A Debate Coach Grades Trump and Biden's Final Face-Off

Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla
From Marie Claire
For those of us who took debate classes in middle school (um, me), one might remember the sweaty horror of going head-to-head with Jackie from the classroom about whether or not zoos should be phased out, for example. You may also remember that your debate teacher rated your battle for wits and words on how well you kept your speaking time, respected debate etiquette, and the persuasiveness of your overall argument (protective breeding programs! Animal rights!).
Pam Wycoff has presided over debates for decades: as chairman of the board of the National Speech & Debate Association (the largest speech and debate organization for high school, high school and college student competitions in the US) and a 28-year-old high school debate teacher for years, the Hall of Famer (yes, that's one thing!) Speaking and debating coach seen their fair share of arguments and assessed over 500 academic debates in their lifetime. But she had never seen anything like the first 2020 presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden: "It was a turf war," she says. "That was a great example of two people who had ideas they wanted to say and who couldn't allow each other to get the message across without trying to have the final say. It was pushed so much, especially by Trump, that Biden had to respond to make him look like he wasn't standing up for his beliefs. "
In order to make the third and final presidential debate in 2020, last evening, October 22, smoother, the Commission for Presidential Debates announced new rules: Each candidate was told they would have two minutes to answer questions, without interruption and to receive a gentle warning from NBC correspondent, presenter, and cross-examination queen Kristen Welker to play nice. Oh, and that after the screaming match of the first debate, their microphones were muted while the other spoke. Both microphones were live after everyone answered the question, allowing them to respond directly to each other.
Due to the new rules, the debate last night was certainly a little less combative than the first, but no less controversial. And Wycoff has thoughts: Read her analysis of the last 2020 presidential debate below:
Get ready to debate:
A fundamental difference between academic and political debates is that there is no first case that is outlined and then directly refuted or supported. Political debates focus on questions asked by a moderator and each candidate is expected to answer questions. These answers essentially represent a case for the American public to convince citizens that their plans are effective, that their views align with theirs, and / or that as leaders they can "do the job". This debate was divided into numerous subject areas. I will highlight some of the topics discussed that caught my eye and influenced my final decision.
Overall behavior:
Trump often put both hands and leaned on the podium, thus expanding his stature; Biden stood behind the podium more often, ready to take notes and respond. He used the podium as a surface for writing on, contrary to convention. It is important to have good posture, not move, and be connected with what you are saying. It comes out through your body language. Interestingly, both debaters looked connected. They controlled their space well.
The opening question addressed one of the most important issues resonating with voters, COVID-19. The moderator provided the question with specific statistics on loss of life. Each candidate was asked to explain exactly what they would do as president: Donald Trump answered first, and his answer didn't directly answer the question. Instead of sketching out what he would do, he tried to come up with an argument for what a great job he did. His response, however, was more of a list of streams of consciousness, including "closing the border," shifting the blame to China, and claiming that a vaccine will be available "very soon," that things are not as bad as predicted it peaks in Florida, Texas and Arizona have now gone under and have insisted that we are "rounding the curve" and that he is now immune because he had the virus. While this seems like a good argument for his approach, this answer would not be effective in a traditional debate as it does not provide clear steps for the future. It was also ineffective because it seemed to ignore the loss of so many lives.
As the second speaker to answer the question, Biden took the opportunity to come into conflict with Trump by stating that "someone who takes no responsibility for the loss of life does not deserve to be your president". This cast doubts about Trump's willingness to see the scale of the problem, his lack of empathy for the loss of life, and his unwillingness to take responsibility for the situation. Biden enumerated steps including encouraging mask wear, rapid testing, setting national standards to guide schools and businesses, and finally pledging government funds to support schools and businesses during this crisis. While this was also a list, it has been organized and geared towards a future plan that is more substantive.
Biden also referred to the New England Journal of Medicine: Reference to credible scientific research in support of evidence is important in the competitive debate as he notes that it is not a personal claim. Instead, an expert, study, or scientific research supports the validity of the plans or claims that are made.
