Otterbein Debate Team Advisor Weighs in on First Presidential Debate

Posted Sep 28, 2020

The presidential debate season is kicking off on Sept. 29. The first debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will be held in Cleveland, but here in Westerville, we know a thing or two about debates.  

In October 2019, Otterbein hosted the fourth debate in the Democratic primary race. Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, faced off with 10 other candidates on a stage in Otterbein’s Rike Center as millions watched on CNN.  

Susan Millsap is a professor of communication and advisor of Otterbein’s Debate Team. She used the Otterbein debate as an opportunity to educate others about the art of debating, participating in two panels and giving interviews to media. She’ll be watching the presidential debates closely.  

Susan Millsap
Susan Millsap hosting a student panel at the Democratic National Debate Watch Party in Cowan Hall

Here’s what Millsap says audiences should expect from the debates: 

“Based on what we have seen so far of the candidates, I believe that Joe Biden’s goal is to come across as presidential. He needs to look and sound like a leader who has a clear understanding of the issues of the world. He will probably attack the current administration but do it in a direct and serious tone. President Trump will probably sound more impromptu, using his style of making claims that sound like common sense without providing evidence.  

“Joe Biden will need to present himself as a reasonable alternative to convince anyone who hasn’t made up their mind yet to vote. I think the bigger issue for Biden at this point is to get voters to turn out on election day.  

“Domestic issues tend to win elections so the current violence and the economy will be key issues. Unfortunately, the format of these debates does not allow for much argument development or direct clash. The candidates will need to show that they understand the issues and the causes of the problems. Biden has been better at showing empathy than the president, but Trump will have to try to win over any new voters.” 

Read more from Millsap on the presidential debate at NBC News