President Donald Trump speaks at debate

President Donald Trump participates in the first presidential debate against Democratic candidate Joe Biden at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University, on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Cleveland. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images via TNS

Tuesday night’s presidential debate saw personal attacks, hairpin topic changes and candidates interfering with one another’s “uninterrupted” two-minute response times. All of it was enjoyed from the luxury of Zoom calls by Ohio State’s two party-affiliated organizations: the Ohio State College Republicans and College Democrats.

Republican candidate and President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden faced off in the first of three presidential debates Tuesday night at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. College Republicans said Trump laid out a clear vision for the country and commended Trump’s emphasis on the economy and “law and order,” while saying Biden “looked confused up there.” Democrats saw the debate differently; Biden, they said, showed maturity but also criticized his lack of a strong stance on climate change and policing.


“President Trump seemed really studied and prepared for this. He had a grasp on policies that I don’t think he had in 2016 debates,” David Kalk, a third-year in political science and chairman of Ohio State College Republicans, said. “He came off at the beginning very strong with his ability to talk about the specifics of issues and Joe Biden just looked confused up there.”

Kalk said that despite Biden’s 47 years in public office, he has not been able to take a stance on specific policy issues including the Green New Deal or fracking. He said he believes Biden also lied about his work for the Civil Rights Movement and for the Black community.

“An interesting contrasting point that Trump brought up was just how unfair Joe Biden has been with civil rights and how disproportionately bad he’s been towards the African American community,” Kalk said. Biden has faced controversy over his involvement in limiting the power of school desegregation legislation as a freshman senator from Delaware and his inconsistent claims that he was a teenage civil rights activist

When asked to explicitly condemn white supremacists during the debate, Trump would not do so. Kalk said that he should have.

With 35 days until the election, Kalk said the College Republicans will continue campaigning for President Trump like they’re “down five” regardless of what the polls say.

“I think that this debate serves to fire up the base,” Kalk said. “The club saw some very interesting things tonight and each person, with whatever issue is most important to them, found inspiration to keep pushing, to keep fighting forward.”

Biden speaks at debate

Democratic candidate Joe Biden participates in the first presidential debate against President Donald Trump at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University, on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Cleveland. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images via TNS


Serena Ishwar, president of the Ohio State College Democrats and vice president of College Democrats of Ohio, said the organizations’ members joined virtual watch parties hosted by Our Revolution, a student organization committed to fighting racial, environmental and economic injustice through activism and working with politicians, and College Democrats of Ohio. She said others who did not join still discussed the debate in group chats.

Some of that discussion included Trump’s talking over Biden and his unwillingness to follow the debate form. Ishwar, a third-year in political science, said Trump did not respect the rules of the debate and lacked maturity. 

“It was very difficult to try to grasp an understanding of what Vice President Joe Biden wanted to convey in certain parts of the debate, which was very disheartening,” Ishwar said.

Ishwar said Trump’s failure to condemn white supremacy or recognize racial injustices that are dividing the country was “disheartening.” 

“He preached ‘law and order’ but failed to address the fact that justice is not on the side of African Americans in this country.” Ishwar said. “He failed to address the racial issues that are going on that are dividing this country. He failed to recognize the pain and the suffering that African Americans are going through, Black women in particular, on a whole list of things in this country.”

As for Biden, Ishwar said he did all he could under the circumstances and displayed a level of maturity that Trump did not. 

However, she personally disagreed with how Biden sided with the current policing system and the use of the “law and order” term, which she said is derogatory because Americans should be appealed to the system, but it instead has failed Black Americans many times. 

Ishwar said she also disagreed with Biden’s lack of support for the Green New Deal, a package of legislation which intends to address climate change and economic inequality, even though he does acknowledge and have a plan for climate change. 

“Climate change is not something we can be moderate about. It’s something that needs serious action, and the Green New Deal is a great step in that direction. So, I wish the vice president would take a more liberal stance on that,” Ishwar said. 

Ishwar said the debate will not change the way she is engaging students across campus. She said she’ll continue to encourage students through the use of flyers and the organization’s social media platform to register to vote before Ohio’s Oct. 5 deadline. 

“This debate just confirmed that the hard work I’m doing to get folks registered to vote and voting for Joe Biden is worth it,” Ishwar said. “The president has demonstrated nothing but the fact that he will support white supremacy no matter what happens. He doesn’t want to hold individuals accountable for their racist actions and this debate was a perfect example of that.”

Takeaways from the debate

The Lantern broke down the key takeaways from Tuesday night’s debate and how Biden’s and Trump’s policy goals could affect Ohio State students, faculty and staff.

View that coverage here.