There was also an exchange in this segment that Biden benefited from. Trump spoke of the virus not being a problem in schools as young people are less susceptible, claiming that it is not a real problem for teachers. Biden used these remarks with two responses that were stylistically effective: Trump commented that people learn to live with it, and Biden responded with, "Learn to live with it?" It should be more accurately phrased as "Learn to die with it." ". This underscored Trump's need to see the scale of the problem. Later, when Trump tried to minimize the risk of the virus for teachers, Biden turned to the camera and asked, "Teacher, how is it making you feel?" express that their safety is a concern. Biden referred to a credible source, the New York Times, to reiterate his position that Trump was not acting responsibly because he knew about the virus but chose not to tell the American people to avoid panic. On this question, Biden won this topic as a debate judge in the round because he argued more strongly that he would be better suited for dealing with COVID-19.
Photo credit: Getty
Climate change:
In this case, Trump answered that question first. He made several general claims without citing evidence: We have the many programs, the best carbon emissions in years, and briefly defended his decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement. In the competitive debate, claims require an arrest warrant that can be used as evidence or analysis to establish the validity of these statements. However, Trump has provided no proven support.
On this question, Biden was more direct on the issue and supported his claims. Since expectations of certain sources for political debate are lower, Biden tried to back up his argument by saying, "Scientists tell us we have very little time." He also built credibility in his approach, stating that his plans are backed by environmentalists and labor experts. So if both agreed that this approach is not only necessary, then it becomes feasible. In addition, he painted a picture of environmental damage that he experienced during his life.
During the exchange on the issue, Trump went on the offensive, pushing Biden, first about banning fracking and then about eventually eliminating the oil industry. Although Biden chose to be direct and honest about what matters, he could have articulated his position better: for those whose livelihoods are related to oil, it is not easy to convince them that the only job they do Know as good as the alternative is Jobs that his plan promises. Trump took advantage of this by speaking directly to states whose economies are heavily tied to oil. Each candidate made a clear choice. Although Biden's arguments were more substantial, Trump could benefit from an opening that sold well to anyone involved in the industry.
Health care:
Biden made it clear that Trump had four years to adopt a health plan and yet he did not provide one. Biden then urged him to refuse to care for anyone with pre-existing conditions. Trump used charged language to characterize Biden's approach as socialism. He also tried to pair Biden with other Democratic candidates like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren to put Biden on the defensive. Biden replied, "There's a reason I'm up here and the candidates aren't." This was effective because he broke up with the others to spread Trump's attacks. Biden's belief that health care is not a privilege but a right was strong.
One convincing strategy both candidates followed during the debate was to point out their opponent's inability to implement plans during their tenure. Biden took advantage of this approach to COVID-19 and healthcare by pointing out that Trump had had his chance and had not yet developed a replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Trump also put pressure on Biden on his years as vice president. Biden pointed out that he faced a Republican Congress during the Obama administration. Biden could have used this further by explicitly stating that this lack of progress was due not to a lack of good plans, but to political partisanship.
The comment "I'm the least racist person in the room" was an exceptionally awkward moment, especially for a debate. Trump is very much a person who deals with the ME rather than the WE. It's about defending ourselves, not how the problem should be treated or how we should help others succeed. I think here they are divided: the ethos. Many of Trump's answers are ME-centered. Biden, in general, is a person who is ready to consult experts and make the best judgment for everyone.
Final argument:
In academic debates, each debater's closing speeches generally maximize the main arguments he wins and minimize the arguments he loses in order to convince the judge why he should win the round. In this political debate, the final question about leadership was a good choice: what, as president, would you say to those who did not vote for you? It gave each candidate one last chance to win both the hearts and minds of supporters and non-supporters.
Each candidate handled it slightly differently, although each issue targeted specific topics that would trigger emotions. Trump mainly focused on the economy, the regulatory threat and "401k" going to hell. Biden focused on the union, calling himself an "American President" and embracing hope over fear. It would make life better by combating systemic racism and providing clean energy. This spoke for the physical and social quality of life of voters. It is important to restore character to the office and give everyone a fair chance.
They all recorded ideas that could resonate with voters, but Biden was better able to reassure all voters that regardless of their vote, he would care about them and their future.
The judgment:
Though Trump was able to take Biden a little bit off on the issue of climate change, Biden more consistently built his case on most substantive issues. If I were to judge this round from the arguments and evidence presented, the winner would be Joe Biden. During the debate, his arguments and responses became clearer, developed and justified. His reliance on evidence and experts also increased the credibility of his arguments.
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