AS President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden squared off in their first debate on Tuesday, Sept. 29, several Filipino American voters across the country reacted to what transpired and doubled down on support for their preferred candidate.
The 90-minute debate — moderated by Chris Wallace, anchor of “Fox News Sunday,” at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio — covered six topics, ranging from the Supreme Court vacancy to Trump’s tax returns to COVID-19 recovery, as the candidates attempted to make their case with a little over a month to go until Election Day.
“For my side, the Republican side, the issues covered will help galvanize voters, especially in regards to the Supreme Court,” said Ron Falconi, mayor of Brunswick, Ohio and a member of Asian Pacific Americans for Trump’s advisory council. “The president has made it no secret that he wants conservative judges to serve on the court who are going to interpret the Constitution and not legislate from the bench. That has been a rallying cry for us conservatives in the movement.”
The debate soon turned chaotic, marked by interruptions and in several instances, a shouting match between the two. Social media users picked up on certain zingers, including Biden calling Trump a “clown” and retorting, “Will you shut up, man?” after a string of interjections.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the president was asked to defend his response to the virus that has left over 200,000 dead, alleging that the death toll would reach 2 million if Biden were commander-in-chief.
“What [the debate] showed was a stark contrast between these two people and what kind of leadership they’re going to demonstrate,” said Brad Baldia, a Biden supporter from Philadelphia, following the debate. “The thing is, Donald Trump has never grown up, he’s never matured [and] blames everyone else for his faults…and his failed leadership for the deaths that have happened because of COVID-19 and for all the things that have gone wrong with his presidency.”
Irene Bueno, a volunteer senior advisor for Fil-Ams for Biden-Harris who has worked for previous Democratic candidates, praised the vice president’s attempts to share his plans on various topics, despite being interrupted.
“Whenever [Biden] tried to talk about his plan, he was interrupted by a president who…clearly didn’t have a plan. All he did was say things that had no basis. He lied and he made up things that are not substantiated,” Bueno said, emphasizing that voters should look at the Trump administration’s battle against the Affordable Care Act for the past three years.
“[Trump] had all this time to do something about health care and he hasn’t done anything.”
Cristina Osmeña, a former Republican candidate for California’s 14th congressional district, said she was left feeling discouraged amid the chaotic exchanges.
“I think Trump came away worse for wear. I was trying to listen intently to hear if my questions about policy would be answered,” Osmeña said. “His behavior of bullying and interrupting did not leave a good impression…It was difficult to tolerate.”
Despite this, Osmeña said she favors the president in terms of matters involving the economy and not reversing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The debate came days after the New York Times report about Trump only paying $750 in income tax in 2016.
“The tax code that put him in a position that he pays less tax than on the money a schoolteacher makes is because of him,” Biden said in reference to the law Trump signed in 2017.
Among the moments that stood out was Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacy, bringing attention to Proud Boys, a far-right group.
“Proud Boys — stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem,” Trump said.
Bueno said the president’s statement “scared” her. “And I think all Americans should be scared. This president just continues to [sow] division,” she said.
Two more debates are scheduled for Oct. 15 and Oct. 22 as final chances for both Trump and Biden to capture the votes of Americans, especially those still considered undecided.
“I really am on the fence and after last night, I don’t want to vote for either candidate,” Osmeña, who voted for a third-party candidate in the 2016 election, said. “Just because you might be indecisive at the very top of the ticket, there are a lot of local races that are decided by a few hundred people, so voting does matter.”
Fil-Am voters interviewed called on formatting changes, which include the ability for future moderators to turn off a candidate’s mic if not talking, and to focus on issues, including foreign policy with countries like China and immigration.
“These debates offer us a momentous opportunity because it allows us to compare one versus one, the two candidates for president,” said Tristan Bato, a college student who is supporting Biden. “Honestly, I have faith in the American electorate, and especially the independents who are undecided right now to look to the truth.”
The Commission on Presidential Debates announced on Wednesday, Sept. 30 said it would look at “additional structure” for the next two debates.
“Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues,” the commission said in a statement. It added that it would announce the measures soon, and also praised Wallace’s “professionalism and skill” as the debate moderator.
Until then, Fil-Am supporters on both sides are continuing their efforts to rally registered and eligible voters.
A group called “Filipinos for Trump” is leading a nationwide caravan on Sunday, Oct. 4 in 20 cities, such as Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., to raise support for the president’s re-election bid and to kick-off Filipino American History Month.
“The Filipino Americans participating are not afraid to show the support and alignment with President Trump, and for the Republican Party principles, such as our strong faith,” said Noel Omega, a business owner who is among the organizers for the Sunday caravan in Southern California. “But you know, we would welcome anyone who wants to learn about our side and have a dialogue with us.”
Meanwhile, the volunteer-run “Fil-Ams for Biden-Harris” will continue their weekly programs, which include phone banks in key states and topic-focused Zoom panels.
Results from the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey released in September found that 52% of Fil-Am registered voters polled said they would be inclined to vote for Biden, while 34% favor Trump — the second highest support among the groups after 48% of Vietnamese voters who said they would re-elect the current president.
Despite the preferences for either candidate, 12% of Fil-Am voters reported that they “don’t know.”
“This is the most important election in our lifetime and you can see the positions the president was taking in contrast to Joe Biden’s. I am surprised as to why there are so many undecided voters at this point,” said Falconi.