With many Americans having already voted, the final US presidential debate was something of a formality. There are still some swing voters out there up for grabs, and both candidates knew a strong showing would shore up their support ahead of the final run in to election day. What transpired was a rather one-sided affair.
The start of the debate went quite well for Donald Trump. Staying on script and well informed, his answers in isolation were actually quite good. The two minutes uninterrupted seemed to suit him the better as his superior ability to speak clearly translated better than Biden’s regular slurring and stuttering. However even at this high point for Trump his responses on an imminent vaccine rang hollow in the face of the stark realities of hundreds of thousands of American deaths. Joe Biden warned of “a dark winter ahead”. As Trump spoke of living with the coronavirus, Biden responded “learning to live with it, come on, we’re dying with it”
This was as good as it got for Trump. As he went off script, he also went off the rails. The end of the ‘Fighting Covid” segment was Trump bragging about fundraising numbers, while he spent the duration of his time on the next topic of National Security rattling off unverified conspiracy theories about Biden. Biden was far stronger. Perhaps nearly to a fault as he unequivocally signalled an escalation in rhetoric on North Korea “They will pay the price”. Trump was able to contrast the relative peace with Kim Jong-Un his administration has achieved.
The debate subsequently fell apart for Trump as topics of Immigration, healthcare and Race were brought up. He repeated his claim that he was second only to ‘maybe’ Abraham Lincoln in standing up for black America. He said “I’m the least racist person in the room” to the black moderator, an irony lost on no one but the President.
Biden did stall mid-was through the debate, and his answers, particularly those on the environment were missed opportunities to appeal to the left wing of his party, but he did not need to. Trump dug his own grave, as Biden just laughed on. Trump was reduced to “you had eight years!” as his only comeback late on.
Biden spoke to Americans about the issues that affect them. Trump spoke of the problems affecting him.
Biden ended strongly. Both candidates were given an opportunity to tell Americans what they will say upon their inauguration. Biden spoke of how “We’re gonna’ choose science over fiction, hope over fear”. Trump used it as an opportunity to rattle off a final few attacks. It was symbolic of the debate that was had. Biden directly addressing Americans, and Trump sounding more and more like his contrary phone-ins to Fox News.
If polls are to be believed, the result is now almost a formality. While Trump has the ability more than others to upset those odds, he needed a very strong performance tonight to move the needle. What America got instead was a candidate all out of ideas. The novelty of his rhetoric has long worn off, and what’s left is a man fighting for his political future. That future should be known soon, and for Biden things are looking a lot rosier after the final debate.