Road to the election: thoughts on the presidential debates

October 2, 2020

The 2020 election is fast approaching, bringing a period of intense political focus to an already intense year. A cornerstone of every election cycle is the set of presidential debates, which offer the American people the opportunity to watch the campaigns of President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden go head-to-head over a series of debates running from Sept. 29 to Oct. 22. 

As this crucial period passes and the country draws nearer to an election that will have long-lasting ramifications on the future of the nation, The Evanstonian will be following the thoughts and opinions of ETHS as they grapple with and process the events of each debate.

First Presidential Debate

The first presidential debate took place on Sept. 29 at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. The 90-minute session, moderated by Fox News’ Chris Wallace, consisted of six 15-minute segments discussing Trump and Biden’s records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, race and violence, election integrity and the economy. 

More than 74 million people viewed into the first debate, which was characterized by its uncontrollable, chaotic nature with Trump repeatedly interrupting and insulting both Biden and Wallace—a violation of the rules that both campaigns agreed to prior to the debate. Trump interrupted 71 times compared to Biden’s 22. Trump also leveled accusations and lies against Biden and refused to answer many of the questions posed to him. One glaring example of this was Trump’s failure to denounce white supremacist groups when prompted to do so by Wallace and even urging one such group to “stand back and stand by” before blaming the violence on the “radical left.” Other examples include Trump claiming that, because of his administration, insulin is “so cheap, it’s like water,” that he is responsible for the return of the NCAAs football season and that this year’s election results should be questioned, even calling on his supporters to be “poll watchers” on Election Day. Biden also refused to pull punches, calling Trump a “clown” and asking Trump “will you shut up, man?” 

Critical responses to the first debate have echoed the chaos of the debate itself, with media personalities like CNNs Jake Tapper calling it “a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck;” ABCs Martha Raddatz calling it “mud-wrestling” and former Democratic advisor and ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos saying that it was “the worst presidential debate I have ever seen in my life.” 

In The Evanstonian’s efforts to cover these debates, we will be following the voices of several students as Nov. 3 approaches. Following are excerpts from interviews with five students—seniors Gabe Karsh, Levi Rosing, Lara-Nour Walton and Jonathan Zenkich, and junior Mira Littmann—regarding their thoughts on the debate and on the election broadly. While none of these students are able to vote, their perspectives still offer insight into what ETHS students think of the election.


What were your first impressions while watching the debate?

Karsh: “I think Trump definitely won that debate. I don’t know if he won on an argumentative level, but, watching it, you get the sense that he was more with it than Biden. He was sharp, and he knew what he was talking about, even though he didn’t.”

Littmann:” Honestly it was really scary… As a young person and someone who’s growing up in America, this debate made me question my hope for the future…. It makes me really sad that the country I’m growing up in is so divided that debates have to be like this. Debates shouldn’t be people screaming at each other and making personal attacks. I feel like our country was supposed to be founded as this great democracy where everyone could have a say in politics, and this debate really didn’t reflect that.”

Rosing: “I think Biden won, but not in a traditional way…. Biden was debating, Trump was talking to Chris Wallace…. You can say Biden is the winner, and Trump is the loser, but the real loser is Chris Wallace, to the extent that he asked Trump if he wanted to change places.”

Walton: “If we are talking about winners and losers here, I think we can all come to the consensus that the debates last night did not yield a definitive victor. But, there was a clear loser: Trump. Trump is trailing in the polls and needed to use the debates to win the minds of undecided voters. While his presence was no doubt potent, he made no points to persuade those key voters to come out to the polls for him. Denying the efficacy of masks, appealing to white supremacists, targeting Hunter Biden’s addiction and acting like a belligerent child were bizarre and unpopular tactics on his part.”

Zenkich: “I’d say that my initial impression of the debate was not very good at all. I found the first segment to be very chaotic…. I definitely thought Biden had a better chance of winning… I really don’t have a favorable view of either of the candidates. I thought Biden had a pretty big edge because I think Trump had a bit of a stain on his reputation with COVID.”


What did you think about the candidates’ performances?

Karsh: “I did not expect Biden to be as incoherent as he was. I got what he was talking about, but he struggled to form sentences at times…. At least he wasn’t worse than what people [including Trump] were building him up to be. I also think there’s a tendency to paint Trump as an idiot, and he did not seem like an idiot at all. I don’t think he’s a genius, but I definitely didn’t get the impression that he was mentally incapacitated as some rumors say; there were points during his presidency where I believed that, but right now, I don’t believe that at all.” 

