The second and final election debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was much more substantive than the first, at the end of September. The men had not lost any of their fierceness, but this time allowed each other to discuss issues such as the corona crisis, race and foreign interference in the elections.
“It is almost unbelievable and really unexpected; it is a sharp, substantive, calm debate,” says correspondent Lucas Waagmeester. “There are untruths about the table, both men still live in two different universes, but they make their point without interruption.”
Already in the first minutes, the candidates sketched a completely different picture of the corona crisis. Trump mostly sounded hopeful. According to him, there is an end and he is receiving congratulations from world leaders on how he has handled the crisis. He also referred to his own contamination. “I can tell you from my own experience. I was in the hospital, but I’m better now, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”
Joe Biden warns against a “gloomy winter”:
Biden attacked the president harshly on his corona policy. “The president says we’re learning to live with this? We’re learning to die with this.”
“If you remember one thing tonight, remember this: Anyone who didn’t have a plan for this, who doesn’t take responsibility for it, shouldn’t stay on as president.” The Democratic presidential candidate is for mandatory face masks, faster testing and financial aid for duped companies.
Unlike the previous debate, both men let the other make their point without interruption. Commentators had dismissed the first debate as chaotic due to President Trump’s many interruptions.
This time the candidates were given two minutes for each question to answer undisturbed, the opponent’s microphone was switched off at those moments. This made it a lot more substantive than the first time. Responses were largely limited to a compassionate headshake from Biden or a sardonic smile from Trump.
Waagmeester: “There was a tendency to interrupt, but both candidates held back and waited their turn. They had clearly intended that.”
Discussion leader Welker welcomes the candidates and explains the rules of the game:
Both speakers tried to portray each other as corrupt politicians. A question about national security quickly turned into allegations of foreign influence. Trump repeated allegations that family members of Biden have received money from Russia and China.
Biden argued against never having received a cent from abroad. On the contrary, he called on the president to prove that the same applies to him: “I’ve released 22 years of tax data, you haven’t even a year. What do you want to keep secret? Release the data or keep quiet about corruption.”
Trump reiterated that his accountants advise against disclosing more:
The different styles of the candidates became clear when Biden spoke directly to the American public about the president’s attacks on his family. “This is not about my family or about his family, but about your family,” he told the audience.
Trump immediately accused Biden of dodging the question. “Really what a politician. I’m not a politician, that’s why I got elected. Let’s stick to the subject. Come on, Joe, you can do that.”
“You’re not an innocent baby yourself,” Trump said when Biden argued that these elections are about character:
Trump: ‘Don’t pretend you’re an innocent baby’
Biden: Trump thinks Bernie Sanders is his opponent
After a question about race relations in the US, Biden called his opponent a racist who adds fuel to the fire. “There is institutional racism in the US. Our Declaration of Independence says that” everyone is equal. “We have never lived up to that, but we have constantly strived for greater equality. Trump is the first to end that.”
The president threw his rival at his feet in 47 years in politics for having achieved little on this theme. “He’s just talking about what he wants to do when he’s president, but you were vice president for eight years. It’s just words, not actions.”
Trump again called himself the least racist person:
The voter will be much better informed by this debate than by the previous one, thinks Waagmeester. “In the first debate it appeared that Americans really have something to choose with regard to style and temperament. Now that the content predominates in this debate, it appears that there is also a sharp choice for the voter there,” says Waagmeester.
“Biden wants to strengthen Obama care in ‘Biden-care’, while Trump wants that whole plan for care off the table. President Trump welcomes fossil fuels, Biden wants to go to ‘zero emission’. Biden wants a generous immigration policy with legalization of 11,000 illegal immigrants, Trump’s focus is on closing borders and on immigrants as criminals. “
Despite these substantive choices, this year the question is what the influence of the debate will be. Many Americans have already decided whether to vote for or against Trump. In fact, more than 40 million Americans have already voted, because the corona crisis calls for voting to be spread over several weeks. That means that about a third of the total number of votes from four years ago has already been given.