if the presidential election winner remained undetermined for a while. The answers were less than reassuring.

Trump: “I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully because that's what has to happen. I am urging them to do it. As you know, today there was a big problem. In Philadelphia, they went into watch, they were called poll watchers, a very safe very nice thing. They were thrown out. They weren't allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia. Bad things. And I am urging, I am urging my people- I hope it's going to be a fair election. If it's a fair election, I am 100% on board. But if I see 10s of thousands of ballots being manipulated. I can't go along with that.”

Biden: “He has no idea what he's talking about. Here's the deal, the fact is, I will accept it and he will too. Because you know why? Because once the winner is declared, after all the, all the ballots are counted, all the votes are counted, that'll be the end of it. That'll be the end of it. And if it's me, in fact, fine. And if it's not me, I'll support the outcome. And I'll be a president, not just for the Democrats. I'll be president for Democrats and Republicans.”

Assessment – First reactions to this debate were typically negative, e.g., it was chaotic, juvenile and uninformative. On second thought, however, some crucial issues were covered in a way that revealed the very different ideas and styles of the two presidential candidates.

Moderator Chris Wallace lost control of the debate at times, and he also erred by almost invariably tilting in Joe Biden’s favor. Chris Wallace is a miserable debate moderator, Eddie Scarry, Washington Examiner,
9/29/20. Wallace’s questions were pretty good, however, and he was obviously well prepared (even though one of his “fact checks” was muffed). Also, he kept the debate running on schedule and each candidate got about the same time to speak.

We would have liked to see a discussion of the fiscal problem, and wrote to Wallace a year ago to make that very point. SAFE newsletter, Fall 2020,
debates. In all fairness, however, the fiscal problem doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s political radar screen right now.

Joe Biden didn’t implode on the debate stage and managed to maintain the pose of being a “moderate.” However, the challenger fell short of refuting Trump’s claim that he has been taken hostage by the radical left. Notice especially Biden’s equivocations about the Green New Deal, packing the Supreme Court and specifically denouncing leftist rioters, not to mention his professed lack of concern about the implications of mail-in voting.

President Trump overdid the interruptions and insults, which were probably intended to throw Biden off balance. In some cases, see, e.g., the Economy, supra, he actually created a diversion when his opponent seemed on the verge of floundering. A hot mess of a debate and a bad plan by Trump, Michael Goodwin, New York Post,
9/30/20.

And while it was hard to put one’s finger on it, there was a sense of vulnerability on the debate stage that one doesn’t normally get from watching the president in action. Who knows, perhaps we were experiencing a premonition of the COVID infection that would be diagnosed three days later.



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