Littmann: “Biden won. When he was actually able to get a word in, he managed to convey his actual policy ideas and talk about where he wanted to take the country. He was able to clarify his differences from the rest of the Democratic party, not all of which I support, but which I think will be helpful in winning over moderate, undecided voters. Overall, he was pretty clear about what he would do as president and what he stands for. I think he did a great job of talking to the American people, not just responding to Trump.”

Rosing: “There were a couple of hiccups for Biden. He was obviously under tremendous stress, and luckily that didn’t upset the debate… It’s just a shame that Trump didn’t follow the rules…. And he still didn’t denounce white supremacy, that was the craziest part. In all of this racial upheaval, he still won’t do it.”

Walton: “Biden stared down the barrel of the camera when he made his points, giving folks at home the illusion that he was addressing us specifically. This was a good strategy. Next to the President, who never once looked at us and seemed to be more preoccupied with disparaging the [former] Vice President than providing voters with well thought out and factually sound answers; Biden seemed to be the candidate who cared most about actual Americans.”


Did your thoughts on the candidates change? Do you think the debates can change voter’s opinions on the candidates?

Karsh: “Most voters don’t think that the debates are going to change their minds, but I feel that perceptual dominance is important, and if Trump seems like he won the debate, that matters.”

Littmann: “As someone on the left side of the political spectrum, I was already planning on supporting Biden before the debate and not much could have changed that. I was horrified by Trump’s behavior, and I think Biden did a great job. However, a lot of right-wing people who I’ve talked to think that Trump’s behavior was totally acceptable, even admirable. They love his quick one-liners and find his insults entertaining and spot-on…. I don’t think a lot of voters have changed or made-up their minds after this debate.”

Rosing: “I don’t think the debate has done anything, and if the debate does nothing, it’s a win for Biden. The polls might go a little up and a little down, but eventually, they’ll just come back to the same place.”

Walton: “Nearly a million people have already voted, I wonder how important these debates are. Also, considering how polarized our country is, I can’t fathom how many people can seriously still be undecided.”

Zenkich: “My opinions on the candidates didn’t change. It kind of just reaffirmed what I thought. I think that Trump is a narcissist; he’s incapable of self-reflection. I think Biden is not in tip-top speaking shape, I think he’s a bit timid; that’s definitely how he came across to me in the debate… My view of the election only changed slightly, because I don’t think there was a real winner of the debate. I think that, overall, it was slightly better for Biden.”


What are your thoughts on the candidates generally?

Karsh: “I wish Biden was more of the radical left, but he’s not… I would vote for Biden over Trump in a heartbeat, but when [he said that there are a few bad apples]… That was the main-stream Republican position like four years ago.”

Walton: “In my opinion, one of the most important parts of being a president is giving hope to the people. We didn’t get that from Trump at all. In fact, I don’t think we learned anything about the president’s tentative plans for his second term. Trump was rightfully dragged through the mud over his poor handling of COVID-19, but rather than offering plans to remedy the public health situation and rebuild the economy, he stoked fears over socialism, ANTIFA and how our schools are indoctrinating the American youth to be ‘unpatriotic.’ He paints a very grim picture of the U.S. and tries to convince us that there is no light at the end of the tunnel without his guidance… when really, his (hopefully sooner rather than later) imminent succession would be the light at the end of the tunnel.”


What are your greatest fears moving forward?

Karsh: “My greatest fear is that Trump loses, definitely loses, but stays in power through the courts, through voter suppression or if he claims squatter’s rights in the White House. He said he wouldn’t trust the results.”

Littmann: “This debate made me a lot more nervous about our country’s future…. I’m feeling really scared for Nov. 3. I’m not 18, so I don’t have any say in what happens, and I feel really helpless. I’ve been reading the news every day and having conversations with family and friends about what’s going on in the country and there are so many things that need to be fixed about the way that we function. There’s such a big divide in our country right now, and there’s so much hate. I’m really nervous about where our country is going.”

Rosing: “People need to understand that [Trump is] the stage before fascism. Everything is on the line, everyone should be scared, and not enough people are. We know who this president is, and we know how much more he can do.”

Walton: “I’m scared about the future of this country. It is more important than ever to vote. If that wasn’t clear before, then it should be now.”


