Source: Forbes-Tate Partners who manages the We Are Golf coalition in Washington, DC.
The first of three planned presidential debates between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden took place on Sept. 29 in Cleveland, Ohio. This debate will ultimately be remembered for cross-talk, interruptions, personal attacks, and responses about extremist groups and the integrity of the election, rather than as a contest of ideas. However, below are a few top-line takeaways from what was largely a chaotic 90 minutes.
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- The debate was combative throughout. Substantive policy discussions were scarce, and the debate was shaped by interruptions and conflict with the moderator. Candidates were almost inaudible at certain points as both individuals and the moderator talked past each other. When policy was discussed or alluded to, it was almost exclusively in the context of critiques of each candidate’s prior performance in office as opposed to discussion of forward-looking agenda items. Those looking for thoughtful debate about policy were left disappointed.
- As expected, healthcare and the Affordable Care Act were hotly debated. Early in the debate, President Trump accused Vice President Biden of pandering to the left-wing of the Democratic Party in advancing Medicare-for-All. Biden dismissed this notion and stated he was the leader of the Democratic Party and in command in its platform. Further, Vice President Biden emphasized that he does not support Medicare-for-All and would focus on building upon the Affordable Care Act (ACA), providing coverage for the uninsured by expanding Medicaid in the states that have not yet expanded the program, and continuing to allow private insurance. Notably, Biden’s response to a question about the Supreme Court vacancy was focused almost exclusively on the oral arguments related to the ACA where he also refused to say whether he would pack the court if elected. President Trump offered few details of what his healthcare plan would look like should the Supreme Court strike down the ACA.
- Climate change made a cameo. Vice President Biden emphasized that he would work to create new green jobs and reach net-zero emissions by 2035 by building green infrastructure. Biden also stated that he would rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. President Trump again accused Biden of being an agent of progressive elements of his party and would push for the “Green New Deal,” which Trump said would be disastrous for the economy. Biden again refuted this position and referred to his own climate change/green jobs plan as the Democratic platform. Vice President Biden’s focus was on jobs centered on renewable fuels, weatherization, green buildings, and other specific elements. The candidates diverged over the costs of various climate change initiatives and the extent to which federal policy should drive climate response.
- An exchange on taxes provided a glimpse of normalcy. Vice President Biden affirmed his commitment to rolling back the Tax Cut and Jobs Act and raising tax rates on upper-income earners and corporations, which President Trump argued would harm the economy. In a chaotic evening, this familiar dichotomy between the Democrat and Republican candidates was one of the few moments where last night felt like a traditional presidential debate.
- Differing interpretations of the economy. Both President Trump and Vice President Biden spent the economic portion of the debate defending their own records and attacking the past performance of their opponents. President Trump criticized Vice President Biden’s lack of achievement while touting his pre-COVID economic track record, while Vice President Biden criticized the post-COVID recession and touted his work on financial crisis recovery. Candidates espoused starkly different visions of current economic conditions, who has benefitted, and what the eventual post-COVID recovery will look like. The debate makes even clearer that the only interpretation of the economy that matters will come from voters.