The final presidential debate was possibly President Donald Trump’s last chance to appeal to a broad swath of voters in effort to close the gap in polling ahead of the November 3 election. Most widely circulated national polls have President Donald Trump trailing his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden less than two weeks before election day. Trump presented a more subdued and reasonable image to the American public, even as record numbers of voters have already cast their ballots.
The debate format’s much touted ability to mute the microphone of either candidate was much discussed in the lead up to the debate but did not make a significant appearance. This was largely due to the fact that neither candidate really attempted to speak over the other, a stark contrast to the chaotic first debate. Moderator Kristen Welker struck a fine balance between guiding the content of the debate while providing enough time for the back and forth between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden.
The debate began with the most obvious issue affecting the American public today, the coronavirus pandemic. Each candidate was allowed to share their thoughts on the problem, as well as to lay out their respective paths to economic recovery and social wellness. President Trump maintained his stance that the pandemic was well in hand, utilizing his oft-repeated phrase that the nation was “rounding a turn” in the handling of the matter, pushing for a return to normalcy. Persident Trump stated that he would not allow for the cure to be worse than the illness, arguing that continued shutdowns would damage the economy, mental wellness, and overall health of the nation and its citizens. Mr. Biden countered President Trump’s statements, indicating a willingness to listen to the consensus of scientists, to addressing pockets of the outbreak by slowing the reopening of businesses and schools in those targeted areas, by increasing funding for the safe reopening of schools and by allowing vaccinations to proceed only when all of the proper testing protocols had been enacted.
The debate then moved to questions on taxes and finances, with both candidates accusing the other of impropriety in dealing with foreign nations. Former Vice President Joe Biden claimed that President Trump was gaining improper benefits from foreign nations like China and Russia, and criticized the president’s refusal to release his tax returns. President Trump argued that he had prepaid tens of millions of dollars of taxes, dismissing the $750 figure from the New York Times report as a “filing fee.” Mr. Trump in turn claimed that Mr. Biden was receiving kick-backs from foreign governments as a percentage of what was paid to his family.
Social issues loomed large within this debate, with the president on the defensive over his checkered history with race, including his push to have the Central Park Five sentenced to death, though all five were exonerated. President Trump contested his characterization of having racist motivations with claims of being the “least racist person” in the room, stating that he had done more for the black community than any president other than perhaps Abraham Lincoln. It was on this issue that Biden was most aggressive, referring to Trump as, “Abraham Lincoln here,” and saying “This guy has a dog whistle as big as a fog horn.” Biden did not escape the issue unscathed, however, as Trump repeatedly attacked Biden’s congressional record of a crime bill that drastically increased the incarceration of people of color.
The American people likely benefited the most from this debate. Although the first debate was memorable for President Trump’s continued attempts to talk over former Vice President Biden’s answers, this debate was more measured. The final debate gave the American people a chance to focus more on the content of the answers each candidate provided, and less on the spectacle. With the election looming less than two weeks after the debate and millions of ballots already cast, it is unclear how much of an impact each candidate’s performance will have on their chances of winning the election.