Nashville – Though the last presidential debate in Nashville was more civil in nature, candidates were still at each other’s throats. This 96-minute verbal duel had one redeeming quality that the other debates lacked — muted microphones. Microphones were muted during each candidate’s initial two-minute response, but mics were not muted during the discussion. Did muting each candidate’s microphone actually contribute to a better debate environment?
Moderating the debate was Kristen Welker of NBC News. Her selected topics included COVID-19, national security, American families, race in America, climate change, and leadership.
The president started out on the defensive. He did not directly answer coronavirus questions, choosing instead to throw out statistics on the mortality rate. The president also pointed to “spikes and surges” moving throughout the country.
In his introduction, the president tried to assure millions of viewers that, moving forward, he will listen to the scientists. Just a few days prior, however, Trump referred to Dr. Anthony Fauci as a “disaster.”
Former vice president Biden focused on the dismal effects COVID-19 has had on the nation. He also utilized fear tactics. Biden speculated about future coronavirus deaths to add to his argument on the ineptness of Trump’s handling on the virus. When Trump said America is “learn[ing] to live with” the virus, Biden shot back with, “People are learning to die with it.”
Trump was laser-focused on an argument that Joe Biden accepted foreign money for his campaign. He focused on Joe’s son Hunter Biden’s position on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company. The president also made a false accusation that Biden got $3.5 million from Russia. Although Biden rigorously denied these claims, he seemed to be on the defensive. Yet Biden recovered enough to ask Trump why he has not released his tax returns since 2016. Additionally, Trump positioned himself as “tough on Russia.” He spoke about his international bank accounts, which Trump asserted as being crucial to his business ventures abroad.
The president reiterated that he wants to replace Obamacare with a different healthcare plan. He did not follow up with any specific policy ideas, and Biden repeatedly attacked Trump on this point. Trump also falsely claimed that Biden’s plan would eliminate private insurance. In fact, for at least three years, the president has stalled in releasing a new healthcare plan. On record, he said his administration’s plan would be cheaper and more “beautiful” than Obamacare — without detailing his own plan.
Biden said he would expand upon Obamacare by adding a public option, transforming the plan into “Bidencare.” He asserted healthcare as a “right” and not a “privilege.” Biden estimates his plan would cost American taxpayers $750 billion over 10 years. Biden also insisted on providing Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to small businesses because of the pandemic.
As the conversation moved toward immigrant families, Trump said he’d “love” to help them. He then claimed that would enable bad people from “all over the world” to come to the U.S. He also referred to Mexican adults as “coyotes” and repeatedly asked Biden “who built the cages?” It’s true that the Obama administration did build some of the holding facilities at the border. The “zero tolerance” policy of separating families, however, came exclusively from the Trump administration.
Race in America
Both candidates got off topic in this section. They said they understand why African-American families are fearful. Eventually, the common ground dissolved into an argument over which candidate was more racist than the other.
Biden said that unlike in most African-American families, he never had to have a conversation with his children about safely cooperating with police. Biden also acknowledged the presence of institutional racism in America and advocated for eliminating minimum mandatory sentences in the courts.
In return, Trump falsely alleged that Biden called Black gang members “superpredators.” As a fact check, Hillary Clinton made the comment in supporting Biden’s 1994 crime bill. Trump scored points when he pushed back against Biden’s bill, which led to the incarceration of thousands of African-American men. The president repeatedly accused Biden of being “all talk and no action” in his 8-year tenure as vice president.
Alluding to himself in the third person, the president said, “Nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump.” He also said he gave “long-term” funding to historically Black colleges.
The president then went on a tangent, critiquing the Obama administration for not supporting HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). He asserted that Obama’s presidency triggered Trump’s first run for office. Somewhere in the middle of this rant, the president pivoted to Hunter Biden’s laptop and Russia. Trump ended the segment declaring himself to be “the least racist person in the room”.
Trump picked up rhetoric from the previous debate about America having the cleanest air and purest water in the world. He also attacked “AOC+three” for knowing “nothing about the climate.” Attacking the Green New Deal, Trump said he doesn’t understand how the plan would be “politically beneficial.” The president also said wind energy “kills the birds,” and that solar energy cannot power factories.
Biden declared climate change as an “existential threat” to humanity. He also said we have a “moral obligation” to reverse its effects on the American population. Integrating the economy into his arguments, Biden said his climate plan would create jobs for 18.6 million people.
When Trump attacked Biden for his remarks on fracking, Biden said he is “not opposed” to fracking. Fracking is a way to extract oil or gas from the fissures in rocks by injecting liquid at high pressure into the rocks deep below the earth’s surface. In some areas, fracking causes earthquakes.
As this segment was ending, Trump may have provoked Biden into making one of his most controversial statements of the night. When the former vice president said that he wanted to “transition from the oil industry” and stop its reliance on government subsidies, the president pounced.
Trump needled Biden by alluding that Biden is against the oil industry. As Biden struggled to clarify his statement, Trump looked directly into the camera. He clapped back with “Will you remember that, Texas? Will you remember that Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Ohio?”
Trump said that if he were re-elected, he would focus on making America successful. To back up his argument, the president rattled off statistics about minorities and women. He also mentioned that if Biden were to win, 401k plans would “go to hell.”
Biden positioned himself as an American president rather than a Democratic or Republican leader. His rhetoric centered on “moving forward,” and suggested that the Biden administration will multitask on policies. Biden ended with, “What is on the ballot, here, is the character of this country.”
With just over a week until the election, did this debate sway undecided voters?
Thumbnail Credit: Afia Sengupta/Current Affairs Times