Trump and Biden Meet in First Presidential Debate
Crosstalk and Interruptions: A Disastrous Cafeteria Food Fight 
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First presidential debate
Date: Mon. Sept. 29, 2020 at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, OH.
Time: 9:00-10:30 p.m. Eastern time without commercial breaks.

Chris Wallace, Anchor, FOX News Sunday.

The debate was divided into six time segments of approximately 15 minutes each on major topics selected by the moderator and announced a week before the debate (+).

  • The Supreme Court
  • Covid-19
  • The Economy
  • Race and Violence in our Cities
  • The Trump and Biden Records
  • The Integrity of the Election
The moderator opened each segment with a question, after which each candidate had two minutes to respond. Candidates the had an opportunity to respond to each other. The moderator attempted to use the balance of the time in the segment for a deeper discussion of the topic.

Source: CPD

Note.The first presidential debate was originally scheduled to be held at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.  However,on July 27 the University withdrew due to the pandemic; University President John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. stated'that "the necessary health precautions would have greatly diminished the educational value of hosting the debate on our campus.”

There will be no handshake between the candidates at the opening of the debate; one of many effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which has hung over the world for about seven months. The two candidates enter this debate from starkly different positions.  President Trump has been traveling the country holding airport rallies; former Vice President Biden has maintained a much lighter schedule doing tightly controlled events with small numbers of participants, frequently reading remarks from a teleprompter.  Trump is said to have only engaged in light preparations.  Biden has been doing his homework, but many Democrats are nervous about his functioning and the prospect of gaffes.  People in some states are already voting and it is just 35 days until Nov. 3.

Analysis: Crosstalk and Interruptions
This was more of a food fight than a debate.  The clear loser was the American people.  Voters deserve a more reasoned discussion of the issues facing the country.  Hopefully C-SPAN's Steve Scully, moderator of the next presidential debate which is to be held in Miami on Oct. 15, will have some ideas on how bring more control to the stage.  Maybe he can deploy yellow and red cards like they do in soccer.  In the interim, the vice presidential debate is scheduled for Salt Lake City on Oct. 7.

As one would expect, both sides claimed victory.  The Trump campaign declared Biden was "weak" and "the clear loser," while the Biden campaign stated "Americans saw only one leader on stage tonight -- and one liar."  Much of the commentary agreed that Trump was "too hot."  Biden might have gotten into trouble, but Trump kept interrupting and wouldn't let him speak for very long.  In terms of most memorable moments (+), two stand out.  Wallace asked Trump a softball question: "You have repeatedly criticized the Vice President for not specifically calling out Antifa and other left wing extremist groups, but are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence...?"  Trump couldn't bring himself to make a clear condemnation.  He sought to focus on the left, but when Biden introduced the example of the Proud Boys, Trump urged the group to "stand back and stand by (+)."  Another moment which received a lot of attention was Biden telling Trump, "Would you shut up, man?" 

The Nielsen Company reported an estimated television audience of 73.1 million viewers compared to 84.0 million for the first debate in 2016 (+).

See also:
Nicole Sganga, Bo Erickson and Fin Gomez.  "How Trump and Biden are preparing for their first debate."  CBS News, Sept. 28, 2020.

Dana Bash and Bridget Nolan.  "Biden and Trump prepare for a debate that could turn personal."  CNN, Sept. 29, 2020.

Ben Collins.  "Coordinated push of conspiracy theories target Biden hours before debate."  NBC News, Sept. 29, 2020.

Rapid Response and Reactions.

Post Script: Two Statements from the Day After

CPD Statement
The Commission on Presidential Debates sponsors televised debates for the benefit of the American electorate. Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues.  The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly.  The Commission is grateful to Chris Wallace for the professionalism and skill he brought to last night’s debate and intends to ensure that additional tools to maintain order are in place for the remaining debates.

Trump campaign statement on CPD discussion of structural changes
“They’re only doing this because their guy got pummeled last night. President Trump was the dominant force and now Joe Biden is trying to work the refs. They shouldn’t be moving the goalposts and changing the rules in the middle of the game.”

- Tim Murtaugh, Trump 2020 communications director