7 takeaways from the final Trump-Biden debate

President Donald Trump exclaimed, "I ran because of you," to former Vice President Joe Biden during the final presidential debate of the 2020 election.

Posted: Oct 23, 2020 6:51 AM
Updated: Oct 23, 2020 7:12 AM


The second and final showdown between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden looked much more like a normal debate than their first meeting.

But it probably didn't do anything to change the race's trajectory.

Amid a plethora of lies, Trump hammered Biden for failing to solve problems like institutional racism during his time in the Senate and as vice president, casting him as a typical politician.

Visit CNN's Election Center for full coverage of the 2020 race.

Biden lambasted Trump in policy terms, criticizing his handling of the pandemic and his approach to health care, the economy and immigration. But at times, the former vice president got personal -- at one point calling Trump "one of the most racist presidents we've had in modern history."

Here are seven takeaways from the last 2020 presidential debate:

Trump lowers the temperature

Trump entered Thursday's debate with near unanimous consent among his advisers: cool down. None could say with any confidence whether he would take the advice.

He did, mostly -- aided, in part, by a new muting rule he lambasted ahead of the face-off.

Yes, he still issued falsehoods. Yes, he still lobbed personal attacks. Yes, he downplayed the coronavirus -- the single biggest crisis facing the country -- while taking no responsibility for it. Yes, he insisted that hundreds of migrant children separated from their parents are being well taken care of.

But for most of the face-off, he seemed more subdued and more intent on sticking to a plan. He was even courteous to moderator Kristen Welker of NBC, telling her at one point he approved of her performance.

After the last debate, Trump felt he won and few advisers told him otherwise. But after watching clips of himself, Trump acknowledged that he could tone it down somewhat.

The result was a massive sigh of relief among Republicans, who feared another abrasive performance that turned off voters. And it made for a more substantive debate, with voters able to hear definitive answers.

How that helps Trump isn't clear. Often his answers -- particularly on health care and race -- lacked substance. And he again avoided laying out a concrete second term agenda, something he's failed to articulate for most of the campaign.

But if the race is hinging in part on Trump's behavior, his approach Thursday is more in line with what his team was hoping for.

Trump's wishful thinking

Trump's very first answer -- which was meant to state how he would lead during the next stage of the coronavirus -- relied instead on looking backward and wishful thinking about a vaccine.

And like many of his answers over the rest of the evening, Trump's central argument seemed to be that things could be a lot worse.

Thought it was delivered in a new, less aggressive style, Trump's answer amounted to the same dismissal of the pandemic he's been offering for months -- one that voters have largely rejected.

"It will go away and as I say, we're rounding the turn, we're rounding the corner. It's going away," he said, with little regard to the surge in cases across the country.

As he does nearly every time he is pressed on his pandemic response, Trump cited his decision to close travel to China, though thousands of people were exempt and were still able to enter the country. He insisted the United States was suffering alongside Europe, which is also experiencing new spikes. But unlike Trump, leaders there -- including French President Emmanuel Macron -- have imposed new lockdowns.

And he placed nearly all of his optimism on a vaccine, which he claimed would arrive "within weeks." There is no indication that is true; vaccine trials are still underway and the Food and Drug Administration has imposed rules requiring months of data for emergency use of a new vaccine.

Later, Trump acknowledged his promise of a vaccine "within weeks" was not a "guarantee." But he said he was hopeful for one by the end of the year.

His answers were a sign that Trump doesn't plan to change his approach to coronavirus, even as cases surge. He said as much earlier this week; in a town hall event, Trump responded when asked what he would do differently: "Not much."

Instead, the key distinction Trump sought to make was his aversion to any further lockdowns to prevent further contagion. "We can't close our nation," Trump said. "We can't lock ourselves up in a basement like Joe does."

Biden forecasts a 'dark winter'

Biden offered a much bleaker view of the virus, predicting that a "dark winter" is coming as he accused Trump of denying responsibility for its spread in the United States and squandering months that he said should have been used to accelerate production of protective medical equipment and prepare schools and businesses for reopening.

"Anyone who's responsible for that many deaths should not remain as President of the United States of America," Biden said.

Biden was much more measured than Trump in discussing how he'd handle the virus. He said he would establish national standards for opening schools and businesses and would seek stimulus money to prepare them.

He also offered a more dour view of the time line for a potential vaccine -- one that aligns more closely to what public health experts have projected -- by saying that "there's no prospect that there's going to be a vaccine available for the majority of the American people before the middle of next year."