The vice presidential debate will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 7 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The second presidential debate will take place on Thursday, Oct. 15 in Miami, Fla.


Vice Presidential Debate

The only vice presidential debate of the 2020 presidential campaign took place on Oct. 8 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. The 90-minute session was moderated by USA Today’s Susan Page and consisted of nine, 10-minute segments discussing a range of topics including COVID-19, the economy, the Supreme Court, foreign policy, healthcare, climate change, racism and policing. 

Upwards of 58 million Americans watched the debate, which maintained a rather calm tone throughout, especially when compared to the first presidential debate’s chaotic and abrasive nature. Despite this, neither candidate focused much on the questions being posed to them, preferring to either discuss the presidential candidates, each other or (at best) the issues being discussed more broadly than Page asked. This led to what many have characterized as a boring debate, a slice of normalcy in a year that refuses to fit any expectations. In fact, many found the only memorable thing about the debate was a fly that landed on Pence’s head for several minutes.

In The Evanstonian’s efforts to cover these debates, we will be following the voices of several students as Nov. 3 approaches. Following are excerpts from interviews with five students—seniors Gabe Karsh, Levi Rosing, Lara-Nour Walton and Jonathan Zenkich, and junior Mira Littmann—regarding their thoughts on the vice presidential debate. While none of these students are able to vote, their perspectives still offer insight into what ETHS students think of the election.


What were your initial reactions to the vice presidential debate?

Karsh: “I thought it was much better [than the first debate]. It was way more boring than the first one, but better it be boring than a chaotic mess.”

Rosing: “I loved it, but it was really boring also. Last week’s debate was so chaotic, but it was boring. This was boring. They were all really calm. Mike Pence was really boring, and I feel he just took Kamala down with him. I think they both did well though.”

Littmann: “A lot of Pence’s statements startled me and made me feel really scared, especially because I think he’s able to get a point across much better than Trump can. However, it was really frustrating for me to watch because both candidates kept avoiding questions and I don’t think that’s what a debate is supposed to be—I would have liked to hear their answers”

Walton: “Obviously this debate was less of a dumpster fire than the last.”

Zenkich: “My initial reactions were much better than they were than the first presidential debate. I thought it was more tolerable, understandable, substantive.”


How did this debate compare to the first one?

Karsh: “I think both of them lied, like last week, but that Pence was much better at lying than the other candidates including the president, and that this was much more civil and organized. Pence also got away with taking up a lot of time, the same as Trump.”

* Editor’s note: Pence spoke for a total of 36:27 and Harris for 36:24.

Rosing: “It was more civil, it was easier to watch, but last week’s debate was more exciting, even though it was awful to watch. It’s like a guilty pleasure, you want the debate to be crazy…. You can’t not watch Trump, even if you hate him.”

Littmann: “I thought it was much more civil than the presidential debate, but then again the bar wasn’t set very high. I think both candidates actually managed to get through more of their policy ideas, which can be a good or bad thing depending on who you look at.”

Walton: “The amount of misinformation being spewed out by Pence was almost more alarming than when Trump waxed rhapsodic about his “achievements” as president. When he said that the air and water were cleaner than ever recorded, his delivery was smug, almost convincing. Pence is dangerous because he has the composure and poise that Trump lacks. He could be persuasive for undecided voters.”

Zenkich: “Pence is a much more textbook politician. Harris is a bit sharper than Biden is. They didn’t really develop the habit of talking over each other in the beginning. The moderator was okay, but seems to have done better in this debate, just because she wasn’t dealing with Trump [like Chris Wallace was].”


What did you think about the candidates’ performances?

Karsh: “I thought that Kamala would have done better…. I expected her to push him a lot more than she did. People thought she was going to sweep the floor with him, which absolutely didn’t happen… Both of them were competent. However, Pence didn’t answer a single question for the entire debate, and it didn’t matter. He answered the questions he wished he were asked.”

Littmann: “I think both candidates did a good job of playing to their audiences. For example, Harris’s quick comebacks were a really big hit with her younger liberal audience and I saw a lot of Instagram posts praising her for that the next day. On the other hand, as much as I disagreed with him, I think Pence was really coherent and conveyed a lot of ideals that his audience will enjoy and praise him for.”

Rosing: “I thought Kamala would do better because she did so well in the primary debates. I thought she’d be super on the attack and aggressive, and she did that, but it was really calm compared to others. Pence, I was expecting what he did.”

