Local historian, political science professor call presidential debate “worst” in modern history

Local News

Jason Matthews and Clay Jenkinson say the debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden Tuesday marked a low point for presidential politics.

“This is far and away the worst presidential debate in modern American history,” Jenkinson said.

“This was the worst presidential debate we’ve ever had,” Matthews said.

Matthews teaches American government at Bismarck State College. He says the constant interruptions and lack of civility added up to a bad showing for America.

“It was terrible for democracy,” Matthews said. “One of the central pillars of American democracy is to have a civil debate, to tolerate the views of the other side. We didn’t have that last night.”

Jenkinson is a local author and presidential historian who hosts the radio show The Thomas Jefferson Hour. He believes the debate may have swayed the support of undecided voters to favor Biden.

“There are about 15 or 20 million people who are in the middle, undecided, people who crossed over from the Democratic Party to vote for President Trump the first time because they didn’t like Hillary Clinton. I think many of those people were disgusted last night and will be rethinking,” Jenkinson said.

According to a CBS/YouGov survey of those who watched the debate, 48 percent say Biden won. That same survey found 69 percent of viewers simply felt “annoyed” by the 90-minute debate. Matthews says the discourse was devoid of the substance needed to sway a voter.

“If you went in there as an undecided voter, I don’t know if you saw anything last night that in any way would shape your opinions other than possibly saying I don’t want to vote,” Matthews said.

But Matthews says the problem runs deeper than a disorderly debate — calling Tuesday night’s showing simply a reflection of how Americans talk to those they disagree with.

“If we’re not exposed to the views of the other side, what ends up happening in democracies is that you start having this democratic backsliding and you start delegitimizing the other side and that’s the precarious situation we’re in right now,” Matthews said.

The Commission on Presidential Debates said on Wednesday it is considering changing the debate format to maintain order, with the possibility of muting mics when the other is talking. The next presidential debate is scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami.

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