In this combination image of two photos showing both President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
In this combination image of two photos showing both President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Michigan was a hot debate topic when it came to manufacturing and COVID-19. Here’s what was said and why it matters to residents.

MICHIGAN—The first presidential debate of 2020 was a freewheeling chaotic mess. The Washington Post called the event 90 minutes of President Donald Trump “tweeting out loud” and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer wondered if the other two presidential debates would be scrapped in light of the disastrous Wednesday debate. 

Amid the maelstrom of talking over one another and wild redirection of the night’s topics, though, there were a few points that matter a great deal to Michiganders. Michigan was directly mentioned by both candidates as examples of different things throughout the night, from the response to the coronavirus to the economy. 

So what sense can come from Wednesday night? We’ve got your breakdown.

The Truth About Michigan’s Economy

Michigan, and specifically the auto industry, were key points of contention during the debate over the economy. Both Trump and his challenger Joe Biden pointed to Michigan to show their economic successes, but WDIV fact-checked those claims. 

GET VOTER INFORMATION: The ‘Gander’s Guide to Voting in Michigan in 2020

“Michigan had the best year they’ve ever had,” Trump said Wednesday night. “Many car companies came in from Germany and Japan, went to Michigan.”

WDIV called that false. No Japanese or German company relocated to Michigan and auto sales (and by extension, auto industry profits) were down in 2019. More broadly, as The ‘Gander has reported, the trade wars with China and Europe pursued by Trump during his presidency have had stark impacts on the auto industry, to say nothing ot manufacturing in general and agriculture which combined make up the bulk of Michigan’s economy. 

But WDIV found Biden’s auto industry claims to be true.

“I was asked to bring back Chrysler and General Motors, we brought them right back right here in the state of Ohio and Michigan.” 

Joe Biden

While his later claim that General Motors and Chrysler were “gone” was hyperbolic, the claim that Biden played a critical role in bringing them back from the edge of collapse following the 2008 recession is accurate. 

The Truth About the Coronavirus in Michigan

Trump also pointed to Michigan as a state closed down by the virus. Michigan has been a favorite example of Trump’s when highlighting states whose virus mitigation strategies he disagrees with, even tweeting “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” following armed protests at the state’s capitol building. 

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The truth is, though, that Michigan has largely reengaged its economy. Following the recent reopening of movie theaters, Michigan has reopened schools, sports, hair salons, bars, and countless other facets of daily life under the MI Safe Start plan. While these businesses do look seriously different than they did prior to the pandemic, those changes and the brief shutdown of those services was critical to Michigan’s successes combatting the virus.

Symptom data shows that the quick, decisive actions of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in rolling out a series of executive orders that limited sectors of the economy almost instantly stemmed the tide of coronavirus infections. Though the infection rate has rocketed upward since those restrictions have lifted, the death rate from the virus remains far lower than it was early in the pandemic, where at its peak one in eight Detroiters diagnosed with the virus died. 

Ultimately, that was the goal of flattening the curve, the strategy scientists advised early in the pandemic. Slowing the speed of the virus allowed hospitals to adapt and cope with the influx of patients. 

Trump’s attempts to use Michigan as an example of what not to do might backfire for him, too, as Gov. Whitmer’s response to the virus is still supported by a majority of Michiganders. And by Biden, who has repeatedly praised Michigan’s efforts to combat the disease. 

The Truth About Voting in Michigan

Repeating the oft-debunked claims he has cited to undermine trust in voting by mail in the November election, Trump said he wanted the Supreme Court to review the election results if Biden wins. This isn’t the first time he’s said that, either. 

When asked by debate moderators if candidates would not declare victory on election night and would encourage their supporters to remain patient, Biden said he would. Trump refused. And that scenario, where a candidate declares victory before the absentee votes are counted, is a serious worry for Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

Her worry is that news outlets will report a winner before one is actually determined, in a repeat of the infamous 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. 

“To me, that’s just going to be another example of the type of misinformation and disinformation that we’re seeing multiple ways from multiple platforms and voices in this election cycle,” Benson said on Meet the Press. “So, we are going to counter that misinformation with truth and accuracy.”

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In fact, Michigan has had wildly successful elections in May and August setting up November for explosive voter turnout while finding weaknesses in the system and addressing them to ensure votes are counted. For example, Detroit is addressing issues with their August election by working with Benson’s office and assigning every single city employee to work the election for two days, closing all other city services to ensure a rapid and, above all, accurate count of Detroiters’ votes. 

Michigan is also fighting Trump’s efforts to destabilize the postal service to disrupt mail-in voting, with Attorney General Dana Nessel suing Postmaster General Louis DeJoy over the potential disruption of the election, but that disruption is one reason Michiganders should vote early, experts say