Walton: “Harris was on her game. She ended having to spend chunks of her allotted time fact-checking Pence, which was not preferable, but when she had the liberty to speak, she stared at the viewers back home, never missing a chance to make searing indictments of the Trump administration. She really attacked the way COVID is being handled, which is exactly where she needed to focus. Compared to Pence, her arguments were a little more watertight. For example, Pence brought up H1N1 as proof that Biden wouldn’t be able to handle COVID, but that seemed a little out of touch with the current situation, and I don’t think it landed.”

Zenkich: “I think that Pence won slightly. I think that his answers were a bit more substantive than hers, that the points he had against her were stronger than what she had against him. He made the best out of a bad situation having to defend the president.”


What did the candidates do that shocked you? What should have been done differently?

Karsh: “I suspect that some of the advice Kamala got, and this might be totally wrong, is that you should be less aggressive. Just give your vision of the world, answer the questions and respond to what they say, but don’t be super pushy since that doesn’t come across well in non-white, male demographics…. I also don’t know what the reasoning is, but I think Biden and Harris just won’t bring up Merrick Garland. Pence pushed Harris on court-packing, and she’d never answered.”

Littmann: “I think a big takeaway that I actually heard people talking about was the fly that landed on Pence’s head during his speech. Although I do love laughing at the memes about this, I wish people would have listened to Pence’s actual words. While everyone was focused on the fly, Pence was talking about how systemic racism is not a problem in our country. I walked away from the debate feeling frustrated and angry that we’re still struggling with this problem…. that our country is in control of someone who doesn’t respect the rights of all people.”

Rosing: “Pence also really got her. Like when he asked her if she supports court-packing, she kind of like trailed off because it’s really, really controversial in the Democratic Party right now, and you don’t really want to say you do, but at the same time, you want to…. I think she kind of stayed away because it’s deliberately playing with fire.”

Walton: “Probably the most shocking moment to me was when Pence refused to acknowledge that our justice system was systemically racist…. [Overall,] both candidates were pretty evasive, but that’s nothing new in politics.”

Zenkich: “Pence completely shifted the window on COVID. He made it about the sacrifices Americans had already made, by doing that made Harris look like the villain. He knew what Kamala was going to say; she seems to have a reputation in the Democratic Party as a strong debater, but she really fumbled.”


Have your thoughts on the candidates changed?

Karsh: “I don’t think that like this has changed my mind in the slightest, but I do think that what Trump and Pence keep saying about how Biden is a Trojan horse for the radical left people, is more true than before, which I think is a good thing…. I have a lot more respect for Pence as an intellectual after this debate, but I still think he’s an evil, evil man.”

Littmann: “I wasn’t entirely surprised by Pence’s opinions, but they still scared me. I think the thing that really stood out to me the most was how he said that systemic racism doesn’t exist, and also that climate change should not be a priority. It didn’t really change my opinions about him, but mostly just reinforced in my mind how dangerous he is to the people of America.”

Rosing: “[Not really.] If I had to choose a Republican and it had to be Trump or Pence, I’d choose Pence…. And Kamala over Joe Biden.”

The lost debate

In every election cycle, the presidential debates are key parts of the process. These debates garner tens of millions of views and offer insights into each candidate; however, in 2020, one of these debates was canceled. 

 The second presidential debate, between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, was scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami, Fla. However, when Trump contracted COVID-19 on Oct. 1, the event was thrown into a state of flux as the president was rushed to Walter Reed Medical Center for treatment. With the debate set to take place within a fortnight of Trump’s infection, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced the cancellation of the debate on Oct. 9 for the safety of all parties. The commission was forced to cancel after Trump refused to agree to the virtual debate that the organization had suggested.

While the debate that never was has now passed, the election draws nearer, and students at ETHS continue to process the events unfolding in front of them. What follows are the responses of four Evanstonians—seniors Gabe Karsh, Lara-Nour Walton and Jonathan Zenkich and junior Mira Littman—to these unfolding events. 


How do you feel about the cancellation of the second presidential debate? 

Karsh: “I think the less people hear Biden talk, the better because he is not good at talking, especially when he doesn’t have it pre-written…. [Cancellation was good,] because if anyone needs debates, [it’s] Trump.”

