After Action Report: The Presidential Debate

The Presidential Debate: What Happened?


The first debate occurred last night between presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden. It was fast-paced and heated.

  • Biden started out the debate leading in the national polls by about 6 points. Joe Biden and Donald Trump need 270 electoral votes to win the election; for an interactive depiction of some possible outcomes of the election based on polling projections, click here.
  • In the week leading up to the debate, Donald Trump suggested that Joe Biden should take a drug test prior to or immediately after the debate. Biden and his campaign laughed off the request.
  • The debate was hosted by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace.
  • Wallace started by asking questions about Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court vacancy left by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Biden said that confirming Amy Coney Barrett would mean a total reversal of the Affordable Care Act and Roe v. Wade, which is untrue.
  • The conversation shifted to Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Biden claimed that Trump was responsible for America’s high death rate, especially since he allegedly knew about the risks of the virus ahead of time. Trump responded that Biden would have made even worse choices regarding the pandemic, falsely alleging that Biden advocated against travel restrictions.
  • In discussing the economy, Biden said that Trump would be the first president to leave the office with fewer jobs than he entered with. Trump said that the economy was booming, and any economic issues during his term were inherited from the Obama administration.
  • Wallace asked Trump to comment on his tax returns. (The New York Times obtained Trump’s tax records earlier this week, which revealed low income tax payments as a result of significant business losses. Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris responded to the scandal by releasing their own tax returns.) Trump responded that paid millions in federal taxes during 2016 and 2017, the years which the New York Times claimed he paid only $750.
  • Next, the moderator asked both candidates a question about the unrest related to racial tensions across America. He asked Donald Trump to condemn white supremacy organizations. Trump responded, “the Proud Boys should stand down and stand by,” and emphasized the threat of Antifa and other radical leftist organizations. He attacked Biden for his stance on police reform and his involvement in the 1994 crime bill. Biden emphasized his recent advocacy for criminal justice reform, which is progressive.
  • On the issue of climate change, Trump was hesitant to explicitly agree that climate change was scientifically proven. He focused his argument on carbon emissions, which have declined during his time in office. Biden acknowledged that climate change is an issue, but denounced the Green New Deal, instead promoting the “Biden Plan,” which would involve subsidies for low-emission vehicles and cleaner electricity.
  • Finally, the issue of a peaceful transition of power arose. Wallace asked both candidates to commit to a peaceful transition of power, win or lose. Trump responded positively, while Biden said that he would commit to a peaceful transition of power and called out Trump for fearmongering. Trump brought up the issue of mail-in ballots, which Biden refuted.
  • Throughout the debate, Trump and Biden repeatedly interrupted one another and resorted to name-calling.


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • Portrays Biden as the “winner” of the debate.
  • Uses strong negative language to comment on the disorganization and intensity of the debate, calling it vicious, chaotic, and mayhem.
  • Argues that Trump’s interruptions and attacks on Biden and the event’s moderator were uncouth and disruptive, while Biden’s responses were fair.
  • Highlights Trump’s coronavirus response as a total failure, and reports that he is committed to reducing accessible healthcare for Americans. Articles on the left argue that Trump’s stances on the debate floor confirmed this.
  • Insinuates that Trump is a racist, reporting that he “squirmed” and failed to denounce white supremacists while criticizing critical race theory.
  • Reports that Trump’s economic stance is weak, and that his economic recovery program will not benefit the entire country.



  • Portrays Trump as the “winner” of the debate, but acknowledges that his interruptions and aggressive rhetoric were not ideal.
  • Call the event a “food fight,” highlighting instances where both candidates got personal with their insults to one another. Trump brought up Biden’s son Hunter, a recovering drug addict, while Biden called Trump a racist and a clown.
  • Attacks Biden for snapping at the president, highlighting a moment when Biden told Trump to “shut up, man,” and lauds Trump’s comebacks.
  • Insinuates that Biden plans to pack the Supreme Court with democratic justices if he wins the election, which would have long-term negative implications for republicans.
  • Portrays Biden as arrogant and authoritarian for saying that, for all intents and purposes, he “is the democratic party.”
  • Attacks Chris Wallace, saying that he unfairly favored Biden, who seemed “sleepy, slow, and frazzled,” over Trump throughout the debate.


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© Evelyn Torsher, 2020