Good evening, and welcome to NPI’s live coverage of the first presidential debate of 2020. NPI staff will be watching and sharing impressions of the debate between Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Republican nominee Donald Trump as it progresses. The debate, sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, is being broadcast on all major networks as well as online platforms.
Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic is hosting the debate, which will be moderated by Fox’s Chris Wallace. The format is as follows:
The debate will be divided into six segments of approximately 15 minutes each on major topics to be selected by the moderator and announced at least one week before the debate.
The moderator will open each segment with a question, after which each candidate will have two minutes to respond. Candidates will then have an opportunity to respond to each other.
The moderator will use the balance of the time in the segment for a deeper discussion of the topic.
The debate will begin at 6 PM Pacific and run for about ninety minutes. The candidates will stand at podiums, while Wallace will be seated in front of them at the moderator’s table. In keeping with tradition for general election presidential debates, there will be no commercial breaks or interruptions.
Wallace has announced the selection of the following topics for the debate:
Subject to possible changes because of news developments, the topics for the September 29th debate are as follows, not necessarily to be brought up in this order:
The Trump and Biden Records
The Supreme Court
Race and Violence in our Cities
The Integrity of the Election
Noticeably missing from the list is climate damage, which is an existential crisis that has repeatedly been shamefully ignored in past presidential debates. Hopefully, Joe Biden will bring up the topic even if Chris Wallace does not.
“Race and Violence in our Cities” is not a neutral or objective term, and presents the issue through a right wing lens. An objective term would have been America’s Reckoning with Racism, or something of that nature. The consequences of systemic racism and mass oppression are not confined merely to U.S. cities.
Our live coverage will begin below at the time the debate starts.
UPDATE, 6:15 PM: The debate is underway, but it has been far more crosstalk than actual debate so far. Donald Trump started out sounding subdued, but is now starting to riff and interrupt in the extreme.
“Well, we had hoped there would be some civility in a debate format and within the first five minutes, Trump has shown exactly who he is. Willing to fight with lies and slander,” King County Democratic Chair Shasti Conrad observed.
Trump’s plan for tonight appears to never stop talking, so as to throw Joe Biden off balance and refuse to allow him to make a single point.
UPDATE, 6:25 PM: Biden started out the COVID-19 segment by offering a blistering critique of Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic… a comment that mostly went uninterrupted by Donald Trump, for a change.
NPI’s Literary Advocate David Johnson, assessing the first twenty minutes of the debate, said: “It definitely feels like a relic of a previous time when it had some utility. But having them both on stage together with Trump ranting — what benefit is anyone getting out of it except being reminded this is the most powerful person in the world who can kill us all with nukes at any time?”
UPDATE, 6:35 PM: NPI Advisory Councilmember Robert Cruickshank, reflecting on this joke of a debate, notes: “Trump is just being ridiculous and acting like a twelve year old trying to bring Biden down to his level.”
Nicole Belle observes: “So what exactly is Chris Wallace’s job? He won’t fact check. He won’t moderate. He won’t tell Trump to stop talking for one (expletive) second. What’s the point of this?”
Greg Greene adds: “Seriously, let’s sum up the Trump strategy tonight: stop viewers from seeing a sharp, dialed-in Biden by interrupting before Biden can even complete a sentence.”
UPDATE, 6:45 PM: Our staff (and many people on social media) thought of the late Herman Cain (a former Republican presidential candidate and deceased supporter of Donald’s) when Trump falsely claimed that there have been no problems associated with his campaign holding rallies in support of his reelection.
“Biden has a strong response directed to the American public about the reality they are facing. Trump is constantly gaslighting everyone by denying their reality,” King County Democratic Chair Shasti Conrad said ahead of the debate’s midpoint.
“Biden’s people need to negotiate that Trump’s mic is cut when Biden or the moderator are speaking. That’s it. That’s the rule. No more debating without it,” Democratic strategist Kelly Steele tweeted.
Derek Thompson tweeted: “This isn’t a debate. It’s a DDOS [distributed denial of service] attack happening in front of a human moderator.”
UPDATE, 6:55 PM: NBC’s Hallie Jackson, who is in Cleveland, tweets: “The intimacy of the debate hall tonight — fewer audience members, etc. — makes the chaos on stage feel especially jarring in person.”
Doug Foote offered this timely reminder: “Chris Wallace works for a right-wing propaganda machine masquerading as a news channel.”
UPDATE, 7:05 PM: “Look everybody. This debate is as bad as you think,” Maurice Moe Mitchell of the Working Families Party tweeted.
“The president’s performance is designed to promote cynicism and despair. Don’t succumb to it. If you’re watching, translate whatever emotion you’re feeling to action and organize like your life depends on it.”
“In tonight’s presidential debate the President said the ‘Portland Sheriff’ supports him. As the Multnomah County Sheriff I have never supported Donald Trump and will never support him,” Mike Reese tweeted.
UPDATE, 7:15 PM: Offered an opportunity by Chris Wallace to openly denounce white supremacists and neofascists, Trump passed.
“Donald Trump just told the Proud Boys to stand down like they were his personal militia. And he refused to condemn white supremacy,” Kaz Weida tweeted.
“Telling Proud Boys to ‘stand by’ is telling them to… await further instruction,” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes tweeted.
“Chris Wallace would be a terrible substitute teacher,” Bradley Whitford tweeted.
UPDATE, 7:25 PM: This is about as far away from a “debate” as any of us could possibly imagine. And that’s because the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is a neofascist bully who has no respect for anyone except himself.
“Folks, I have said it before, but this election is not about Democrats versus Republicans,” Robert Reich tweeted. “It’s about democracy versus fascism.”
Surprisingly, as the debate entered its final minutes, climate damage did come up as a topic — and it was brought up by moderator Chris Wallace, even though it wasn’t one of his preannounced debate topics. Naturally, all Trump wanted to talk about was raking forest floors; he declined, once again, to state whether he believes that human activity is causing climate damage.
Biden effectively focused his remarks on his climate action plan and his goal of electrifying America’s transportation system, which is one of the world community’s biggest drivers of air, water, and soil pollution.
Jennifer Hayden pointed out that although the topic of climate justice was brought up, barely any time was actually devoted to discussing it.
“Giving Biden fifteen seconds to explain a massive climate change plan before either Trump or Wallace interrupts and moves is a disservice to this country and the world. Debate formats are antiquated and serve no one.”
UPDATE, 7:35 PM: Longtime pontificator Larry Sabato is calling for the cancellation of the remaining presidential debates.
“It is impossible to have an orderly, productive exchange with Donald Trump. Stop pretending otherwise,” Sabato tweeted.
That’s true: although the next debate will not feature Donald Trump; it will be between the vice presidential candidates, Kamala Harris and Mike Pence.
As the debate’s final segment (and perhaps its worst), wore on, Trump’s obscene and sick behavior drew fierce condemnations across social media.
“Trump is openly trying to undermine the election. Explicitly. This is horrific stuff,” tweeted NPI Advisory Councilmember Robert Cruickshank.
“One could easily dismiss tonight’s debate as attacks and crosstalk that won’t change many minds. But that would be to miss the meaning of what we’re seeing: a horrifying degradation of our politics by a man unworthy of the lowest elected office in the U.S., let alone the highest,” Bill Kristol tweeted.
UPDATE, 7:45 PM: We’ll give the final guest comment to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who had this to say after the candidates and Wallace left the stage:
“This sort of debate shouldn’t happen in a democracy.”
Thanks for joining us tonight.
It was an ugly spectacle, but it’s finally over.