Debate analysis: Biden offers substance while Trump deals in conspiracy theories

Democratic nominee appeared to do just enough to win over the few voting blocs that mattered on Thursday night

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Friday 23 October 2020 14:17 BST
Trump on Hunter Biden’s laptop: ‘Here we go again with Russia’

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Joe Biden and Donald Trump managed to avoid putting on another national embarrassment-level spectacle during their final debate.

But neither did much on Thursday night in Nashville to change many – if any – minds across America’s partisan landscape.

Nearly 50 million Americans have already voted via mail-in and absentee ballots, a sign of the times in the coronavirus era. That’s not a small number – around 130 million voted in total in 2016.

This debate had the poor fortune of being on television against a professional football game, so ratings likely will be lower than had it been on any other night this week.

Sure, Mr Trump had a few moments. And he did have a stronger performance than during the first chaotic debate when he interrupted Mr Biden and that night’s moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, nearly 150 times.

But, let’s face it, the president set a very low bar for himself last month. So while he scored points on style on Thursday night, he scored very few on substance.

The president and former vice president did talk substance, but it was Mr Biden who offered portions of his healthcare and other policy proposals. Mr Trump repeatedly asked his foe why he didn’t solve the problems they were debating when he was vice president for eight years. That was as effective a debate tactic as he has used.

Otherwise for Mr Trump? Very little substance. He kept trying to bring the debate back to a laptop that reportedly and allegedly belonged to Mr Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and right-wing allegations that the father-and-son duo improperly profited off the Office of the Vice President. (Mr Biden denies any wrongdoing.)

To be sure, Mr Biden came out swinging, wasting no time in arguing that more than 222,000 Americans have died from coronavirus, in large part, because of the Trump administration’s slow and ineffective response to the deadly respiratory disease.

When asked why Black parents have “the talk” with their children about interacting with police officers, Mr Trump had a disastrous non-answer.

Time and again, the president deflected any blame for coronavirus or other unfulfilled promises. He only had unsubstantiated conspiracy theories as answers much of the night.

This debate was for a handful of voting groups. One was suburban white women and college-educated whites who also live in the ‘burbs.

The former vice president likely won over more than a few with this line after the president had repeatedly brought up Hunter Biden: “It’s not about his family or my family. It’s about your family ... We should be talking about your families. But that’s the last thing he wants to talk about.”

Mr Trump’s poll numbers have not gotten worse in recent weeks. But he needed a stellar performance during the final debate to turn that plateau into a trend dramatically in his direction. He fell short of that mark.

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