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College Dems, Republicans react after messy presidential debate

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden squared off in the first general election debate Tuesday evening. For 90 minutes, the candidates engaged in a chaotic back-and-forth on a Cleveland stage fraught with interruptions and personal attacks. 

The two bickered about topics including the coronavirus response and race and law enforcement. Both dodged substantive questions regarding what they would do if elected president this November, opting instead for harsh exchanges and name-calling. 

Trump steamrolled the discussion, interrupting Biden and moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News from the start and disregarding the rules both sides agreed upon prior to the debate. 

“Will you shut up, man?” Biden said after one instance of Trump speaking over him. “It’s hard to get any word in with this clown.” 

While Trump focused on derailing Biden rather than providing an agenda for his second term, Biden turned away from his Republican rival and toward the cameras to address the American people directly about the pandemic and other key issues. 

Each candidate argued that the other’s proposed coronavirus response plan would have disastrous results. 

Biden criticized Trump for “panicking” in the face of the coronavirus and failing to communicate how serious the pandemic was earlier this year. Trump pushed back against Biden’s criticism by playing up his decision to ban travel from Europe and China early on in the pandemic. 

“So, if we would have listened to you, the country would have been left wide open, millions of people would have died, not 200,000 – and 1 person is too much,” Trump said. “It’s China’s fault, it should have never happened. They stopped it from going in, but it was China’s fault.” 

Pivoting to the topics of race and law and order, Trump refused to condemn white supremacy and armed militia groups. He specifically mentioned the Proud Boys, a far-right group that openly advocates for violence, in a call to arms before shifting to criticize the left-wing anti-fasciist movement referred to as antifa.

“Proud Boys — stand back and stand by,” Trump said after Wallace and Biden both prompted him to state his position on white supremacy. On the extremist group’s social media platform Telegram, members seemed to interpret the president’s statement as an order for action.  

College Republicans president Natalia Melo Malfitano thought that the debate went moderately well for Trump, despite the impression that he was up against Wallace as well as Biden.  

“I think President Trump did a really good job and putting pressure on Joe Biden on certain things people want to know about,” Malfitano said. “That being said, I feel as though Trump needs to be less interruptive and let Biden speak. I understand his aggression and a lot of his base enjoys it. (However,) Biden got away with not answering many questions…” 

College Democrats social media director Ivan Duran Puente thought that Biden held his own throughout the debate and set the tone that Biden’s sophistication will continue to beat Trump’s rhetoric in subsequent debates leading up to the election.

“Biden did an excellent job of maintaining his professionalism despite President Donald Trump’s infantile behavior,” Duran Puente said. “The only thing Biden could have done better was to tell the president to “shut up” a couple more times and hold him accountable for his belligerent behavior.” 

Beyond individual candidates, the overall debate echoes the political tension felt across the country, Malfitano said. 

“The tone of the debate reflects the tone of the country at this time: tense. There’s a lot of tension and I’m unsure if it will de-escalate for the next debates for this election,” Malfitano said. 

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