Littmann: “It’s really disappointing…. Voters deserve to hear what the candidates have to say—it’s a central part of democracy and of informed voting. It speaks to Trump’s stubborn and uncooperative nature that he would refuse to adapt to the situation in order to make it safer for everyone involved. I understand that he is trying to [look strong], but I wish he would lead by example.”

Walton: “I was disappointed in Trump’s reluctance to participate in the second presidential debate, but I wasn’t surprised. By refusing to do a virtual debate, the president is trying to… prove to his base that he is stronger and braver in face of [COVID-19] than Biden could ever be.”

Zenkich: “I was a bit sad when the second debate was canceled, but this feeling was very limited. While I enjoy watching the debates, I don’t actually think much comes out of them in terms of policy or changing people’s minds…. I wasn’t surprised, however, that the debate was canceled…. [Trump] likes control. He likes things to be his way. When they can’t be, he ignores them.”


How did you feel when Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19?

Karsh: “My immediate thought was, he’s going to die. I have conflicting feelings about that. I don’t wish death upon anybody, but like, the fact that he survived [COVID-19] means other people aren’t going to take it seriously, and they will die of [Coronavirus].”

Littmann: “I was hoping that the president could turn it around to be a learning moment and use it to lead the people and show how COVID is something that should be taken seriously, but the opposite happened…. He’s had so many opportunities to make a difference through leadership, even just by promoting mask-wearing, and he hasn’t taken a single one of them.”

Walton: “It was poetic justice. Like a lot of people, I was hoping that this bout of COVID would expose him to how serious the virus truly is. But, rather than giving him that perspective, Trump’s personal experience only empowered him to trivialize its effects…. I am appalled at his lack of empathy.”

Zenkich: “I felt bad for him. I thought that there was a lot of nastiness on Twitter and other platforms about his diagnosis. At the end of the day, he’s still a person and the POTUS. We should wish him good health.”


What are your fears going into November?

Littmann: “I’m terrified that Trump will win the election and set in motion a series of events that basically leads to a lot of social and political unrest in our country. We’re so divided right now, and I don’t think we can take another four years of an inciting and enabling president in office.”

Walton: “I am concerned about the outcome of the election regardless of who comes out victorious…. The country will continue to be in a state of fear and tumult even if Biden wins…. There is so much we can’t predict. That is the scariest part.”

Zenkich: “My biggest fear is that we aren’t going to get a true understanding of who wins the election. While there’s been talk of Trump holding up the transition of power, I really don’t think this will materialize; I think after Biden wins, things will be pretty normal.”


Sabrina Barnes

The final debate

Less than two weeks from the election, the last presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden has come and gone. 

Originally scheduled to be the third debate between the two candidates, following Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis and the cancellation of the second debate (scheduled for Oct. 15), this debate stood as the second and final encounter between the two candidates prior to the election.

Over the course of the 90-minute session hosted at Belmont University in Nashville by NBC anchor Kristen Welker, the candidates discussed COVID-19, the middle-class family, race and racism, climate change, national security and foreign policy as well as what the office of the president means all while taking detours into arguments regarding Trump’s Chinese bank account, Hunter Biden’s ties with Ukraine, the roadblocks in Congress, campaign finances, undocumented children being held at the border and countless other topics. 

While the debate still had plenty of arguing, it was far more civil than the Sept. 29 debate, in part because of the Commission on Presidential Debates’ ability to mute candidate microphones during the first two minutes of each conversation; Trump also seemed much more willing to respect Welker’s handling of the debate than he was towards previous moderator Chris Wallace even telling her “I respect very much the way you’re handling this,” during the debate. 

However, despite the tone of the debate many, including some ETHS students, feel that it will have little impact on the election; more than 50 million Americans have already voted—36 percent of the total vote in the 2016 election—and early voting has started in many states. The election was already in full swing heading into this debate.

As The Evanstonian has endeavored to cover these unique times, we have followed a set of students—seniors Gabe Karsh, Levi Rosing, Lara-Nour Walton and Jonathan Zenkich—as they have watched the debates and seen election day draw nearer. Following are their responses to the final debate: 


What was your initial reaction to the final presidential debate?

Karsh: “I’m just tired. I wish we could just get this over with and find out who won.”

Rosing: “My only real initial reaction was that it was a debate [meaning that both candidates were civil]. It also happened to be more boring than the vice presidential debate.”

Zenkich: “I was pleasantly surprised by the debate. I thought that the candidates both performed pretty well and actually stuck to talking about policies. I think that this stemmed mostly from Trump, who seemed to be a bit more calm and well-mannered. He was being a bit more of a ‘politician’ which meant that the debate was not as interruption-laced as the last one.”