Biden did, though, deliver a unifying moment as he criticized Trump for laying blame on Democratic governors for the virus spreading in their states.

"I don't look at this the way he does -- blue states and red states. They're all the United States," Biden said. He pointed out that spikes have occurred in recent weeks in Republican-leaning states. "They're all Americans," he said.

Trump dusts off his 2016 playbook

With nearly 50 million votes already cast and time almost out to reverse his polling fortunes, Trump resorted to the tactics that helped him win four years ago.

He tried to cast Biden as a typical politician, just like he did Hillary Clinton. He repeatedly pointed out that Biden was in elected office for 47 years, blaming Biden for failing to solve problems like systemic racism.

"Joe, I ran because of you. I ran because of Barack Obama. Because you did a poor job. If I thought you did a good job, I would have never run," Trump said.

The tactic could have backfired at times, though, because it gave Biden an opening to recount the policy achievements of the Obama administration.

Trump was less effective, though, in trying to turn a series of convoluted and unproven allegations about Biden's son Hunter into a campaign-altering moment. Outside the right-wing echo chamber Trump and his most fervent supporters occupy, he did not deliver one, and he opened himself up to sharp responses from Biden about Trump's own business operations in China and failure to release his tax returns.

"The guy who got in trouble in Ukraine was this guy," Biden said, pointing to Trump, "trying to bribe the Ukrainian government to say something negative about me, which they would not do." Trump's actions in Ukraine led the House to impeach him.

Trump's eagerness to turn back the clock even extended to falsely accusing Biden of referring to Black people as "super predators" during discussion of the crime bill in the early 1990s. He did not; the term was used by Clinton.

Biden hits his policy marks

The former vice president's most effective moments Thursday night might have been his evisceration of Trump's economic, health care and immigration policies.

Those policy-focused moments underscored a grim reality for Trump: Though Congress could stand in the way, Biden is campaigning on a series of detailed policy proposals -- and frequently explains what they'd mean to average Americans. Trump, though, has repeatedly failed to detail what he'd seek to do if he wins a second term.

Biden hammered Trump for seeking to have the Supreme Court undo the Affordable Care Act, and its protections for those with pre-existing conditions -- a pool of Americans that Biden pointed out will soon include those who had Covid-19. Trump, who has long promised a plan to protect those people but has never delivered one, denied the reality that their protections would be repealed if his administration's court effort is successful. Biden detailed his proposal to allow Americans to buy into a public health insurance program and introduced a new phrase to describe it: "Bidencare."

He also forcefully argued for increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour, while Trump said the matter should be left to states to decide.

Most significant could have been the portion of the debate that focused on immigration, when Biden eviscerated Trump over this week's report that 545 children who were separated from their parents at the border have still not been reunited with their families. Trump claimed that the children are "very well taken care of" -- even though they have been apart from their families for months or years.

"They got separated from their parents, and it makes us a laughingstock and violates every notion of who we are as a nation," Biden said.

A question on the "talk" goes unanswered

Trump and Biden were both asked a provocative and important question about race: Could they understand why Black parents give their children the "talk" about how to handle encounters with law enforcement?

Trump's instinct was to insist he's done more for African Americans than any previous president since Abraham Lincoln -- and to attack Biden for his record, including on a crime bill from the 1990s.

Trump didn't specifically address the question, and instead he continued to insist he's done more for African Americans than any previous president since Abraham Lincoln -- and to attack Biden for his record, including on a crime bill from the 1990s.

"I'm the least racist person in this room," Trump said.

Biden, meanwhile, sought to cast Trump as stoking racial divisions, one of the driving arguments of his entire campaign.

"Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents we've had in modern history," he said sarcastically, making reference to Trump's previous claim. "This guy has a dog whistle as big as a fog horn."

The candidates' responses were designed less to convince Black voters that either man would be better for them than to convince White voters that Trump is or is not racist. It's one of the factors that has driven down Trump's poll numbers among suburban women, who have been turned off by Trump's constant stoking of divisions.

How Trump simply stating that he is not racist reverses that impression -- given the ample evidence of him stoking racist conspiracies or fomenting racial divisions -- isn't clear. For a candidate who believes he can peel of support among Black men from Democrats, failing to offer any sort of policy or action-based answer seemed like a missed opportunity.

Biden says he 'would transition from the oil industry'

The debate moment that Republicans were seizing on Thursday night was Biden's comment that he "would transition from the oil industry, yes."

