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An Analysis Of Tuesday's Trump-Biden Debate


The first presidential debate is in the books, and a prominent Florida political expert weighs in on the verbal carnage.

Among those watching was Susan MacManus, a retired political scientist from the University of South Florida.

“It was uniform that it was a disastrous debate; embarrassing, unprofessional,” said MacManus. “And certainly demeaning to most voters who tuned in to really hear some dialogue about their policy positions on how to improve America.”

Going into the debate, MacManus says a large portion of Americans were already saying that they already had decided for whom they were going to vote. 

“The bad thing about this debate — which was unbelievably terrible — was for someone who was truly undecided and was hoping to get some clarity, if anything it may have been more likely to drive them away from voting altogether,” said MacManus. “Because neither candidate appeared presidential to a lot of people.”

That in turn begs the question: Why even have presidential debates, if voters for the most part have already chosen sides? MacManus says they’re still useful.

“Didn’t we learn a lot about each of these candidates [Tuesday] night – sometimes more than we cared to learn about?” asked MacManus. “But on the other hand, it also will be an impetus in four years to maybe go to different kinds of candidates. In that way it might be helpful.”

Next Wednesday, the running mates — Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris — will square off at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. MacManus expects their meeting to be more presidential than the presidential debate Tuesday.

“And it’s also more important than ever, because many look at Kamala Harris as a potential president in light of the age (77) of Vice President Biden. I think it will be much more even-keeled and more like a traditional debate.”

But she adds, the stakes are high as they in the race for the White House.

“It is true historically that a Vice Presidential running mate is sort of seen as a presidential candidate’s ‘attack dog’ — even though I do not think that that traditional description of a vice-presidential candidate holds true in 2020.”

Moderator Chris Wallace is drawing fire from some quarters about his performance. MacManus concedes that Wallace had a tough job corralling two strong-willed individuals who were willing to speak over each other. She said there were some suggestions posted online on how to keep control.

“One was to send them both to ‘time-out;’ if you have children you’ll certainly get that,” MacManus said. “Another was to have a button that forbids the candidate to speak when someone else is speaking. There’s all kinds of things that were suggested; some of which seemed certainly preferable to the debate that we had last night.”

The second presidential debate is October 15 in Miami, with a town hall-style format.

“I think it will be a little bit harder for the candidates to speak so negatively to a voter who’s posed a question, than it was to a moderator who was just trying to be a traffic cop,” said MacManus. “And trying to flash a red light when the traffic light just wasn’t working for these two.”

The third and final presidential debate is scheduled for October 22 in Nashville.  MacManus believes the 2020 debates should lead to some changes for the next round in 2024.

“It is really clear that the Presidential Debate Commission needs to go back to the drawing board,” said MacManus. “There are a lot of different ways to do it, but they have got to show that they’re playing a proactive role in reforming the debate process.”

Tuesday’s debate has led the presidential debate commission to change its format for the next two presidential meetings to avoid a repeat of what many are calling a “debacle”