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HomeIllinois PoliticsDi Leo: California Wildfires Have Nothing on the first Trump-Biden Debate 

Di Leo: California Wildfires Have Nothing on the first Trump-Biden Debate 



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By John F. Di Leo –

Presidential debates are about many things.  First and foremost, of course, is the result: which candidate performed better; which campaign will do better in the days and weeks to come? 

This is a difficult question. Unlike the debate programs of high schools and colleges, which have specific scoring rules so that victors can be objectively determined, a presidential debate is terribly subjective. One’s personal opinions of candidates and moderators, issues and parties, can’t help but factor into one’s evaluation. 

Nevertheless, they are always informative in some way, and the first presidential debate of 2020 did not fail to produce plenty of notable takeaways: 

Confirming the Issues 

In the September 29 debate, President Trump managed to work in a number of his important positions, and former Vice President Joe Biden either proudly or accidentally clarified his own positions as well.  Among them: 

  • They couldn’t be more different on tax rates.  President Trump is proud of the federal income tax rate cuts he signed, which spurred a solid economic recovery.  Mr. Biden again promised to repeal that entire tax cut package, and to jack up the corporate income tax rate from 21% to 28%, clearly identifying Mr. Biden as a member of the most radical of the current crop of wealth-redistributionists that make up his party.  He is most certainly no “moderate.” 
  • President Trump stressed the importance of states taking responsibility for their own states’ problems, such as using police and state troopers to end big city violence, and using proper forestry management to reduce the threat of forest fires.  He stressed that the federal government can help, but must wait until invited in, out of respect for the separations between state and federal authority.  Mr. Biden amazingly blamed President Trump for the riots, and blamed the wildfires on the popular leftist hoax known as “global climate change.” 
  • On energy, Mr. Biden proudly championed his essentially repackaged-and-renamed Green New Deal program without admitting that’s what it was, and insisted that he could magically make renewable energy as affordable as traditional energy sources.  Mr. Biden promised again that nobody would ever build another coal power plant in America.  )That must have done wonders for his support in coal country). President Trump hardly had to lift a finger in that exchange; reminding the public that Trump got us out of the Paris accords, and that his administration is on the side of the oil, gas and coal boom that have helped resuscitate so many regions was sufficient. 
  • President Trump reminded us that he is the law and order candidate, while Mr. Biden won’t even say the words.  The president boasted of his great success in putting talented, capable judges on the federal bench and Supreme Court, while Mr. Biden refused to meet his challenge to name the kind of appointees he would nominate if given the chance.  Mr. Biden even refused to denounce the Democrat House threats to pack the Supreme Court and end the filibuster.  The viewer was left to assume that Joe Biden would support the unethical expansion of the Supreme Court if given the chance. 

There were many more issues, but this gives us a flavor of the substance of the debate, for yes, there WAS a good deal of substance. 

Unfortunately, there was a plethora of flaws, as well. 

The Moderator 

Chris Wallace, of the cable network Fox News, was a surprisingly weak and biased moderator.  When a debate has multiple moderators asking the questions, they can get away with a certain amount of bias, because they can at least pretend that with Republican and Democrat hosts, the bias evens itself out (whether that’s true or not, most of the time, is up for debate).   

With a single moderator, however, we need a conscious effort to be truly independent. This may be difficult with two forceful personalities like these, but it is still imperative. 

Chris Wallace failed at this, if indeed he ever tried.  His bias in favor of Mr. Biden was clear in most of the questions, only appearing to possibly be on President Trump’s side in one question late in the debate.  Most of the time, his whole hand was on the scale – maybe his foot too – as he reprimanded the President for breaking the rules, read off questions biased toward the left’s position, and failed to call out even the most blatant lies from Joe Biden’s corner. 

For example, the President talked about the huge evidence of ongoing and planned fraud in the “mail-in” ballot debate, both Biden and Wallace claimed there was no such evidence.  Huge arrests in just the past 48 hours, in Texas, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, among others, provided plenty of fresh proof of the potential for mail-in ballot fraud, but Wallace – who lives in a newsroom, after all – acted as though he knew no such thing.  If this were Watergate, it would be called a coverup.  How a moderator could deny such huge stories, so fresh and well-known, to help one side’s case, is simply unforgivable. 


Joe Biden has always been known for rudeness; his off-the-cuff insults, at scenes ranging from town halls to the Senate floor, are the stuff of legend.  Still, his flashes of rudeness in this debate were frequent and unhidden, even calling President Trump “this clown” at one point.  

President Trump, facing biased questions and a complete lack of support from the moderator when needed, was unable to hide his displeasure.  