"Oh, that's a big statement," Trump responded."

"That is a big statement," Biden said. "Because the oil industry pollutes significantly."

He went on to say he wanted a gradual transition to cleaner forms of energy -- but Trump sought to immediately turn the moment into a political advantage in oil- and manufacturing-heavy states.

"Will you remember that, Texas? Will you remember that, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Ohio?" Trump said.

It's not clear that the moment is the kind of political game-changer Trump might hope it is. It could, however, be problematic for Democrats running in red areas like Texas.

After the debate, Biden's campaign sought to clarify the exchange, saying the former vice president was specifically talking about eliminating oil subsidies.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 954230

Reported Deaths: 15474
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1298902003
Lake638781106
Allen54326765
Hamilton44326448
St. Joseph42368592
Elkhart33998491
Vanderburgh30740451
Tippecanoe27012251
Johnson23862420
Hendricks22576343
Porter21943348
Clark17657231
Madison17628387
Vigo16465285
Monroe14637193
LaPorte14493241
Delaware14291225
Howard14058274
Kosciusko11562137
Hancock11022168
Warrick10793179
Bartholomew10730171
Floyd10584209
Wayne10169230
Grant9271206
Morgan9000160
Boone8507112
Dubois7823124
Dearborn776391
Henry7749134
Noble7510101
Marshall7452129
Cass7244118
Lawrence7080154
Shelby6701111
Jackson666386
Gibson6233107
Harrison613287
Huntington608397
Montgomery5903106
DeKalb587591
Knox5589105
Miami554889
Putnam547668
Clinton540566
Whitley534054
Steuben506570
Wabash492792
Jasper487763
Jefferson478992
Ripley463477
Adams448868
Daviess4267109
Scott413065
Clay398358
Greene396892
White396158
Wells393285
Decatur391297
Fayette383380
Posey364341
Jennings358857
Washington336847
LaGrange327375
Spencer323037
Randolph320290
Fountain320156
Sullivan311349
Owen289764
Starke287565
Fulton282356
Orange279259
Jay260038
Perry256353
Carroll247129
Franklin244938
Rush238930
Vermillion237751
Parke222421
Tipton214255
Pike214041
Blackford172934
Pulaski170351
Crawford148519
Newton147046
Benton144716
Brown136646
Martin130618
Switzerland127810
Warren116116
Union99511
Ohio80911
Unassigned0494

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1393696

Reported Deaths: 21820
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1544531574
Cuyahoga1364632341
Hamilton991581326
Montgomery682681161
Summit571661051
Lucas51927869
Butler48223663
Stark42502983
Lorain32263539
Warren30544338
Mahoning27651643
Clermont26123297
Lake24920422
Delaware22656147
Licking20886246
Fairfield20833223
Greene20708275
Trumbull20465516
Medina20236290
Clark18277332
Richland16793236
Portage16501231
Wood16002209
Allen14459261
Miami14091261
Muskingum13019155
Wayne12306244
Columbiana12094242
Tuscarawas11297271
Marion10960150
Pickaway10675129
Scioto10618127
Erie9905171
Ross9685177
Lawrence9005125
Hancock8667143
Ashtabula8533187
Belmont8301188
Geauga8294156
Jefferson7785175
Huron7598131
Union745351
Washington7451126
Athens712965
Sandusky7003135
Darke6906137
Knox6876122
Seneca6551137
Ashland6095115
Auglaize598788
Shelby5867104
Brown579072
Mercer566790
Crawford5603117
Defiance5587101
Madison552571
Highland551782
Fulton544583
Clinton537681
Logan521987
Preble5131111
Putnam4915107
Guernsey489464
Williams471582
Perry466254
Champaign456664
Ottawa444684
Jackson438763
Pike402645
Morrow400551
Coshocton398069
Fayette385253
Adams373675
Hardin369470
Gallia357858
Henry332969
Holmes3328111
Van Wert323271
Hocking312570
Wyandot286858
Carroll268252
Paulding248843
Meigs225542
Monroe193449
Noble174942
Morgan171229
Harrison161941
Vinton143119
Unassigned05
Fort Wayne
Partly Cloudy
71° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 71°
Angola
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 70°
Huntington
Partly Cloudy
71° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 71°
Decatur
Partly Cloudy
71° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 71°
Lima
Partly Cloudy
72° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 72°
A weak cold front brings slightly cooler air to the region Tuesday.
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events