The first of three scheduled presidential debates took place last night at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
Chris Wallace of Fox News moderated the event, which took place over 90 minutes in six 15-minute blocks. President Trump and Vice President Biden were asked about their records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, race and violence in our cities, and the integrity of the election.
The debate was contentious from the beginning, with each candidate contradicting the other repeatedly throughout. Fox News is calling the debate “fiery”; CNN describes it as “rancorous and chaotic.” According to USA Today, it was “one of the most chaotic, insult-laden presidential debates in modern history.”
How Richard Nixon’s suit affected the 1960 election
Before last night, more than 70% of Americans said the debate wouldn’t matter much to them. Fewer people than at any time since 2000 consider debates important to deciding how they will vote.
However, televised presidential debates have been changing history since 1960, when Richard Nixon’s light gray suit blended into the background on black-and-white television and his opponent, Sen. John Kennedy, began the ascendancy that led to his eventual victory.
Ronald Reagan’s memorable response in 1984 to a question about his age (“I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience”) led to his easy reelection. President Ford’s insistence that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe” may have contributed to his loss in 1976; Ronald Reagan’s clear dominance of his debate with President Carter in 1980 likely contributed to his landslide victory.
The contentious nature of last night’s debate reflects the contentious nature of our culture. Our politics are locked in a zero-sum game: abortion is legal or it is not; LGBTQ rights and sexual liberty take precedence over religious liberty or they do not. More than ever before, Republicans and Democrats both consider the other side to be “brainwashed,” “hateful,” and “racist.”
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