President Trump remained serious and focused throughout, and didn’t engage in the smirking or eye-rolling that the antiquated 7th grader Joe Biden resorted to, but the President’s irritation with the format – from the barrage of lies and mischaracterizations, to the lack of time to respond to them all – can hardly have helped much in the effort to make President Trump likeable.  If Mr. Biden looked mean and childish, President Trump looked fed-up. 

This is one of the reasons we watch these debates, to get to know the participants.   

Well, now we may know more than we wanted to know…  which leads us to: 

The Problem of Debates 

This isn’t exactly new.  Ever since 1960, students of political science and communications have been told the story of the Nixon-Kennedy debate, in which, by all accounts, people who listened on the radio thought that Richard Nixon won, and people who watched on television thought that Senator Kennedy won.   

Without the rigorous debate judging methods of a college program, the candidates use different strategies, and appeal to different voters in different ways. 

Some lessons should be learned, however, without a doubt: 

  • The shorter the time a candidate is given, the more risk there is that he will just use the limited time to cover the points he really wants to cover, leaving the moderator’s question unanswered.  Instead of lots of pointed questions with only a minute or two to answer, perhaps we should try giving them four minutes for a response.  Maybe then we can actually get an answer to the question that’s asked, before the candidate uses remaining time to cover the related points that he really wants to get out there. 
  • Two hours was never enough; an hour and a half is obviously even worse.  These should be 2.5 hours, or perhaps even 3 hours.  A president’s job is 24/7 for four years, or maybe even eight.  Their cabinet meetings, budget negotiations, and meetings with foreign powers can last eight hours, twelve hours, even days or weeks at a time.  The voters deserve to see how a candidate holds up after three hours of this.   If a candidate can’t make it through three hours, maybe that alone is enough information to know that he shouldn’t be entrusted with the big chair in the Oval Office. 
  • Somehow, there needs to be some way to force responsibility on the moderator.  There are game shows in which audiences vote in real time, with handheld devices, on their satisfaction with the contestants.  Perhaps such a tool could be used to gauge the debate moderators.  Imagine fifty journalists in the audience with voting boxes in hand.  Every time a moderator fails to call a candidate on a clear whopper, the reporters in the room can register their displeasure with the moderators.  Perhaps fear of public shame might force the Chris Wallaces of the world to behave responsibly.   
  • The timing is terrible.  Many Americans had already voted before the first debate; half of America may have voted by the last one. These need to be scheduled so that they begin immediately after the party conventions, and end before the first state starts accepting absentee ballots or opening their early voting stations.  The voters deserve a chance to hear all the debates, and to do further research on the issues that left them curious, before they vote, not after. 


Perhaps most importantly, though, we need candidates who are worthy of the office.   

Donald Trump, for all his gruff, frustrated, non-politician demeanor, is at least honest in his answering of questions, and well versed in the issues at hand.   

Joe Biden, by contrast, repeats an array of well-known untruths – such as the Obama-era claims that Obamacare didn’t rob people of their private insurance, that the discredited theory of manmade global warming causes wildfires, that President Trump insulted American troops in WWI.  

Biden even repeated, yet again, his blatant lie that President Trump said the Nazis at Charlottesville were good people, when in fact the President pointedly denounced them at the time, and actually said that there were good people on both sides of the Civil War monuments and flag issue, which is true and proper.  

But Joe Biden doesn’t care about what’s true; when he finds a story he likes, he tells it, from spinning his opponents’ experiences for the worst, to spinning his own experiences for the better, as when he recently claimed to have attended a Historically Black College or University (HBCU), when in fact he did not, and the college he named was forced to admit it.  Who lies about the college they attended? These are things that can easily be checked, after all.  Joe Biden remains, after 50 years in public life, the same pathological liar he always was. 

During this debate, it was difficult to shake an old memory – a scene from the great 1950s British comedy, The Ladykillers.  In this Alec Guinness classic, a crime mastermind assembles a team for a big heist that requires a little old lady, the one-woman disaster magnet Mrs. Wilberforce, to play an unwitting part.  As the great scheme collapses all around the gang, the mastermind must finally realize his error: the fact that “No really good plan could ever possibly include Mrs. Wilberforce.” 

By the same token, watchers of 2020’s first debate couldn’t shake the feeling that, regardless of moderator, timeframes, or debate rules, the fundamental problem was having a Democratic party nominee with no respect for truth whatsoever.   

No really good debate could ever possibly include Joe Biden. 

Copyright 2020 John F Di Leo 

John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based trade compliance and transportation trainer, writer and actor.  A former County Chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, his columns have been found in Illinois Review since 2009. 

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