Summary and Analysis of the First Presidential Debate


Anna Hayward, Writer

Tuesday’s 1st Presidential Debate was undoubtedly a disaster for all parties involved. If you don’t believe me, believe Jake Tapper of CNN, who said on-air, “That was a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck. That was the worst debate I have ever seen.” We saw personal attacks, constant interruptions, and a supreme lack of productivity. In a time where our country is looking for stability, peace, and a strong leader, we got an unorganized free-for-all.

Neither candidate seems to have won the debate. In my opinion, former vice president Joe Biden came off as easily riled by his opponent and lacking strength and conviction while President Donald Trump came off as condescending and infantile due to his personal jabs and interruptions at his opponent.

But is this debate a precursor to what the November election could look like? This year’s election is arguably one of the most contentious in American history – both sides of the political spectrum are incredibly polarized. I’m worried that what seems like a personal rivalry between the candidates right now could turn into a non-peaceful transfer of power in November. President Trump has already refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, saying “There won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation.” (New York Times, 2020). Although this debate seems like a disaster now, it could only be the tip of a very slippery iceberg. 

To understand what the future of this election holds, let’s recap what both candidates had to say for each major topic of the debate:


Biden began by arguing that his opponent had no solid plan in response to the pandemic. As a result of this and his blind oversight when it came to listening to the WHO’s COVID guidelines, Biden argues, thousands of Americans died needlessly. It is worth noting that “the US accounts for about 4% of the world’s population but 22% of its confirmed COVID-19 deaths” (Leonhardt, New York Times). Additionally, Biden stated that Trump had known about the severity of COVID-19 since February, and yet did not take the proper precautions.

When responding to Biden’s criticism, Trump replied, “You would have done worse.” He continued by praising his own response to COVID-19 and even bragged about the size of his rallies compared to Biden. This is especially ironic now that the president is confirmed to have contracted the virus. I found Trump’s responses especially interesting because he rarely attempted to defend himself – instead, he defaulted on shifting the blame to Biden and using vague phrases that were likely meant to comfort his supporters. To me, this is evidence that the president had no real plan in response to COVID-19 and was essentially figuring it out as he went along. 


Trump began by remaining loyal to his healthcare plan of doubling down on private insurance and to continue cutting public benefits. Responding to his opponent, he said Americans are happy on private healthcare insurance and “don’t want their healthcare taken away from them.” He claimed that Biden’s plan would take millions of people off of their private healthcare, which was then disproved by his opponent. Later, Trump also stated that “the Democratic party wants to go socialist for healthcare”, which his opponent refuted.

Biden argued that Trump had no plan for addressing the thousands of Americans who cannot afford private healthcare. He then introduced his own healthcare plan, stating that it was an extension of Obamacare. Most Americans would stay on private healthcare and insurance, he explained, but a public option would also be introduced only for those Americans who qualify for Medicaid. For this category, Biden definitely came across as stronger because of his clear healthcare plan. 


Biden began by arguing that Trump has done nothing for people of color in the United States and has in fact been “the worst president” in regards to racism. The former vice president continued throughout the debate to call Trump a racist. As for his own plans to combat systemic racism, Biden admits that American policing involves “systematic injustice.” However, he states that he supports and respects most police officers and thinks there are simply “bad apples” within the system. He plans to introduce more racial equity training in the education of police officers.

Trump responded by saying that he has done more than any other president for Americans of color. He then began attacking Biden’s stances and blaming the “radical left democrats” for racial violence. Again, Trump’s tactic here seems to be interrupting and accosting Biden’s plans instead of discussing his own. When asked point-blank if he denounced white supremacy, Trump replied, “Stand back and stand by”, talking to a far-right, neo-fascist and male-only organization called The Proud Boys. This group has been known to have ties with white supremacists and engage in political violence. Let me rephrase that: Trump not only refused to condemn white supremacy, but he showed his support for a racist, sexist, and violent organization.

Trump’s Lies

Yes, Donald Trump blatantly lied so many times during this debate that it’s going to have an entire section in this article. These are only the lies that I caught while watching, and knew for sure could be disproved (more comprehensive lists can be found by a quick google search!). It’s important to note that Biden was also not entirely truthful, but his lies were fewer and farther in between. He does not have a history of extensive lies like Trump does, so I’m more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Let’s analyze and debunk Trump’s lies one by one:

  • “I paid millions in taxes in 2016-2017.”

“Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750.

He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.” (New York Times, 2020)

Source – 

  • “We are a week away from a [COVID-19] vaccine.”

I think anyone with moderate sensibility knows that this is not true, but here’s some legitimate sources for good measure.

“Most experts think a vaccine is likely to become widely available by mid-2021” (BBC News, 2020)

“Realistically, a vaccine will take 12 to 18 months or longer to develop and test in human clinical trials. And we don’t know yet whether an effective vaccine is possible for this virus.” (Mayo Clinic, 2020)

Sources –,possible%20for%20this%20virus

  • “Racial violence has gone down in my term.”

Graph in first link shows a stark rise in race related hate crimes from 2016-2018 in Washington D.C. (The Washington Post)

Graph in this paper (first link) shows a dramatic increase in hate crimes in the 3rd quarter of 2016 (around when Trump was elected) as compared to other years. This data is collected by the FBI. (The Effect of President Trump’s Election on Hate Crimes)

Graph in third link shows Anti-Muslim hate crimes increased dramatically in 2016, past 9/11 levels. (Again collected from the FBI) (Statista)

Sources – (page 8) 

  • “I don’t think science knows” (referring to climate change)

Trust me, Donald, science knows.

“Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.” (NASA)

Also, graph on this same page shows a rapidly rising temperature anomaly in global climate temperatures from 1880 – 2020.

Source – 

  • Mail-in ballots are “a disaster, rigged, fraud.”

“That claim about foreign-made ballots was the latest misleading statement from Mr. Trump: He offered no evidence, and the tampering of ballots is widely seen as a nearly impossible scenario because they are printed on very specific stock and often have specific tracking systems like bar codes” (New York Times, 2020).

“Thus far there is no evidence that people are stealing and submitting ballots” (NYT, 2020)

This article from the New York Times explains how registration vetting, unique barcodes that record the path of the ballot, and ballot return envelopes work together to ensure the safety of mail-in voting.

Source – 

  • “You graduated either the lowest or almost the lowest in your class. Don’t ever use the word smart with me.” (Trump referring to Biden)

Again, this is just incorrect. 

“But last week Biden released his law school records showing he had graduated 76th in a law school class of 85.” (AP News, 1987)

Source –

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