President Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden met in Nashville, Tennessee, on Thursday to make their final pitch to voters in a much-anticipated debate stand-off.
The two candidates discussed a number of issues in what was a much calmer debate than the pair’s first meeting. The debate highlighted the differences between Trump and Biden on a number of pivotal issues, including fossil fuels and the economy, but much of the proceedings focused on the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite several tense exchanges, President Trump and Mr. Biden’s verbal sparring was mostly respectful, and the candidates mostly allowed each other to answer questions without interruptions.
By most accounts, Moderator Kristen Welker ran a relatively clean debate. Some conservatives believed Welker had a Democratic bias because her parents have donated millions to the DNC, but she seemed to run the contest fairly and didn’t target the president unfairly. She provided both men with equal response time and did what she could to limit any derisive cross-talk between the two.
Even President Trump, who said Welker had “always been terrible and unfair” before the debate, gave her an endorsement mid-way through the meeting. “By the way, so far,” Mr. Trump said, “I respect very much the way you’re handling this.”
President Trump defended the U.S. pandemic response when Welker asked how he would lead the next stage of the coronavirus crisis. “We closed up the greatest economy in the world in order to fight this horrible disease that came from China,” said Trump. “It’s a worldwide pandemic. It’s all over the world. You see the spikes in Europe and many other places right now. If you notice, the mortality rate is down 85%. The excess mortality rate is way down and much lower than almost any other country.”
Biden’s campaign has repeatedly blamed the president for the coronavirus deaths in the U.S., and the candidate continued to hammer the point at the debate. “220,000 Americans dead. You hear nothing else I say tonight, hear this… Anyone is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” said Biden. “And we’re in a circumstance where the president thus far and still has no plan, no comprehensive plan.”
The former vice president added, “I will take care of this. I will end this. I will make sure we have a plan.” Biden said the country is headed towards a “dark winter” and the president has “no plan.” He added that his plan to “wear masks” would save 100,000 lives. However, most states have policies enforcing mask-wearing in place already.
The president also pointed out the Democrat’s conflicting views on the pandemic repose. “When I closed he said I shouldn’t have closed… he said, “This is a terrible thing, you xenophobic.” I think he called me racist even because I was closing it to China. Now he says I should have closed it earlier.”
Welker asked Biden if he would favor a policy that favored lockdowns, “I’m going to shut down the virus, not the country. It’s his ineptitude that caused the country to have to shut down in large part.”
“Look, all he does is talk about shutdowns. But forget about him. His Democrat Governors, Cuomo in New York, you look at what’s going on in California, you look at Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Democrats, Democrats all, they’re shut down so tight and they’re dying,” President Trump responded. “They’re dying. And he supports all these people. All he talks about is shutdowns. No, we’re not going to shut down”.
It was the second and final pre-election meeting between the two candidates. The candidates didn’t meet for the second scheduled debate after the debate commission opted to hold a virtual debate. Election Day falls on November 3, but more than 45 million Americans have already cast their vote.