How did this debate compare to the first one?

Karsh: “They actually talked about the issues, so, yes, it was better than the first debate…. [In addition], during the first debate, Trump started out looking much sharper than Biden. He looked smart at the beginning of this debate but very out of touch. Biden was a different person than who we’d seen before. He was articulate and didn’t get flustered or tell Trump to ‘shut up, man.’ He killed Trump on immigration and health care, which are two issues that a lot of people care about.”

Rosing: “Not going to lie, but however much the first debate was horrible to watch, it was also really intense and interesting. This debate was just a debate, nothing more, nothing less.”

Walton: “This debate was far more unnerving than the last one for me. I know that the first debate was a real dumpster fire, but there was something comforting about Trump’s inability to articulate a cohesive argument. Tonight, he was coached well. Repeatedly asserting that Biden has ‘done nothing’ was a dominant message of tonight’s debate—even though the statement is false.”

Zenkich: “This debate was much better than the first. I feel this way because both of the candidates were able to make points, engage in some back and forth argument and speak to the American people. There were far fewer interruptions and the moderator was able to stay in control.”


What did you think about Trump’s performance? About Biden’s?

Karsh: “This is the first time I think the Democrat won. Trump was much more on-message than in the first debate, but the first half-hour was him arguing about the vaccine and which candidate had taken money from which foreign country. He lost the audience at that point. Nobody cares about Hunter Biden or how much money Biden took from the mayor of Moscow…. I don’t think anyone’s mind was changed though.”

Rosing: “The debate was a tie. Trump had a really low bar to cross [because of his performance in the first debate] which I think helped him, and Biden didn’t shine as much as in the last one. Ultimately, 50 million [people]  have already voted so the winner of the debate doesn’t really matter when it comes to the election as a whole.”

Walton: “I hate to say it because I truly despise Trump, but he did what he had to do tonight and did it well. Nothing he said landed for me, because I’ve never supported his opinions or general outlook on life, but for his supporters, and maybe even some undecided voters, Trump came out looking strong. He resorted to his wildly successful 2016 tactic of casting himself as an outsider, distancing himself from any association with corrupt politics…. Biden did not do badly tonight either.  He was a calming presence, refreshingly presidential and clearly interested in the wellbeing of the American people. While we don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, it is clear to me that he will be a better president than Trump.”

Zenkich: “Trump performed far worse at the first debate. His constant interruptions, useless badgering and attempts to be tough did not work and made him seem very off-putting. At this debate, this was not the case…. I think Biden performed about the same at this debate. He seemed to get a bit tired at the end, but was still on his game for the most part and made good points.”


What are your main takeaways from this or any of the debates? 

Karsh: “America is screwed. Biden has been a follower on policy his entire career and never disagrees with the consensus of the Democratic party. He does not have the leadership, creativity and vision that we need to beat climate change and fight anti-Blackness. Trump has never apologized for separating kids from their parents and putting them in cages. He also said that he had done more for Black people than any President ever, except for maybe Lincoln. That’s the choice [the American people have to make].”

Rosing: “The main takeaway is that it does not matter. It is not going to influence the election beyond the margin of error in the polling and again; it just doesn’t matter…. [Furthermore], my views on the political environment are always changing, so I really can’t tell you if the debates affected them in any meaningful way.”

Walton: “The most shocking part of the debate for me was when the candidates were asked questions about race. The way this started was not surprising. Trump reasserted that he has done ‘more for the Black community than any other president except for Abraham Lincoln.’ Then, all of sudden he claims that he is ‘the least racist person in the room.’ It’s impossible to [quantify] racism, but even so, I think that it’s safe to say that Black moderator, Kristin Welker, is probably a little more antiracist. Another note on the race section: Biden acknowledged and condemned the systemic nature of American racism. The president did not. His strategy here was to not address Black people at all, and instead appeal to white voters who want to be reassured that they are not supporting a racist.”

Zenkich: “My main takeaway from this debate is that Trump is his own worst enemy. Trump and the people around him clearly realized that if he had a performance similar to the first debate, he would be nearly guaranteed to lose the election. Trump talks himself into corners and makes himself look bad in these situations. Perhaps, if he had been less abrasive over the past four years he would not be having as much trouble getting reelected.”

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