More policy, less mudslinging in Trump-Biden II

Behaving much better than in their first messy debate, President Donald Trump and Joe Biden made one more appeal to voters for their support at the final 2020 debate, with Biden hitting the President’s handling of the Coronavirus, and Mr. Trump arguing a victory for Democrats will hurt economic fortunes in the United States.

Gathering in Nashville, the campaigns of both men announced that they had tested negative before this second debate, as the Coronavirus has drastically altered the face of this 2020 campaign.

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Here’s some of what we saw at Belmont University in Tennessee:

+ Thankfully, it wasn’t the worst debate ever. The first Trump-Biden debate was the worst debate I have seen in 37 years of reporting. It made many wonder what this debate would be like. Actually, it turned out to be a fairly civil affair. Yes, there were some verbal jabs thrown at each other, but the debate stage was not littered with the messy exchanges which filled the first debate in late September. The reason for that may have been partly the public condemnation of the first debate, combined with the work of the moderator, Kristen Welker of NBC News, who ran a much tighter ship. Even the President - who had repeatedly condemned Welker in the days before the debate as unfair - admitted at one point that she had done a good job.

+ The Coronavirus hangs over the President’s re-election. In the hours before this second and final debate, the numbers on the Coronavirus continued to be grim. Cases jumping to record highs in a number of states. The U.S. registering the third highest daily count of new cases, over 73,000 in all, as the 7-day average is now over 60,000 per day. “We’re rounding the turn, we’re rounding the corner,” the President argued, even as cases are going back up. And virus deaths are now going up as well. Biden hammered that home in his first statement of the night, saying the person in charge when over 200,000 Americans die should not stay as President of the United States.

+ Trump hits back on virus. President Trump again charged that Biden only wants to ‘shutdown’ the country to deal with the virus outbreak, something Biden has repeatedly denied. But the President hammered away at that, making the argument that Democratic governors aren’t doing enough to open their states - steering around restrictions put in place by Republican governors. It also led to one of the favorite GOP attacks on Biden, that he just likes to stay in his basement in Delaware.

+ Scrapping over the Obama health law. When the debate turned to health care, Biden made the point that Democrats on Capitol Hill have been making for the last ten years - and that is, while Republicans want to do away with the Obama health law, they’ve never been able to forge a total GOP replacement plan. Meanwhile, the President kept his his attacks on Obamacare, which the GOP is challenging in a Supreme Court argument that takes place on November 10. While the President says he’s ready in case the Court overturns the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Trump still isn’t tipping his hand on he’s going to actually change health care policy.

+ Biden overstates likely virus deaths. In terms of fact checking, there were the usual statements from both candidates which might raise the eyebrow meter. For example, while the pace of deaths from the Coronavirus are again going up, Joe Biden’s claim that another 200,000 Americans will die by the end of the year seems very unlikely to happen. Currently, the U.S. is averaging about 24,000 deaths a month, at 790 deaths per day.

+ Trump touts gains in Texas, but that might be changing. On the other side of the Fact Check coin, President Trump talked about how the U.S. has recovered from this summer’s spike in Sun Belt states, citing Florida and Texas. But Texas in recent weeks has been seeing more cases, more hospitalizations, and more deaths. The Lone Star State might not have been the best example.

+ Back and forth on tax returns. President Trump has been saying for five years that he will release his tax returns soon. Thursday night, the President again talked about releasing his tax returns, but wouldn’t put a date on that. Biden made the expected retort, pointing out that he long ago released his tax returns, and demanding (with a bit of a theatrical flourish) to know what the President is not telling the voters. “What are you hiding?” Biden said to the President.

+ Trump presses again on Hunter Biden. In the first debate, President Trump tried repeatedly to bring up questions about influence peddling by Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. And just like before the first debate, the Trump Team signaled the President would do the same in this debate, hoping to put Biden on the defensive. While it occupied a few minutes early in the debate, it didn’t seem to do any damage, as the President tried a number of times to raise questions about Hunter, all but accusing Biden on being on the take.

+ Trump hits Biden on his previous work. Maybe the most effective argument by President Trump against Biden was to make the case that Biden has been around the political system for too long, and should have achieved some of his stated policy goals under the Obama Administration. Calling Biden, “all talk and no action,” the President tried to skewer Biden by saying his policies had hurt America, and that’s why he (Trump) got into the race in 2016. “I ran because of you,” the President said.

The two men have a week and a half to make their final case to the voters. Election Day is November 3.